Bihar panchayat polls: Move over Mukhiyas, big rush this time is for ward member post
Unlike last several panchayat polls, it’s the post of ward member in the gram panchayats which is drawing a huge number of nominations, and not the other coveted posts like Mukhiya (gram panchayat head) and Sarpanch (gram kutchery head having quasi judicial powers) in the ongoing nomination process for elections to the three-tier rural local bodies, which begin on September 24.
According to data of State Election Commission (SEC), a total of 8,611 nominations have been filed by candidates for 2,233 posts of ward member posts in gram panchayats of 12 blocks spread over 10 districts, which are going to polls in the first phase.
In total, 15,238 nominations have been filed for 4,955 posts in the panchayat polls in the first phase.
The 151 posts of Mukhiya in the first phase have drawn only 1,294 nominations while only 772 nominations have been filed for for Sarpanch. For 2,233 posts of gram kutchery panchayat (equivalent to ward members at gram kutchery level), only 3,225 nominations have been filed.
In the second phase, for which the nomination process is currently on, the same trend is visible. Till September 8, 24,094 nominations have been filed, of which 14,158 are for the post of ward member.
There are a total of 1,13,307 posts of ward members out of the total 2,55,022 posts in the panchayat polls in the state.
There are reasons for the shift in the preference for those taking a plunge into politicals at the grassroots level. In 2018, new administrative and financial powers were given by the state government to ward members with regard to rural schemes, especially after the introduction of new schemes like tap water for every rural household and paving of every street, alley and sewers with concrete.
“In the last few years, we have delegated huge powers for implementation and monitoring of rural schemes at the village level to the ward members, which was not there previously. The ward members are now also getting certain honorarium and allowances, which is another incentive. There are few more proposals in the pipeline to expand the powers and duties of ward members after panchayat polls,” said panchayati raj minister Samrat Choudhary.
A ward member gets ₹2,500 per month as honorarium, besides incentives in tax collection, the total of which comes around ₹5,000 per month.
Sources said that in 2018, the government’s decision to constitute ward implementation management committee (WIMC), in which every ward member is an ex-officio chairman, has broadened their powers from supervisory to administrative with certain financial powers attached with it. The ward members now can issue cheques and also take important calls in implementation of key state government schemes as well as centrally sponsored job guarantee and housing schemes, besides those for irrigation and education. Before the constitution of WIMC, ward members had limited powers and had to work directly under the Mukhiya, who held the overall financial powers and administrative powers.
“Every gram panchayat gets ₹5-6 crore for five years, which means annually, they have at their disposal ₹1 to ₹1.25 crore for implementation of welfare schemes at the ground level. This is a big public money, which has to be spent and monitored at the level of ward members and mukhiyas . This is one reason why ward menber’s post has now become quite coveted,” said a senior official who was engaged with implementing rural schemes at the panchayati raj department till recently.
Till last panchayat polls held five years ago, it was the post of Mukhiya that drew the highest number of nominations, apparently because the post comes with lot of financial and administrative powers.
“After 2011 and 2016 panchayat polls, there were large number of resignations of ward members for which by-elections had to be held. The apparent reason why people resigned from the post was the lack of any financial or administrative powers with the posts. But now, things seem to be changing,” said a SEC official.
Headline: First phase
Intro: Polling is to be held in gram panchayats of 12 blocks spread over 10 districts on Sept 24
2,233: Number of posts
8,611: Number of nominations
151: Number of posts
1,294: Number of nominations
151: Number of posts
772: Number of nominations
New incentives for ward members
₹2,500 per month as honorarium, besides incentives in tax collection
Powers to monitor state and central job guarantee and housing schemes, irrigation and education
Powers broadened from supervisory to administrative with certain financial powers added