As Bihar panchayat term ends on June 15, Nitish Kumar weighing his options
Patna: The Bihar government is looking at various options to keep village panchayats functional beyond its five-year term ending June 15 since it is nearly impossible to hold elections to the 2.58 lakh panchayat posts due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the looming floods during the monsoons, people familiar with the matter said.
Bihar panchayati raj minister Samrat Choudhary said the government would soon take a decision and come up with an interim measure. Officials said there were two options before the government.
One is to hand over the charge of gram panchayats to the administrators, as was done in Uttar Pradesh last year where the government appointed administrators for panchayats after expiry of the term of elected representatives. In Maharashtra last year, the Bombay High Court passed an interim order directing that a government servant of the local authority be appointed as an administrator of the gram panchayat.
“If the charge has to be handed over to administrators, that decision will be taken at the highest level and the process is on. The government will take a call after exploring all options,” Samrat Choudhary said.
Bihar has about 30,000 active Covid cases.
The second option is to continue with the outgoing representatives till fresh elections are held and new members elected. This is what has been done in the neighbouring Jharkhand, where the term of PRIs ended last year in the midst of the pandemic.
Bihar’s association of village heads, Bihar Rajya Mukhiya Sangh, backs this option and wants the government to extend the tenure of the representatives till it is possible to hold fresh elections. In a letter to chief minister Nitish Kumar, they reasoned that appointing officials as administrators would have an adverse long-term impact on the panchayati raj system.
They have the support of Union minister Ram Kripal Yadav who has acknowledged that the elected representatives have a genuine concern. Yadav has asked chief minister Nitish Kumar to take a call after consulting with the stakeholders so that the three-tier panchayati raj institutions continue to contribute to the state’s development.
It is being pointed out that the gram panchayats play an important role against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic which has spread to rural areas. Earlier this month, the Centre released an ₹8,923.8 crore in advance to 25 states, including Bihar, for providing grants to the Rural Local Bodies (RLBs) because of the pandemic.
The state election commission (SEC) had been preparing for the panchayat polls for months and intended to use, for the first time, electronic voting machines for panchayat elections. The commission had to defer the elections after the experience in Uttar Pradesh which went ahead with panchayat elections and is widely believed to have contributed to the spread of the pandemic in the country’s most populous state.