ne of the greatest shortcomings of any center-sponsored rural development programme is its inability to ‘trickle down’ to the true intended beneficiaries or the poorest of the poor. Being aimed initially at improving the rural sector notwithstanding, corrupt politicians and bureaucrats had rendered Panchayati Raj system ineffective.
Killings and a spurt in the purchase of arms and luxury vehicles in extremely backward Indian villages have started to bother the police. How are surge in purchasing capacity and crime linked to the rampant corruption in the local self-government bodies? A thorough investigation found that Mukhiyas had multiplied their assets beyond imagination. Interestingly, within a very short span of time.
More than 1 lakh mukhiyas are learned to have become millionaires in the past five years. They have amassed wealth by siphoning off money from centrally funded development projects related to MGNREGA, Indira Awas Yojana, solar lights, rural roads and the public distribution service (PDS).
After pan-India investigation, it was realised that the race for siphoning off development funds was leading to murders of former Mukhiyas or anyone who opposed. To tighten their stranglehold in villages the mukhiyas, whose salary is barely Rs 8,000 a month, are purchasing arms and SUVs.
The police are again busy joining the dots to understand how Mukhiyas are able to loot a large pie of development funds. Scams are not new in India. The rags-to-riches trend among Mukhiyas has led to a volatile situation in recent years. There have been murders of whistle blowers, including RTI activists. In the past three years, seven RTI activists have been murdered and in numerous cases Mukhiyas were directly implicated in the killings.
The Panchayati Raj in India has not been an absolute success. Its functioning all these years has demonstrated numerous shortcomings. Let us discuss the fallacies of Panchayati Raj system to mark National Panchayati Raj Day. Some of the defects of the system are as follows:
Irrational distribution of functions
The Panchayati Raj system is defective as far as the distribution of functions between the structures at different levels has not been made along scientific lines. The blending of development and local self- government functions has significantly curtailed the autonomy of the local self-government institutions.
Again, it has virtually converted them into governmental agencies. Even the functions assigned to the Panchayat and the Panchayat Samiti overlap, leading to confusion, duplication of efforts and shifting of responsibility.
Incompatible relation between the three-tiers
The three-tiers do not operate as functional authorities. The tendency on the part of the higher structure to treat the lower structure as its subordinate is markedly visible. Hierarchical domination and predominance fitters down from Zilla Parishad to Panchayat Samiti and from them to the Village Panchayats. Needless to state that this kind of mutual relationship is not commensurate with the genuine spirit of democratic decentralization.
The inadequacy of funds has also stood in the way of successful working of the Panchayati Raj. The Panchayati Raj bodies have limited powers in respect of imposing cesses and taxes. They have very little funds doled out to them by the State Government. Further, they are generally reluctant to raise necessary funds due to the fear of losing popularity with the masses.
Lack of cordial relation between officials and people
The introduction of the Panchayati Raj aimed at securing effective participation of the people. But in reality, this hardly happens since the key administrative and technical positions are manned by the government officials.
Generally, there is a lack of proper cooperation and coordination between the people and the officials like Block Development Officers, the District Officers etc. Again the officers fail to discharge the development duties more efficiently and sincerely.
Lack of conceptual clarity
There is a lack of clarity in regard to the concept of Panchayati Raj itself and the objectives for which it stands. Some would treat it just as an administrative agency while some others look at it as an extension of democracy at the grass roots level, and a few others consider it a charter of rural local government. What is all the more intriguing is the fact that all these conceptual images could co-exist simultaneously tending to militate against each other every now and then.
Undemocratic composition of various Panchayati Raj institutions
Various Panchayati Raj Institutions are constituted setting aside democratic norms and principles. The indirect election of most of the members to Panchayat Samiti only increases the possibility of corruption and bribery. Even the Zilla Parishad consists of mainly ex-officio members. They are, for the most part, government officials. This negates sound democratic principles.
Disillusionment on structural-functional front
The performance of Panchayati Raj Institutions has been vitiated by political cum caste factionalism, rendering developmental projects into chimeras. Corruption, inefficiency, scant regard for procedures, political interference in day to day administration, parochial loyalties, motivated actions, power concentration instead of true service mentality- all these have stood in the way of the success of Panchayati Raj. Furthermore, the power to supersede the local bodies on the part of the State Government clearly violates the spirit of democratic decentralization.
The Panchayati Raj bodies experience several administrative problems. They are the tendency towards politicization of the local administration, lack of co-ordination between the popular and bureaucratic elements, lack of proper incentives and promotion opportunities for administrative personnel and apathetic attitude of the government servants towards development programmes etc.
Politics is an inevitable part of a democratic framework
The manipulative nature of rural politics is manifest in the techniques used at the time of elections. The fact-finding research teams observe that the caste system in rural India has made a mockery of the concept of rural development. Even the Panchayat elections are fought on caste grounds and the traditional dominant castes have manoeuvred in such a way that they still occupy the positions of power in the changed set-up.
Once the dominant castes have managed to occupy important positions where the decisions are made, they find it easy to manipulate the plans to serve their best interests. Consequently, the schism of caste grows wider day in and day out, alienating the low castes farther and farther from participating in rural development programmes.