Zilla panchayat members: elected but powerless

By Roque Dias | NT

MARGAO: The zilla panchayat members in the state have been demanding for their constitutional powers, under the Schedule 29 of the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution of India, for a long time now. But, the state government has shown no inclination to devolve the powers to these zilla panchayat members, leaving them high and dry.

Ever since the zilla panchayats were formed in Goa, only at the instructions of the Court, the MLAs have seen the ZP members as a threat to the positions.

This is evident as the administration of oath to ZP members’ had no mention of the Goa Panchayat Raj Act 1994, unlike the village panchayat members; oaths were only administered only when the issue was highlighted by this daily.

Though the ZP members are entitled for 28 subjects, the state government gave them five subjects - minor irrigations, primary health centres, repairs of primary schools, rural roads, farmers training, and then abruptly removed three subjects.

"If the government does not want the ZPs in the state, it should scrap it, Instead of harassing us like this,’’ said the chief of South Goa Zilla Panchayat, Ms Maria Luz Rebello.

"All the ministers, MLAs in Goa are afraid that if powers are given to zilla panchayats, they ( ministers and MLAs) would be sidelined and the ZP members would be in the limelight," she added.

"Dissolve the ZPs in Goa, if you ( the government) don’t devolve the powers to us. Since inception, we are fighting for the powers from the government and despite courting arrests, the government miserably failed to give powers to us,’’ the three-time ZP member, Ms Nelly Rodrigues, said, criticizing the government and the ministers.

According to the chairperson, Ms Rebello, each year one ZP member gets ` 10 lakh for carrying out the development works in his or her constituency, "which is too less.’’

"How can the promises (of development works) made at the time of elections be fulfilled with these peanuts?," she questioned.

She mentioned that in the name of celebration of golden jubilee of Liberation, the ZP has been granted additional fund ` 1.5 crore for infrastructure development.

Government had formed a state-level committee headed by the Power Minister to oversee the devolution of powers to ZP members, but it failed to hold a single meeting since its formation, she added.

"We wrote several letters and begged with the government to give us.

The power as per the constitutional provisions, but all in vain. I personally submitted memorandums to each and every MLA and minister in the state, but all efforts came to a naught,’’ lamented Ms Rebello.

Another ZP member opined that some ZP members are closely associated with the MLAs and ministers and become their puppets for the reasons best known to them, and as such, there is no political energy left in them to fight for the cause.

"There should be unity among the members. If government ditches us, we should also pay them in the same coin during the time of elections,’’ he fumed.

The former chairperson, Ms Rodrigues, Ms Rebello, Mr Pradeep Desai, and few other ZP members explained how the government gives them step motherly treatment by denying them the privileges. They informed that they "even wrote to the UPA president, Ms Sonia Gandhi but there has been no positive response."

"We have been insulted by the government by not inviting officially for the first ever IFFI in Margao,’’ they said, and added that it is the time to get united - the village panchayats and the ZPs - and bravely move ahead to teach the government a lesson by giving it a befitting reply.

"The government is trying to show the ZP as a dead wood, but before that it’s time for us to show the liveliness within us,’’ said the most perturbed and perplexed ZP members.