FOR the past two years many members of gram panchayats and zilla panchayats in Goa have been forced to function without a copy of the Panchayati Raj Act, the rule book for the self-government institutions, because the government has failed to print copies of Act and make them available to them. These grassroot representatives, who are to participate in law making and developmental process at the basic level of governance, find themselves handicapped by not having a copy of the rule book close by. There are 190 village panchayats and 2 zilla panchayats in the state with about 1,600 and 45 members, respectively. The members who have been re-elected might be the luckier to have a copy of the rule book. The first-timers have to borrow a copy to consult, but how many times can they borrow when the owner of the rule book might also need it all the time? Members without a copy of the rule book might not be able to follow the procedure to present a resolution or plead for a developmental work, which could be rejected for not being in conformity with the rules framed under the Act.
The newly elected members of panchayats, who are given training by the Goa Institute of Public Administration and Rural Development (GIPARD), feel that having a copy of the rule book would help them conduct themselves in accordance with the rules. In the absence of a copy of the Act, some sarpanchas have had to face awkward questions from the villagers while defending their actions. Other sarpanchas had difficulty in maintaining proper decorum at meetings. Some panchas have gone to the extent of seeing a conspiracy in the non-availability of the rule book. They see it as a “deliberate design” to scuttle the functioning of village and zilla panchayats. The director of panchayats Ajit Panchwadkar has, however, rejected the allegations and promised that the rule book will be made available in the next fifteen days to all the elected representatives free of cost.
Let us hope Panchwadkar keeps his word. However, Panchwadkar must also find out why the officials of his department did not order a reprint of the Panchayati Raj Act during the past two years. He should fix the responsibility and make adverse notes in the derelict officials’ service records. Their lapse has prevented village panchayats and zilla panachayats from conducting their activities without all the members having full knowledge and awareness about the rules framed under the Panchayati Raj Act. There is a possibility that in the absence of proper application of rules some sarpanchas have used ambiguity to their advantage. Allegations of twisting and bending and bypassing rules to favour someone have not been uncommon. There have been cases of panchayat officials misrepresenting the rules knowingly or unknowingly. It is time that members of panchayats and officials of the concerned government departments are trained and MLAs are sensitized to take them all together in carrying out planned development. GIPARD, which has been training officials and newly elected members of local self-governing bodies, should not just provide them training but also put them to various tests to take their efficiency level higher.
In order to make panchayats an effective tool of governance at the grassroot level, the panchayat department needs to work in another area which has been neglected so far. There are cases of panchayat secretaries having knowledge of one language – English, Konkani or Marathi. In Goa there are panchayats where English is used for recording the minutes of the meetings, and there are panchayats where Konkani or Marathi is used. If a panchayat secretary knows to read and write, say, English, he or she would not be doing justice to their job when they are moved to a panchayat where meetings are conducted in Konkani and minutes recorded in that language. It would be absurd to have points made in Konkani recorded in English, because instant translations could become clumsy and inaccurate. There might also be plenty of scope for leaving ambiguities in the minutes in such translations in order to suit vested interests. The state government must work out a programme to make use of one language uniform through all panchayats. As Konkani is the official language of the state using it at the meetings of the local bodies and recording the minutes of their meetings in Konkani should help the dream of making it truly the language of state administration possible. For, when the records of the village panchayats and zilla panchayats are in Konkani, and when these bodies communicate their resolutions, decisions and viewpoints to the government departments in Konkani, the departments too would be compelled to correspond in Konkani, thus spreading its use through the state administration.