Power to the people

Power to the people Heads of panchayati raj institutions have aggressively set the government a deadline to amend the Indian constitution and implement changes that would forcibly impact and empower Village India.

It would give villages control over natural resources like water, minor forest produce and minerals, which at present lies with the state government. The deadline expires on December 31, 2002.

On April 5-6, an all India conference of heads of Panchayats was held in Delhi. The prime minister, the leader of the Opposition, the rural development minister besides the deputy chairperson of the Planning Commission and half a dozen other key Union ministers trooped down to Talkatora Stadium in Delhi to listen to the panchayat heads.

These representatives of Village India demanded from the Union and state governments, complete devolution of administrative and financial power to them as entitled by the 73rd and 74th amendments to the constitution in 1992.

The government had amended the Indian constitution, ten years ago, to confer power and authority on the Panchayati Raj institutions (pris) at the village, block and district levels.

But these have not worked because the state government still holds the keys. The panchayats do not have the financial resources to function effectively.The power to collect revenue lies with the state government.

To rectify this, heads of panchayati raj institutions throughout the country have demanded a constitutional amendment. Today this lowest rung of democracy is at the gates of change, pushing for second-generation reforms.

The prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his colleagues in a rare show of consensus admitted that the panchayats, the last in the hierarchy of democracy, had been ignored and failed to carry forward their constitutional mandate. "After 10 years of the Panchayati Raj we need to retrospect,' Vajpayee said.

The prime minister initiated the move to amend the constitution for effective and speedy devolution of financial power and administrative control to pris.

The proposed constitutional amendments may make possible a direct flow of funds from the Centre to the pris. It may make it mandatory for the state governments to devolve certain powers to the pris.

A set of demands termed as

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