In Rajasthan a cabinet decision in 2000 directed the transfer of functional responsibilities related to 16 out of 29 subjects (listed in the 11th Schedule), to panchayati raj institutions (PRIs). However, because of the lack of accompanying functionaries and funds the supervisory devolution of functions remained sub-optimal in impact. Further progress came in when the recommendations of a ministerial sub-committee in 2003 saw a detailed government order issued on June 19. This devolved 29 subjects related to 16 departments to PRIs, alongside partial devolution of functionaries. However, the order remained silent on fiscal devolution. In October, 2009, the then Chief Minister of Rajasthan announced the State’s commitment to the devolution of powers for all 29 subjects, along with functionaries and funds—in a phased manner. This saw complete devolution of powers related to five departments in the first phase which included elementary education; medical and health; agriculture; social justice and empowerment; and, women and child development—effected vide government order dated October 2, 2010. It also reinforced full implementation of the 2003 order, thus effectively empowering PRIs for functional local governance with respect to 21 departments. This order talked of initiating fiscal devolution to PRIs, to the tune of 10 per cent of total plan funds from 2011-12. Empowerment of PRIs was further expedited by filling up of all vacancies of functionaries under the transferred departments and creating additional posts of panchayat development officers and other key staff at the gram panchayat level.
The budget announcement regarding the State’s commitment towards formulating rules in compliance of Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) is an example of proactive initiation of empowerment of the panchayat and gram sabha in scheduled areas, which also refers to the transfer of income from sale of minor forest produce, to the panchayat in scheduled areas.
In addition to the funding entitlement of PRIs under the 13th Finance Commission Grants (Rs. 575.84 crores), the State announced incentive-based grants for PRIs, to the tune of Rs 1491 crores, to be awarded in cases where income from tax revenue have been mobilised at their own level. The State allocated Rs 12.5 crores for new vehicles and also provided new vehicles for all zila pramukh (elected presidents of district panchayat) and all pradhan (elected presidents of panchayat samiti/block panchayat) to enable them to undertake regular inspections in their areas for effective monitoring of devolved subjects. A new announcement for levying 10 per cent surcharge (to be transferred to PRIs and urban local bodies for enhancing their income) on prevailing stamp duty was also made by amending the Rajasthan Stamps Act.
Extent of autonomy
The District Rural Development Agencies (DRDAs) have been merged at the zila parishad level since 2003, along with all officers and staff and a separate rural development cell created to oversee all developmental programmes. At all three levels of PRIs, a supervisory structure has been created through the mandatory framework of six standing committees and an effective mechanism for local supervision and monitoring of programmes on a continuous basis. For further reinforcement of a culture of local self-governance at the gram panchayat level, orders were issued by the State for functioning of village secretariats, under which all devolved functionaries were to report and work under the supervision of the gram panchayat and ensure redressal of public grievances, on a weekly basis.
District planning committees (DPCs)
In compliance with the 74th Constitutional Amendment (Article 243ZD), district planning committees (DPCs) have been constituted under the chairpersonship of the zila pramukh in all districts. A state level coordination committee constituted under the chairmanship of additional chief secretary (rural development and panchayati raj) oversees district planning in the State. Similarly, a district level planning and coordination committee under the district collector assists the state level committee. In keeping with the guidelines of the Planning Commission district plans for 2006-07 and perspective plans were prepared for the 11th Plan (2007-12) period pertaining to 13 core sectors. To strengthen the process, the State planning board was revived with the Chief Minster as the chairperson.
2010 panchayat elections
The last round of PRI elections were held in January-February 2010. The PRIs at three levels, along with their elected members are enumerated in Table 1. While a 16 and 12 per cent reservation for scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST) respectively was granted in proportion to their population in the State, other backward communities (OBCs) were given a 21 per cent reservation, and the women’s quota was increased to 50 per cent. However, the actual percentage of elected women representatives (EWRs) ranged from 52-54 per cent, with the percentage of women zila pramukh being almost 58 per cent. This points towards the fact that women are winning elections from general seats as well.
State election commission
The State Election Commission (SEC) which was constituted in compliance with the mandatory provisions of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment, has been instrumental in conducting time-bound elections every five years for PRIs. So far, four rounds of elections have been completed for PRIs and the next is due in Jan-Feb 2015.
At present, the state of Rajasthan is divided into 7 divisions, 33 districts, 248 panchayat samiti units and 9177-gram panchayat units. There are 1,03,052 wards from where the ward panch is elected. The average population size per gram panchayat is about 4500-5000 and per ward is 300-500 persons. On an average, in Rajasthan there are 40-gram panchayat units in a block (panchayat samiti) and 8 panchayat samiti units in a zila parishad. In keeping with the rise in population as per the latest census data (2011), the demarcation of a new gram panchayat and panchayat samiti units is being undertaken by a cabinet sub-committee of ministers, prior to the next round of PRI elections.
The central government enacted the PESA Act in December 1996 to grant special privileges to the panchayat in Schedule V areas and to bestow ownership over common property resources by providing special powers to the gram sabha. Rajasthan enacted PESA in 1999, and the rules were notified in 2011. Certain other social reforms have also been introduced—such as if SC/ST/OBC/women reserved chairperson’s seats fall vacant then an elected member of that house from the same reserved category will take charge. Moreover, reservation for OBCs has been increased from 15 per cent to 21 per cent in PRI elections and all posts pertaining to chairpersons of PRIs in PESA region have been reserved for STs. The quorum requirement for ward and gram sabha has also been made mandatory.
Electoral reforms related to PRIs
- Candidates accused of criminal offences, are prohibited from PRI elections.
- Any persons employed on a salaried basis—either full time or part time, under any agency fully or partly financed by the government is not eligible for contesting the PRI elections.
- A person is prohibited from contesting elections to PRIs from more than one place.
- Some new rules for candidature that are in the offing for the next round of elections are prescribing a minimum educational qualification for panchayat presidents and ownership of household toilets.
- For enhancing people’s participation in development planning, ward sabhas have been introduced through amendment of the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act, 2000.
- Ward and gram sabha are authorised to identify, prioritise and implement various development proposals under different schemes, in keeping with felt needs as also to identify beneficiaries for various schemes.
- Six standing committees have been created at all three levels of PRIs, to institutionalise a work- culture of inclusive planning and review.
- To enable greater convergence, sarpanch (gram panchayat presidents) have been made ex-officio members of panchayat samiti and pradhan (block panchayat presidents) have been made ex-officio members of the zila parishad.
- To give financial autonomy to PRIs, all income mobilised by their own initiative is devolved for financial decisions, as per their own discretion. However, there is a complete restriction on creation of new posts.
- For providing administrative control to elected chairpersons, the power of writing APAR of CEOs and ACEOs of ZPs has been given to the zila pramukh and that of BDOs to the pradhan since 2003-04.
- DRDAs and their staff and assets have been merged with the zila parishad since 2003.
- In rural areas, powers conferred on district collectors, under Panchayati Raj Act, section 97, regarding monitoring of cheap and speedy justice, that were taken away in 2002, have again being restored since 2004.
- Under Section 111 of Panchayati Raj Act, if any elected member, chairperson or vice-chairperson’s negligence leads to loss of money or property of the concerned PRI, then in such cases, the power of enquiry and recovery, which was earlier vested in the director of panchayati raj, is now with the district collectors.
- Creation of Rajasthan Rural Development Service, 2007 Rules related to RDS have been finalised and recruitment initiated. Directly recruited BDOs and gram sevaks have been trained by the State Institute of Rural Development (SIRD) Rajasthan and deployed in the field. A new rural engineering service is also on the anvil.
- The chief executive officers of the zila parishad have been authorised to take effective action against encroachments on PRI property.
Training and capacity building of PRIs: Rajasthan model
Indira Gandhi Panchayati Raj and Gramin Vikas Sansthan (IGPR and GVS), SIRD-Rajasthan is now the apex institute in the State for developing human resources in PRIs. It is reported that the elected representatives in Rajasthan are largely literate and school educated at the zila parishad and panchayat samiti levels and semi-literate or non-literate at the gram panchayat levels. This situation is more pronounced among elected women representatives who comprise more than half of the PRI leadership today. Out of the total 1.20 lakh elected representatives, more than 60,000 are from reserved categories—including women, SC, ST, OBCs. Additionally, there is heterogeneity of age, caste, class, region, religion, ethnicity and gender-specific educational levels in the elected representatives and officials, which makes the task of capacity building even more complex and challenging.
IGPR and GVS, Jaipur has emerged as a pioneer institute for spearheading innovative PRI training campaigns over the last decade. The Institute has evolved a unique strategy for need-based PRI training and learning through cascades. Each round of a training cycle is operationalised along five main stages:
- Training needs assessment (TNA) carried out through multi-stakeholder interactive workshops every five years in tandem with the electoral cycle of PRIs.
- Training module and material development (TMD) entails preparation of customised modules for various PRI functionaries, based on emerging training needs. The Institute has six basic types of orientation training modules.
- Training of trainers (ToTs) equips trainer teams drawn from each block of the State, to deliver direct training to PRI functionaries, based on the need-based modules and reference materials developed by the Institute.
- Training of PRIs (TPRIs) a stage of the decentralised cascade flow training, happening across all districts and blocks through trainers directly training elected and official PRI functionaries, under the supervision of the Institute.
- Training impact assessment (TIA) was undertaken in 2004 under the Swiss Development Cooperation supported PRISMO project after the 2003 PRI training campaign. The impact highlights (TIA-2004) showed that role clarity and self-confidence of PRI functionaries increased after the training and the mind-set that development was equivalent to construction broken. Also, the understanding of human development goals were enhanced and more focus was imparted on education, especially that of girl children. Proactive role for health, water, sanitation and electricity coverage was seen along with a marked increase in gender-sensitivity in development planning and implementation of programmes. Women PRI leaders emerged more articulate and assertive and initiatives for eradication of social evils were taken up. Team synergy increased across elected official partnership and efforts for transparency and social audit initiated. A demand for continuous refresher training and resource support also increased.
A new project ‘Promoting Women’s Political Leadership and Gender Responsive Governance’ was rolled out (2012-14) in three districts, by UN-Women, MoPR, GoI and NIRD—for capacity building of women elected representatives. The learning from this project was mainstreamed across all districts under a state-wide refresher training campaign for gender responsive governance.
Panchayat Diwas Abhiyan
The government has lately launched a ‘Panchayat Diwas Abhiyan’ wherein two-gram panchayat units from each block are selected weekly to be visited by district and block officials of panchayati raj, rural development and devolved departments for updating records and resolving pending public grievances. This Campaign shall cover the State in a phased manner during 2014-15.
The future of panchayati raj institutions in Rajasthan looks bright, with sustained proactive initiatives taken by the Central and State for empowerment of PRIs and continuous capacity building interventions by SIRD-Rajasthan. The State has won 1st, 2nd and 3rd position in the last three years under the PEAIS–led National Awards, bequeathed on states on the 24th of April, the National Panchayat Day, for promoting effective devolution of powers to PRIs.