SKM has stripped Panchayats of powers and relevance, SDF rues

Sagar Chettri

Gangtok, 06 Oct:

Sikkim Democratic Front’s panchayat cell senior vice-president [in-charge], KN Rai, today contended that the SKM Government has been consistently stripping away the powers of panchayats and has relegated them to merely token presence with no authority of consequence.

He further alleged that schemes and works are being distributed without getting cleared at Gram Sabhas and urged the State government to open its eyes to the greater relevance and role of Panchayati Raj Institutions.

Addressing a press conference here today, Mr Rai spoke at length about the various steps taken by the SDF government, which he too had served as Rural Development Minister, to strengthen PRIs in Sikkim. The SDF Government had worked for power decentralization and devolution by transferring 29 subjects to Panchayats to strengthen the Panchayati Raj system and to take the government to the people’s doorsteps.

He added that the SDF government had constituted village planning forums and activity-mapping as a bottom-up approach to development planning.

The SKM Government has, however, constricted the functioning of panchayats and that the process of devolution of power has been abandoned.

He stressed that good governance was a right of the people and urged the government to take its responsibility towards the people seriously. SDF was ready to advice and support the government if required, he also offered.

Mr Rai pointed out that the SKM government had taken out a notification replacing the panchayats with BDOs in selecting beneficiaries and had to then withdraw it since it was clearly violative of the panchayati raj act. The attempt was made with the obvious intention of superseding the powers of elected panchayat representatives with bureaucrats, turning every intention of panchayat reforms on its head.

Mr Rai went on point out that the ill-advised attempt to cheat elected panchayats of their rights, responsibilities and powers continued and that although the government had withdrawn the notification, it issued an ordinance by which the committee to select beneficiaries from rural areas will have the senior-most government nominee as chairperson.

Mr Rai reminded the government that the executive cannot lead the legislative since it militates against the idea of democracy. The SKM Government doing so establishes that it does not follow the Constitution of the country, he said.

Recognising that the SKM will twist his comments to suggest that SDF was opposed to distribution of schemes and benefits, Mr Rai clarified, “We are not saying that schemes and benefits should not be distributed to the people but are stressing that distribution should follow a proper, constitutionally mandated system. Panchayats are established by the Constitution.”

He added that the SKM government recently slashed the discretionary funds and grants of panchayats as a supposedly austerity measure. This excuse of austerity conflicts with the flagrancy with which the same state government was appointing chairperson and advisors, he adds.

A sitting panchayat, Topda Bhutia, who is also the vice-president [South/ West] of SDF’s panchayat cell, reiterated that the Panchayati Raj System has totally collapsed in Sikkim under the present government.

Panchayats report to office only to issue category certificates and have been shorn of all powers to help plan and execute development in the villages.