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Statute change to empower panchayats

New Delhi, Jan. 28: To strengthen panchayat raj institutions and effect speedy development at the grassroots level, the Centre is contemplating amending the Constitution to enable transfer of 13 state subjects to panchayats.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, keen to empower the institutions, may try to evolve a political consensus before going ahead with the amendment. Later, a Bill will be introduced in Parliament to carry out the necessary amendment to the Constitution.

Sources close to rural development minister Shanta Kumar said the Centre wanted to transfer 29 subjects to the panchayats, but some states opposed the move as they feared the Centre would grab the opportunity to interfere in their affairs.

After persistent efforts, the Centre was able to convince the states, which agreed to the transfer of 13 subjects to panchayats.

The ministry sources said in many cases, the states diverted funds meant for the institutions as the ruling parties used the money for populist schemes.

As rural development minister, BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu had criticised the Janmabhoomi scheme of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, also Telugu Desam Party chief.

According to ministry officials, as a result of funds diversion, development was not trickling down to the grassroots. They said the panchayats should be given the responsibility to levy and collect taxes, fees, duties or tolls and also the appropriate powers to generate their own resources.

Some departments likely to be transferred to the institutions are rural roads, minor forest, drinking water, primary health, primary education and water-shed management.

Ministry officials said some states have devolved more powers upon district and intermediate panchayats. Most of the states, after devolving several responsibilities upon the institutions, have not shifted staff and funds commensurate with the subjects transferred.

The Constitutionís Article 243-G vests the state legislature with powers to make laws to endow the panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government in respect of 29 subjects listed in the Eleventh Schedule.

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