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Centre plans more teeth for panchayats

New Delhi, July 25: The Centre is ready to bring a constitutional amendment bill to give greater financial and administrative powers to the panchayati raj institutions.

The amendment might also include direct election of chairmen of zilla panchayats as indirect polls had led to irregularities.

The government has no objection to including the panchayati institutions in the Concurrent List, if the states want it and if all parties agree.

Winding up discussions in the Lok Sabha on a government motion on 10 years of the panchayati raj since the 73rd and 74th Constitution amendments in 1993, rural development minister Kashiram Rana today said the Centre also plans to institute awards for best zilla, block or taluka and gram panchayats.

The awards, for six zilla, 12 intermediate (block/ taluka) and 50 gram panchayats, would carry prize money of Rs 30 lakh, Rs 20 lakh and Rs 10 lakh each, in the three categories.

Rana said the government is not averse to the idea of direct elections of the chairman of zilla panchayat. Giving more powers to these institutions means strengthening democracy at the grassroots level, he added.

Except Karnataka, no state has devolved powers on panchayati institutions in all 29 subjects under the 11th Schedule of the Constitution, the minister said.

A similar discussion in the Rajya Sabha saw minister of state for rural development Annasaheb M.K. Patil saying the Centre had convened a meeting of the empowered sub-committee on August 2 to resolve the contentious issue of devolution of financial and other powers to these bodies.

The sub-committee has been constituted by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to deal with all aspects of the panchayati bodies. This would be the second such meeting in recent months, Patil added.

Rana said the Centre would also ensure that targets are met and funds meant for the panchayati institutions are not siphoned off. It also plans to allot more funds for the training of panchayati raj representatives. There are 30 lakh elected representatives of which 10 lakh are women.

Referring to the complaints of several members that funds are not reaching the grassroots level, the minister said vigilance committees headed by MPs would be made more effective.

Rana said the Centre had no objection if state governments decide to give some allowances to the elected representatives.

The rural development minister, who moved the motion, said while some states had devolved more powers on district and intermediate panchayats, some had done so only on gram and intermediate panchayats, ignoring zilla panchayats.

Rana also stressed on giving panchayats powers to levy and collect their taxes and generate own resources.

Initiating the discussion in the Lok Sabha yesterday, Congress member Mani Shankar Aiyar said efforts should not merely be aimed at decentralisation but also to ensure that these institutions are not turned into agencies of state governments.

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