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Pat & prod on panchayats

Kharibari/Rangapani, June 23: In the season of introspection, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today said though the Left Front had pioneered the panchayat experiment in the country, a lot more still had to be done, especially in the rural areas.

Addressing a public rally at Kharibari, on the outskirts of Siliguri, ahead of the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad poll on Sunday, Bhattacharjee said: “It is nothing short of an achievement to have effectively implemented the panchayat system in the state since 1978. But we should improve our performance and our government is committed to the purpose.”

The chief minister, who braved a downpour to address another gathering at Rangapani, claimed that basic problems of the rural masses had been solved by the government which had allocated nearly 50 per cent of the state’s budgetary funds to rural self-governance.

“Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad is a successful example of effecting changes at the grassroots level through the infrastructure of the panchayat,” Bhattacharjee said.

He spelt out a larger role for the parishad, saying it is expected to focus on rehabilitation programmes for the surrendered KLO militants as well.

The chief minister’s admission that there was still room for improvement in the panchayat administration comes days after he admitted that pockets of hunger and poverty still existed in Bengal.

Bhattacharjee said the mahakuma parishad’s task is tougher as it has to cater to the social and political aspirations of rural ethnic groups of the region.

“The parishad, within its panchayat set-up, should work towards holding members of the Nepali, Rajbanshi, Bihari and adivasi communities together. The government will support its effort of upholding the social and economic rights of these communities,” he said.

The crowd broke into applause when Bhattacharjee promised to direct the Darjeeling administration to ensure that no land belonging to adivasis is “taken over” illegally. “It is criminal, and offenders will be punished,” he said.

Bhattacharjee then moved on from praise and promises to taking potshots at the Congress and its local allies.

“The Congress remained divorced from the aspirations of the people since Independence and was never married to the ideas of rural self-governance,” he said.

“In the parishad poll, the Congress has entered into an opportunistic alliance with the BJP and KPP. This reveals the party’s true colours.”

That said, the chief minister quickly added: “Local Rajbanshis were always with us and the dwindling support for the KPP in large parts of the region is a case in point.”

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