The growing discontent among panchayat representatives that they are unable to perform their duties freely, thanks to uncooperative babus, again came to the fore today.
Five hundred mukhiyas, who were attending a meeting in the state capital organised by Vikas Bharti Bishunpur — an NGO working to strengthen the panchayati raj institution — said people had started believing in “self-rule” after the panchayati raj bodies came into being. But in the same breath, they added that local-level officials, particularly those in the block, were unwilling to part with the power they used to enjoy prior to the rural polls.
“Dwelling units under Indira Awas Yojana are still being distributed according to the list that the block officials had drawn up 10 years ago. The new list prepared by us keeping in mind the actual need of the gram panchayat is ignored by them. We feel helpless,” rued Nilambar Nayak, mukhiya of Kochedega panchayat of Simdega district.
He added that block officials threatened them of dire consequences whenever they raised questions about the sub-standard quality of work during construction of schools buildings, Indira Awas Yojana houses, roads and the like.
“The official-contractor nexus does not allow us to exercise our power and responsibilities properly. The block development official (BDO) is supposed to convene a meeting of mukhiyas once a week. But it does not happen,” Nayak said, arguing that the local-level bureaucracy was the biggest stumbling block in maintaining the true spirit of the panchayati raj system. Other mukhiyas agreed, many of whom did not hesitate to express their pent-up anger.
Panchayati raj secretary Rajeev Arun Ekka, state agriculture director K.K. Soan and Vikas Bharti secretary Ashok Bhagat, who were present at the meeting, asked the mukhiyas to assert themselves instead of bowing before the block-level bureaucracy.
“I want the mukhiyas to prepare an exhaustive village development plan for their respective panchayats. They should take two-three months to finish this. If what they come up with is really sound, no block-level official can ignore them. If that happens, the administration will take action,” said Ekka.
Yesterday, governor Syed Ahmed had said a workshop for elected panchayat members would be organised soon to apprise them of their rights and duties. Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh will be requested to grace the occasion.