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Funds poser on panchayat pledge

Bhubaneswar, June 1: Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) promise to convert villages with 1,000 population into gram panchayats for improving local governance is unlikely to become a reality given the state’s present financial condition.

Odisha at present has 51,349 villages and 6, 236 gram panchayats. If the villages are converted to gram panchayats, the number will increase at least five times.

At present, a gram panchayat has a population (voters) varying between 5,000 and 7,000.

“We have not yet calculated the financial implications of the proposal that have to be borne for implementing each programme in the manifesto,” said an official.

For a gram panchayat, the government provides a concrete building to have its permanent office. It appoints a full-time panchayat secretary and a peon to assist the elected representatives headed by a sarpanch.

“There is no doubt that the move would strengthen the grassroots-level democracy. But to have over 30,000 to 35,000 gram panchayats and provide them with the infrastructure will be a monumental task. It’s a radical move. Odisha also provides 50 per cent reservation for women in all elected panchayat bodies. It will also be a big step towards empowering women,” said a ruling party leader.

The task is no doubt an uphill one considering that the state has not been able to provide the required infrastructure to open a branch of a nationalised bank in all the existing gram panchayats. The state does not have banks in nearly 4, 597 of its existing 6,236 gram panchayats.

The BJD manifesto has also promised to make available a state-of-the-art community hall-cum-kalayan mandap for infotainment in all the panchayats. It will be equipped with a modern video hall and facilities of a mini theatre. Besides, each panchayat headquarters will have high-mast lights with modern street-lighting facilities with the use of solar energy and a model library, which will be run by the panchayat. All panchayats will be connected by transport facilities under the Biju Gaon Yojana.

“Once we convert a village into a panchayat, we will have to provide the required infrastructure, including roads, electricity, piped drinking water and other facilities to make it a panchayat. We don’t know where the money will come from,” said an official.

The state’s financial position has weakened, as there has been a negative growth in resource mobilisation from the mining sector following the mining scam. Mines are being closed down “Where we will arrange the money from? There will be a huge pressure on the state exchequer in coming days. The state will be losing about Rs 2,000 crore from this year after the Paradip Oil refinery project is commissioned. As a concession to the refinery, the state deferred VAT collection on oil for a period of 11 years. Besides, the Seventh Pay Commission report for the government employees is expected to be tabled in 2016,” an official said.

The BJD, in its manifesto, has also promised availability of roads, water, electricity, irrigation facilities to nearly 10 lakh hectares in the next five years, pucca houses under the shelter security mission, health insurance plan, model public schools in each block and pilgrim allowances for senior citizens.

Former finance minister Panchanan Kanungo said: “There will be no funds problem as the Centre gives nearly 80 per cent of the money required for the development of a gram panchayat and the state bears only 20 per cent of it. Besides, the gram panchayats will also be entitled to collect holding tax. Conversion of villages into a gram panchayat is necessary.”