The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bad roads & power cuts eclipse Digvijay samitis

Jabalpur, Nov. 25: Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh showcased the gram samiti scheme as the ultimate in panchayati raj because it meant that the village-level committees would directly monitor the projects in different areas and handle the central and state funds.

The scheme was touted as more “radical” than the earlier one that allowed the elected local leaders to function independent of the district officials.

In the 1998 polls, the devolution of powers to the elected sarpanches and pradhans helped Digvijay stave off the anti-incumbency baggage to a large extent. He hoped for an encore with his latest brainchild but power shortage and bad roads have eclipsed whatever spinoffs he hoped for. Even members of the samitis were sceptical of its effectiveness on other counts.

Keherse Uike, the village secretary of Udaipur in Mandla, about 100 km from Jabalpur, said the basic problem was members of the committees were largely unlettered.

“They have not figured out the rules and regulations, how they should network, what their powers are vis-à-vis government officials. The samitis are supposed to meet every week, but people are so preoccupied with earning a living that since their formation in 2001, in this village, they have met only twice,” he said.

The result was even drought relief from the state government — which was supposed to have come directly to the samitis — was channelled through the administration, said Uike. “What the villagers got was a little prasad instead of the entire money.”

Sahdev Prasad Tandon, a resident of Ramtila, 30 km from Mandla, is a secretary of the village development committee but he candidly spoke of money going into “wrong” hands. “The members are elected representatives, but that is on paper. In reality, it is the sarpanch who nominated them. If you are his chamcha and keep him happy with regular cuts and commissions, you also benefit. But in the process, the people get nothing,” he said.

Suresh Kumar Singaria, an advocate based in Prempur, near Mandla, spoke of another kind of aberration. “This is a tribal dominated area so other castes have little or no say in running these samitis. Powerful adivasi sarpanches and samiti members cannot be questioned. Anyone who does risks facing arrest under the Prevention of Atrocities on SC/ST Act,” he said.

But there were some like Bhagwan Singh Rajput of Kherranji in Seoni who claimed there was a positive side to it. He said earlier work in the irrigation scheme was done through private contractors after the district administration floated tenders, but now it is handled directly by the “elected representatives”. “In fact, there is greater accountability and transparency.”

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