Strengthening Panchayati Raj
The 73rd Constitution Amendments came into existence in April 1993. It is an enabling provision, re-empowering Gram Panchayats and rural masses. Gram Panchayat, with all its limitations, remains the best possible local body created by the Constitution to elicit people’s participation in development process. Impacting and empowering the PRIs would lead to more sustainable development process. Kumar Kalanand Mani, Peaceful Society did organise a national seminar on behalf of Gandhi Peace Centre, Hyderabad at Mahatma Gandhiji’s abode Sevagram Ashram in October 1993 and did compile a book on the subject.
A follow-up 2 days western region consultation was organised by Peaceful Society in its campus in Goa. The like- minded activists, organisations and development thinkers from the states of Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat took part and and discussed the 73rd and the 74th Constitution Amendment. The consultation formed a regional level Forum to carry out task of popularising the Amendment and strengthening the PRIs. State Coordination Committee and Regional Coordination Committee were constituted to plan and oversee the programmes in the three states. The main objective of the forum is to work on aspects of PRI work, which would strengthen the 73rd Constitution Amendment in general and participation of women, STs, dalits and OBCsin particular. While the forum intends to cover panchayats at all levels, the main focus and area of intervention has been the village panchayats.
The Western India Forum for Panchayati Raj (WIFPR) is an informal network and comprising of associates belonging to various organisations, NGOs, academic institutions, individuals, Sarpanch and other elected panchayat members. At present WIFPR have associates from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa. The secretariat of WIFPR was first with Peaceful Society and after few years it was shifted to Ahmedabad with its convener-ship to Rajesh Bhat.
Interventions and Impact
- Panchayati Raj Margadarshan Kendra (PRMK) the guidance cell for panchayats in Gujarat is accessible to all panchayats in the State.
- Sarpanch the Marathi, English and Gujarati newsletter of WIFPR was published every quarter and has become popular. The Gujarati edition sustained for long time and its reached out to many remote Panchayats in Gujarat. The Marathi newsletter was named as Chavdi.
- The panchayat calendar highlighting the important dates and events in the panchayat is published annually and distributed. Posters and pamphlets in local languages are also produced.
- Training of the panchayat members and NGOs has been an ongoing programme of the forum. These programmes are tailor made and include pre and post election-training sessions for village panchayats, special programmes for specific categories of panchayats (industrial, tribal etc.) and training
- The Goa state forum has been involving the local press to highlight issues related to PRIs. It has also networked with an NGO working with consumer movement. The state forum has also strategically used the support of the state government especially in the designing of the booklets. Expsoure tours were organised to provide broader spectrum to the PRI functionaries.
After having established the presence in the western region, consultations were organised in Northern, Eastern and Southern region which culminated in to formation of Forum for Panchayati Raj with Kumar Kalanand Mani as its national convener. Peaceful Society formed Centre for Panchayati Raj to carry out the mandate of the Forum at the national level. Mr. Soter D’Souza took responsibility as its honorary director of the Centre.
The forum at national level did three notable task. One was preparing a Model National Act for Ideal Village Panchayat in India ensuring building of Indian democracy from the bottom. This was done in four years of rigorous processes of consultations at state level and 4 dialogues at the national level ( Goa, Ahmedabad, Sidh – Mussoorie, Trivandrum) and in-depth research . The state level scenario and experiences based on outcome of implementation of 73rd constitutional amendment were shared by PRI functionaries and social organisations in state and region level consultations. A three days national level seminar on Gram Sabha was organised in PS campus which was focussed on the status and relevance of the Gram Sabha in Panchayati Raj. At last 4 members team of Rajesh Bhat, Ramesh Shah, Soter F. D’Souza and Kumar Kalanand Mani did the final drafting of the Model Act for Ideal Village Panchayat in India. The draft was presented before some of stalwarts related with PRI in India for their suggestions and thereafter final draft was endorsed in a national conference held in PS campus in Goa.
This model act was briefed and submitted to Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar, Union Minister of Panchayati Raj, Govt of India by Mr. Soter F. D’Souza. The minister not only appreciated the draft model act and Peaceful Society , but quickly forwarded it to his team of senior officers to work on it.
The second notable work of National Forum for Panchayati Raj was as stated above organising a national seminar on Gram Sabha in PS campus with the objective to understand and highlight the status of Gram Sabha and strengthen its relevance. Later a report of the seminar was printed and widely circulated.
The third task Forum did was studying the present status of the Panchayati Raj in India. Mr. Ramesh Shah, a retired dy. Commissioner of Govt of Gujarat and an authority on PRI and Prof. Baldev Khosha visited many states, met PRI functionaries, academic institutions, government officials, social organisations. They attended series of state and regional level dialogues organised for the preparations of Draft Model Act. They penned a status report titled as Panchayati Raj In India: A Post 73rd Constitutional Amendment Scenario. This was published and circulated by Peaceful Society in 2007. The book was submitted to PRI ministry in every states and union govt of India.
For taking overall task of strengthening Panchayati Raj ahead, one unit within Peaceful Society was formed as Centre of Panchayati Raj headed by Mr. Soter F D’Souza. This unit was coordinating the activities at national and at Goa state level and also within the state of Goa. The Centre organise series of training programme on Panchayati Raj all over Goa, took leaders of PRI on study tour to reputed and renowned Panchayats in India and did publish series of booklets on the subject,
- The Gram Sabha,
- The functions ad responsibilities of the Panchayat.
- The powers and duties of the Sarpanch.
- The Finance & Planning of Panchayat.
- The Construction Rule.
- The Planning, Accounts, Budget and Audit of Goa Village Panchayat.
- 73rd Constitutional Amendment.
- Handbook on Panchayati Raj.
- Report on The State of Panchayat in Goa.
- Two posters on Gram Sabha.
These have been sent to all the 186 PRI institutions in the State and the response has been encouraging. PS also serves as a resource center for individual members, village panchayats as well as the government department. Its booklets are considered standard documents by the concerned dept. and are being distributed through official circles. PS has collaborated with social organisations in Goa to hold workshops for PRI members to help them participate more effectively in the PRIs as well as seminars and public meetings to bring greater awareness to the general public about PRIs in general.
For a brief period the activities of Centre was supported by Indo German Social Service Society, New Delhi, otherwise whole of programme was carried by Peaceful Society of its own and also in between under PE & SD programme supported by EED, Germany till 2011.