Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA) Director P.P. Balan has termed the disqualification of members of two panchayats in Kozhikode and Thrissur districts by the State Election Commissioner (SEC) as a “shock treatment” to members guilty of dereliction of their democratic duty.
The SEC disqualified all 18 members of Kuruvattur grama panchayat in Kozhikode and 21 out of the 22 members of Varandarapilly grama panchayat in Thrissur on Saturday for not convening the grama sabha within the time limit prescribed by the Panchayati Raj Act.
Speaking to The Hindu on Monday, Mr. Balan said that the significance of the move goes beyond the State and holds a lesson in the empowerment of democracy for other States as well. He hoped that the extreme step of disqualification will go a long way in correcting the persisting anomalies with regard to convening grama sabhas.
“Many panchayat members often look at grama sabhas as an unavoidable nuisance and hence are least interested in convening it,” Mr. Balan said. He said that this had come to the fore during a three-month long massive training for grama sabha members (ordinary voters) organised by KILA last year. The programme was aimed at creating awareness among the grama sabha members about their rights and privileges.
Mr. Balan feels that the awareness created through the training programme may have played a small role behind the disqualification as the SEC action was following mass petitions by informed voters of the two panchayats concerned.
While KILA had initially planned to cover 38 lakh grama sabha members under the training programme, it had to be satisfied with about 21 lakh members. The lack of interest of panchayat members was one of the reasons for the drop in target.
Lack of trust
He said that poor attendance cited by panchayat members for not regularly convening grama sabhas did not hold water. “The poor attendance points at people’s lack of trust in their representatives. Grama sabhas are being held regularly and many things are getting done wherever people have that trust,” he said.
Section 3(3) of the Kerala Panchayat Act stipulates that a panchayat member should convene his or her grama sabhas once in three months.