A consultative meet of panchayat presidents on panchayat administration and implementation of the MNREGA was held in Tiruchi on Thursday

A group of panchayat presidents, including women and Dalit presidents, have called upon the government to appoint full-time resource support groups at the block level and full-time project officers at the district and block levels dedicated to oversee the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA).

A consultative meet of panchayat presidents on panchayat administration and implementation of the MNREGA in the State, organised by Tamil Nadu Federation Presidents of Panchayat Government (TNFWPPG), Tamil Nadu Dalit Panchayat Presidents Federation, and Tamil Nadu NGO Alliance for Empowering Panchayat Government here on Thursday, also demanded that district collectors conduct monthly meetings with the panchayats to discuss difficulties in implementation of the works taken up under the MNREGA scheme.

Beneficiaries employed under the scheme should get a wage of Rs.119 irrespective of the soil type where the works are carried out. The meeting was attended by about 50 panchayat presidents from various districts.

The meeting called for capacity-building training for the staff and panchayat representatives responsible for implementation of the Act. It also suggested that environmental conservation efforts such as sapling plantation be taken up under the scheme and linked with the forest department initiatives.

Macro-level changes should be done by the State government to plan, fix a time frame, and the seasons for the works to be taken up under the scheme without impacting agricultural work. Proper planning could increase the average number of working days to the rural masses under the scheme, it said.

Through other resolutions the meeting called for the repeal of the powers vested with collectors as inspectors of panchayats under the Tamil Nadu Panchayat Act 1994. The district panchayat should be strengthened and empowered to monitor the village panchayats and panchayat unions.

The government should also devolve all powers listed under 29 heads in the 73rd Constitutional Amendment. At least 20 per cent of the total revenue expenditure of the government budget should be allocated to panchayats.

The resolutions of grama sabhas should be decided by the respective panchayats and not the district administration, and the electricity charge for panchayat, a major burden now, should be reduced or fully subsidised. Panchayat presidents should also be given a monthly honorarium of Rs.15, 000, the meeting demanded.

S.Martin, advocate, who inaugurated the meeting, called upon panchayat presidents to be aware of their rights and responsibilities, and exercise them.

Panchayats should be able to decide the works to be taken up under the MNREGS and they should plan to improve the village resources utilising the scheme.

N.Manimekalai, professor, Department of Women Studies, Bharathidasan University, M.Karuna, convenor, NREGA Watch-TN, Jesurethinam, A.Gandhimathi and N.Thayalan, advisors, TNFWPPG, M.Jeeva, convenor, TN NGO Alliance for Empowering Panchayat Government, and Ossie Fernandes, Director, Human Rights Foundation, spoke.