Expressing serious concern over increasing bureaucratic activism in the Panchayati Raj, Congress president Sonia Gandhi today said that despite all efforts, there was a deterioration in the rural administration system and the voice of villagers was being muzzled.

"Several State governments did not conduct timely elections for local bodies and panchayats just for gaining political mileage, which led to deterioration of Panchayati Raj system rendering them helpless. The role of the administration became increasingly important and the peoples' voice started getting muzzled."

She was speaking at a rally organised here to mark the golden jubilee celebration of Panchayati Raj system.

Recalling her husband and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's contribution to enacting the Panchayati Raj Act, the UPA chairperson said, "When Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister, he was saddened to see the condition of the people and took a pledge to bring a change in their living standards."

She said, "Due to the strengthening of the Panchayati Raj system, at least 12 lakh women of the country today could freely express their voice on issues concerning them."

Ms. Gandhi also said that the Centre was committed to empowering the panchayats to enable villagers to fulfil the dream of first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru.

The UPA chairperson also asked the people to strengthen the National Rural Employment Guarantee Yojana (NREGA) and Panchayati Raj.

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