Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday advocated need for strengthening the gram sabhas for effective participation of people in governance. Though the idea of self-governance had got legal acceptance, there was still a “long way to go for bringing in decentralisation,” he said at a function on National Panchayat Diwas here.

Dr. Singh said the government was considering increasing the capacity of panchayats so that they could discharge their responsibilities effectively.

Highlighting the importance of timely elections to panchayats for their effective functioning, he said the 70 to 80 per cent turnout in the panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand a few days ago “reflects that people now want to decide their future themselves.”

Panchayati raj had a special place in Rajiv Gandhi's vision of a modern India and the 73rd constitutional amendment in 1993 on panchayati raj led to decentralisation of political powers, giving many powers to the panchayats. There was greater transparency in implementation of government schemes at present due to social audit, he noted.

United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi said gram sabhas should be empowered to do social audit of all the schemes and it had a special role in the monitoring of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

There was need to consider many options to strengthen the panchayati raj system. Meetings of gram sabhas should be held regularly and women and deprived sections must participate in them and place their views, she stated.

Highlighting the UPA government's initiatives for the social and economic development of the common man, Ms. Gandhi said the full benefits of these programmes would reach the people only when the panchayati raj institutions in the country were strengthened.

“The main purpose of panchayati raj is self-governance, which is the last stage of democracy to which we all are committed.”

Awards presented

Dr. Singh distributed the annual Panchayat Empowerment and Accountability Incentive Scheme (PEAIS) awards to the best performing States. Maharashtra bagged the maximum number of awards.

Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda received the award for his State.

Minister of Panchayati Raj Vilasrao Deshmukh said there was need to strengthen gram sabhas on the lines of the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha. The Panchayati Raj Ministry had, in consultation with the States and Union Ministries, finalised the road map for strengthening the panchayati raj for the next five years, to almost coincide with the 12th Five Year Plan. The Minister hoped that the road map would provide effective decentralisation agenda to the States and Union Ministries.

IT, a necessary tool

The road map sets out strategies and action plan for real devolution of functions and funds. Information Technology was a necessary tool for transparency, disclosure of information and social audit, efficient delivery of services and for improving internal management of panchayats, he noted.

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