Even as Maoists continue to pose a threat to the government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday urged panchayats to play a big role in helping the Centre tackle the rebels by working more effectively and ensuring administrative transparency.
Inaugurating a conference to celebrate ‘National Panchayati Raj Day' under the auspices of the Ministry of the Panchayati Raj here on Saturday, Dr. Singh said that if Panchayati Raj institutions (PRIs) functioned properly and locals participated in the development process, the Maoist threat could be countered.
“We should pay special attention to ensure that PRIs function effectively in remote and backward areas, which include tribal areas,” he said, adding that the participation of panchayats in various development programmes was essential, since they understood the local needs.
“They play an important role in ensuring transparency and accountability in the functioning of government institutions and officials,” Dr. Singh added.
April 24 is observed as Panchayati Raj Day because on this day in 1993, the 73rd Constitutional Amendment was implemented, setting up the three-tier panchayats system — village panchayats, panchayat unions and district panchayats — for grass roots-level governance.
Dr. Singh said he was happy that the local bodies' poll was held regularly and about 28 lakh people were getting elected through 600 district panchayats, 6,000 intermediate panchayats (panchayat unions) and 2.3 lakh village panchayats.
On the proposed 50 per cent reservation in local bodies for women, the Prime Minister said that when implemented, the women representatives' strength would go up to 14 lakh from the present 10 lakh (with one-third reservation), adding that he was happy that the present strength of women (10 lakh) in local bodies was more than the seats reserved for them.
Dr. Singh said PRIs had been given special importance in the implementation of various government schemes in the 11th Five-Year Plan as they understood local issues well.
He added that the government was aware of the difficulties faced by panchayats. “It has been our continuous endeavour that basic facilities are provided to PRIs and arrangements for [devolution of] funds, functions and functionaries be made to them,” he said.
Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister C.P. Joshi said the time had come for another Constitutional Amendment to empower the rural people by making the devolution of power to PRIs mandatory.
“There is a need to bring changes at the grass roots-level by setting Human Development Index standards,” Mr. Joshi said, adding that a National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) for the socio-economic development of rural India would be launched soon.
Awards under the Panchayat Empowerment and Accountability Incentive Scheme (PEAIS) were presented to Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Sikkim during the function.