Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Saturday announced a series of steps to empower the panchayats and strengthen the Gandhian concept of “Gram Swaraj” (Village self rule) on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The announcements include transfer of five departments to the panchayats, setting up of a Finance Commission for facilitating funds to these bodies and formation of a Rural Livelihood Development Council.

Mr. Gehlot promised devolution of at least 10 per cent of the State's Annual Plan for the year 2011-2012 to the panchayats through the recommendations of the Fourth Finance Commission and creation of three more posts at panchayat level besides filling of all existing vacancies in the panchayats and the related departments for the smooth implementation of the new regimen. The decision on the transfer of powers has been made on the recommendations of State Planning Board, headed by V.S.Vyas, who visited Kerala to study the existing model there.

The steps are in compliance with the promises made in the Congress election manifesto and also in continuation of the initiatives taken by the previous Gehlot Government in 2003 to devolve powers of 16 departments to the panchayats, Mr. Gehlot said addressing media persons in the presence of half a dozen ministers, the Chief Secretary and senior officials. The departments which are being transferred to the panchayats are: Primary education, Agriculture, Women and Child Development, Social Justice and Empowerment and Medicine and Health.

The devolution involves “funds, functions and functionaries”. The transferred departments will have their staff in districts under the panchayats. The panchayats will have additional man power in the form of a panchayat development officer and two personnel from “capable employee” category. More staff, including computer personnel, would be provided at panchayat samiti and zila parishad levels.

Mr.Gehlot said the CEOs posted at Divisional headquarters would be an IAS officer while in the districts it will be a super-time scale officer of the Rajasthan Administrative Service. Similarly the Additional Chief Executive Officer (ACEO) will be given additional charge of programme coordinator of the MGNREGA.

“We have given considerable thought to our act. This is in accordance with the dreams of the Mahatma for ‘Gram Swaraj'. Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister too had tried to realise this dream through the 73{+r}{+d} Amendment,” the Chief Minister said. “A delay of eight years has taken place after we tried to transfer 16 departments to panchayats in June 2003. The delay was due to the previous Government indifferent attitude to empowering the panchayats,” Mr.Gehlot said pointing out that the previous BJP Government had withdrawn three departments from panchayats soon after it coming to power.

“Transferring powers is one thing. Their proper implementation is another,” Mr. Gehlot said conceding the onerous tasks ahead in making it really happen. “This is only the first phase. We will have more departments shifted to panchayats in a phased manner. In the meantime we will watch the performance of these five departments under panchayats,” he said.

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