The need for forming an exclusive list for local self-government institutions as well as the problems triggered by the imposition of Centrally sponsored schemes on States came up for discussion at a consultative session on improving local governance in the country. The interactive session with the Expert Committee on Panchayati Raj headed by Mani Shankar Aiyar which reached here on Thursday to elicit opinion on strengthening Panchayati Raj institutions was held under the aegis of the Kerala Institute for Local Administration and the National Institute of Rural Development.
Former State Finance Commission chairman M.A. Oommen said that Schedule 7 of the Constitution should be scrapped and the functional role of the Union and the State governments should be restructured. Owing to the failure in defining activity boundary and responsibility mapping, grama panchayats had become the ‘happy hunting ground’ of the other tiers.
He stressed the need for limiting the number of Centrally sponsored schemes to 50 and said that flagship schemes which mandated a share from the State governments were upsetting their priority. Consent of the States should be sought for introducing such schemes, and it should be used for research and development.
A local government service cadre should be carved out. Kerala had set a model in institutional decentralisation. But bottom-up planning was not happening. Civic bodies had no fiscal space. A local taxation inquiry panel should be constituted. Panchayats should publish a women’s status report. Grama sabha should become the central piece of decentralised planning and operational cost should be identified, he said.
State Election Commissioner K. Sasidharan Nair sought a Constitutional amendment for defining the powers of the Union and the State governments. Panchayats were regional authorities in many States. The functional space of panchayats should be defined. Taking a cue from Kerala, a unified law should be framed for fixing the role and powers of grama sabhas, he said.
Kerala Sashtra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP) representative P.K. Ravindran spelt out the problems in conducting grama sabhas. Now, there were only ward sabhas which represented the needs of the wards. A wholesome development view for a local body could be evolved only by a body with a representation of all wards.