Panchayat members from across the State to join agitation on July 25

The two-month-old Siddaramaiah government faces the first major backlash against its policies. The Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is gearing up to “lay siege to the Vidhana Soudha” along with village panchayat members from different parts of the State on July 25 to protest against a Bill that disqualifies panchayat members if they fail to convene meetings of ward sabhas (meetings) once in six months.

Addressing a press conference in Bangalore on Thursday, BJP State president Pralhad Joshi flayed the Karnataka Panchayat Raj (Amendment) Bill-2013 that provides for such stringent provisions. The Bill, which also stipulates disqualification of village panchayat presidents if they fail to convene meetings of the gram sabha once in six months, has already been adopted by the Assembly amid protest by the Opposition.

Terming the provisions of the Bill as “draconian”, Mr. Joshi wondered why such a stringent norm should apply only to the village panchayat members when higher-level elected representatives such as MLAs and MPs are allowed to go scot-free.

Difficult situation

Of the total 93,000 panchayat members, 15,823 are unlettered, 27,705 are Dalits and 39,000 are women, he said adding that it may be difficult for them to get the co-operation of the local people and bureaucracy in adhering to the deadline in areas marked by feudal set-ups.

MLC and former Minister Kota Srinivas Poojary, who has been elected from the panchayat constituency, said the government should first empower these members and the panchayats to regularly hold grama/ward sabhas by providing them adequate staff and funds.

“Some members are hesitant to hold such meetings as they do not have funds to take up civic works suggested at meetings. The government has mandated the panchayats to provide 60 per cent of their annual grant of Rs. 8 lakh towards power bills, and the remaining towards staff salaries. It leaves them with no money to take up civic works,” he said.