‘It is misusing powers to deny people their constitutional rights’

The Council for Social Justice and Peace (CSJP), a church-affiliated organisation working for social causes, on Saturday slammed the Goa government for what it termed “its repeated attempts to mislead the public and defame panchayat raj institutions, gram sabhas in particular”.

The CSJP was responding to statements made by Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar on the floor of the Assembly on Friday stating that village panchayats were elected bodies, which have the right to give licences for construction, and gram sabhas were only advisory in nature; their decisions cannot be legally binding on the panchayat.

A CSJP press release issued by its executive secretary, Savio M. Fernandes, said that it was most unfortunate that as the historic and politically path-breaking 73rd constitutional amendment is set to complete 20 years on April 24, the Goa government is continuing to misuse its powers to abuse and deny the constitutional rights of the people.

The reference is to the controversial circular of the State Town and Country Planning (TCP) Department to the Panchayat Department clarifying the advisory role of gram sabhas with regard to housing and other projects coming up in village panchayat areas and that resolutions of gram sabhas demanding scrapping of projects are not binding on the TCP.

Understandably, the Parrikar government stuck to its guns when the issue came up for debate during the question hour in the House on Friday.

Contesting the government’s stand on gram sabhas, the CSJP, as on several occasions earlier, reiterated that Panchayati Raj is not about representative democracy but about direct democracy.

“The 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments are about real participatory democracy with gram sabhas as the fulcrum of local self-governance,” said the CSJP response.

The gram sabha is not a lesser body within the panchayat institution than elected panchayat representatives.

The ultimate yardstick for the rightful status of the panchayat and the gram sabha in democratic governance is the Constitution of India and cannot be restricted to the Goa Panchayat Raj Act, 1994, in isolation, stated the CSJP.

The CSJP asserted that the gram sabha was the final authority in many respects of village governance as per Sub-section 1 of Section 6 of the Goa Panchayat Raj Act, 1994. Further, the resolutions of the gram sabha were binding on the village panchayat, provided it was not contrary to the rules and regulations framed under the Panchayat Act or any other law in force (Sub-section 4 of Section 6 of the Goa Panchayat Raj Act).

It criticised the government for accusing gram sabhas of exceeding powers with regard to construction projects in villages when these activities severely impact natural resource management, social and economic plans and programmes that are the function and prerogative of gram sabhas.

The CSJP demanded an apology from the government for the repeated demeaning allegations against gram sabhas.

Fr. Fernandes said the CSJP would consult gram sabha members across the State to make them aware about the denial of their constitutional rights and to work out effective remedies to seek justice.

  • ‘Gram sabhas are the final authority in many respects of village governance’

  • ‘Panchayati Raj is not about representative democracy but about direct democracy’