N.J. Nair

Merger of Local Administration and Rural Development departments

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Government decision to merge the Local Administration and Rural Development Departments is expected to give a fillip to the People's Plan Campaign and effective implementation of the welfare projects for the poor and the marginalised sections.

The decision was a corollary to the steps taken by the former LDF Government to merge the two departments.

In a bid to strengthen the decentralisation of powers and ensure efficient execution of the welfare projects for the poor, the LDF Government had appointed a committee headed by the then Planning Board member T.M. Thomas Isaac to study the functioning of the two departments.

The committee had recommended dissolution of the District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) and its integration with the district panchayat.

This was primarily meant to avoid duplication of powers and better execution of the Centrally-sponsored schemes by the DRDA. The Government had then directed to handover all the assets and liabilities of the DRDA to the district panchayat and poverty alleviation was made part of its routine functions.

It went on to issue an order to effect the merger at the Secretary-level.

But before completing the entire process, Assembly elections were announced and the LDF was voted out of power.

The successor UDF Government kept the merger proposal in abeyance and chose to revert to splitting the departments, allocating Local Administration to Cherkalam Abdullah and Rural Development to C.F. Thomas.

The Local Administration Department had separate rural and urban secretaries who reported to Mr. Abdullah, while the rural development secretary was answerable to Mr. Thomas.

The only system to be maintained was a co-ordination committee envisaged by the LDF Government.

The monthly meetings of the committee were chaired by the Local Administration Minister, and the Rural Development Minister too used to attend the meetings.

The policy decision to merge the departments is expected to ensure better coordination of the district, block and grama panchayats and also smooth implementation of the poverty alleviation projects.

DRDA's functioning

With the implementation of the Panchayati Raj system, the DRDA had become redundant and there were complaints that the functioning of the agency was impeding the smooth running of the panchayats.

By transferring the staff under the DRDA to the panchayats, the problem of staff shortage in local bodies institutions could be addressed to a considerable extent. Implementation of the proposal has meant bringing the Town and Country Planning Department, urban affairs, rural development and panchayats under a single administrative department with S.M. Vijayanand in charge.