Sunny Sebastian

JAIPUR: A small but significant group of village sarpanchs who got elected in the recent Panchayati Raj elections in Rajasthan have resolved to take an oath of “transparency” instead of the usual “oath of secrecy”.

The sarpanchs also pledged to make known their assets and function in the most transparent manner possible.

“Normally it is oath of secrecy for most of the posts. However, it is the other way round for these people who have got elected using only honest means and very limited resources,” says Nikhil Dey of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan. “Everyone knows that now it is a big challenge to be a sarpanch and honest as each of them will handle a Rs.1-crore fund coming under the NREGS annually,” he adds driving home the relevance of such an act.

The sarpanchs -- over two dozen of them from eight districts -- who got together here recently have set an agenda for themselves and the State Government. In a resolution listing what they are planning to do and what they want the Government to do through various rules and directives, they have called for a social audit of works carried out at least during the past one year, a clear definition of the roles of secretaries and rozgar sewaks(employment assistants), full compliance of RTI norms and a total ban on both contracts and use of machines under the job scheme.

The sarpanchs from the group have already submitted a letter to the secretaries of the panchayats asking them to prepare a status report of the accounts—credits and liabilities, work carried out and the tasks pending, utilisation certificates and the payments due. So far the sarpanchs who take over the panchayats from their predecessors are not given any status report.

“At times it is bewildering as we are forced to sign for payment under the very schemes or the methods we had opposed,” says Suresh, Sarpanch of Roop Pura Panchayat in Bhilwara's Asind bloc. “I had opposed the material purchased under the NREGS in the past and now I have to sign on payment of Rs.42 lakh!” he adds wryly.

The sarpanchs, up-sarpanchs and ward panchs who met for a day here and took part in the monthly “Sanvad” (dialogue) the Rajasthan Government holds with Panchayati Raj representatives and social activists over NREGS functioning in their initial assessment of the tasks ahead, said next day that accountability is one thing that the “sachivs” (secretaries) want to escape.

“When I submitted the letter, the secretary in my panchayat said if this was going to be the case here he would better seek a transfer,” says Ramkaran from Rajsamand district.

The very mention of social audit—which is part of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, NREGA—is seemingly like waving a red rag at the bureaucracy. While most of the sarpanchs feel that at least one year's audit should be carried out, there is also the opinion that what happened in the past should be left behind and audits can be held periodically hereafter.

“If they have a problem with the words ‘social audit' let us not use them, but what all we want is more effective functioning of the NREGS,” says social activist Bhanwar Singh as one sarpanch from Pali district revealed that people of his panchayat wanted audits only in future.

The meetings turned out to a training camp for the newly elected with Magsaysay Award winner Aruna Roy and other activists interacting with them.