: The Odisha government has promulgated an ordinance making participation of Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) representatives in disaster management activities obligatory.
The Odisha Panchayat Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2021 seeks to amend Odisha Gram Panchayat Act 1964, Odisha Panchayat Samiti Act, 1959 and Odisha Zilla Parshad Act, 1991.
Until now, PRI members had been governed by executive instructions during disasters.
The clause — the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, preparation of disaster management plan at village and Grama Panchayat level, integration with development plan, capacity building of stakeholders, carrying out and facilitation of relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities in disaster affected areas in accordance with State plan and district plan, and to undertake other measures as may be necessary for disaster management — has been inserted under Section 44 of OGP Act 1964.
The section talks about the obligatory functions of gram panchayat elected members such as construction, repair and maintenance of public road, removal of encroachment on public streets and maintenance of other public infrastructure such as drinking water facilities and drains.
“The panchayat elected members used to participate by executive instructions issued by government from time to time. Now, they are legally part and parcel of disaster management plan in village level,” said Ashok Kumar Meena, Principal Secretary, State Panchayati Raj and Drinking Water Department.
Between 1891 and 2021, over 100 tropical cyclones have hit Odisha, making it one of the most cyclone-prone States of India. During the past 20 years, the State has been hit by 10 cyclones.
According to the State government, the east coast of India is one of the six most cyclone-prone areas in the world. The impact of cyclones is comparatively high and devastating, especially when they strike the coasts bordering north Bay of Bengal. Though the coastline of Odisha is about 17% of India’s eastern coast, it has received nearly 35% of all cyclonic and severe cyclonic storms that have crossed the east coast and associated storm surges. Odisha has suffered losses to life and property worth ₹33,000 crore in the past two decades.
Odisha has a network of over 870 cyclone and flood shelters that can house 1,000 people each. Over 450 cyclone shelters are maintained by youth under the active supervision of PRI members. The role of PRI members assumes significance during the evacuation, relief and rehabilitation process.
Another major amendment to existing laws governing PRI members in Odisha says “a candidate who himself or through his proposer, with intent to be elected in an election gives false information which he knows or has reason to believe to be false or conceals any information in his nomination paper or in his affidavit which is required to be delivered under clause (w) of subsection (I) shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.”
Earlier, the clause of OGP Act 1964 talked about disqualification of elected members, whereas there was no scope for punishment for a false affidavit. Elections to Odisha’s gram panchayats and civic bodies will be held early next year.