NATIONAL

‘Role of panchayats in Rajasthan unsatisfactory'

Noted educationist Kulbhushan Kothari addressing a meeting on gender response of panchayats in Jaipur on Wednesday. At his left is Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council member V.S. Vyas. - Photo Rohit Jain Paras

Noted educationist Kulbhushan Kothari addressing a meeting on gender response of panchayats in Jaipur on Wednesday. At his left is Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council member V.S. Vyas. - Photo Rohit Jain Paras  

A year after a U.N. Population Fund-supported programme on strengthening the gender response of panchayats was launched here, the political leadership in the State is yet to evolve an atmosphere conducive to empowerment of Panchayati Raj institutions and address the key gender issues of maternal health and sex selection.

Experts deliberating on the implementation of the three-year project at the Institute of Development Studies here on Wednesday said the Panchayati Raj Department was engaged mostly in framing rules and regulations for panchayat bodies' operations in the five subjects transferred to them. As a result, village panchayats seemingly lack any real strength.

Members of the programme advisory group on the ongoing project, executed by the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) in 21 districts, said the awareness among both the elected representatives and rural population in the State about the role of village panchayats in local governance was “unsatisfactory”.

State Planning Board Deputy Chairman, noted economist Prof. V. S. Vyas, presided over the meeting. Others who addressed the gathering included Pratham Rajasthan managing trustee Kulbhushan Kothari, Dignity of Girl Child Foundation chairperson Meeta Singh and public health consultant S. C. Mathur.

Prof. Vyas said the “responsibility mapping” on the Kerala pattern could help create a favourable atmosphere in the rural areas for effective functioning of the five departments, the powers of which have been devolved on panchayats. He expressed the hope that decentralisation of powers would support the action on the gender issues.

Prof. Vyas, who is also a member of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, affirmed that panchayats should not be perceived “merely as the service delivery institutions”: “Panchayats are also [important] units of self-governance. They deserve to get respect and dignity in that capacity.”

The noted economist said the panchayat bodies should utilise their mandates and institutional resources to address the gender issues in a meaningful way. He said the UNFPA-supported programme would improve the functioning of panchayats in the areas of education, health and hygiene and infrastructure development in addition to gender response.

Mr. Kothari, representing Pratham Rajasthan and also an educationist, said awareness generation among the rural communities was a “continuous process” and called upon the elected representatives of panchayats to strengthen the education delivery system. He said the identification of indicators would help in measuring the impact afterwards.

Since July last year, PRIA has utilised its network of nodal civil society groups at the grassroots for reaching out to sarpanches, panches, Government-appointed panchayat functionaries and the people at large in 1,070 villages of 21 districts. They have been sensitised to the issues of sex-selective abortions, poor reproductive health status of women and high infant and maternal mortality rates.

PRIA State coordinator Krishan Tyagi said the programme had been restructured in 330 village panchayats, while the second phase would be operative from October this year to March 2013. He said the project would bring about orientation of panchayats by September this year with the dissemination of knowledge packs and tools addressing sex selection.

PRIA director in New Delhi Manoj Rai said though revamping of the entire system and addressing all gender issues in one go was not an easy task, the advocacy group promoting democratic governance was trying to develop institutional linkages between the project and the Government initiatives.



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