By Gurusaravanan. M, Chairperson, Institute of Grassroots Governance (IGG)
The raison d’être of conducting the Member of the Parliament and Local Government webinar series is to sensitize the general public about the importance of attending Gram Sabha/Ward Sabha, as well as to ensure the role of parliamentarians, in being part of their constituency development.
According to the constitutional provisions, it is only a voluntary provision for the Member of the Parliament (MP) to attend the Gram Sabha but we at Institute of Grassroots Governance (IGG) feel that it is imperative for MP’s to attend at least one or two Gram Sabha in his/her village or any villages of his choice in a year.
It motivates the general public, especially youngsters, to participate in larger numbers. Also, MPs can attend Gram Sabha in his/her adopted village under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY) program.
The active participation of MP’s in Gram Sabha meetings and discussions will play a meaningful role in taking the spirit of democratic decentralization at the grassroots, thereby strengthening the empowerment of local government institutions.
The implementation of 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment act had paved the way for decentralized governance in our country.
In this scenario, Gram Sabha/Ward Sabha plays a huge role in ensuring people’s participation in the developmental process.
Gram Sabha is an important forum where all the members of the village panchayat will meet, discuss, deliberate and take decisions on their local developmental needs, as well as passing resolutions pertaining to the village development.
According to the various State Panchayat Raj Acts, the Gram Sabha must meet at least two or four times in a year. Mostly Gram Sabha meetings have been conducted on the following important national days:
Therefore, active people’s participation in the development discourses of a platform like ‘Gram Sabha’ will strengthen the grassroots democracy in our country.
In many village panchayats, Gram Sabha meetings have been conducted just for the name-sake and there is no proper checks and balance available at the local government system. There have been incidents reported that the elected local government representatives will make resolutions on their own and get the signature of the members of the village panchayat.
Incidents like these show that a democratic platform like Gram Sabha has not been utilized properly by the people. These sort of governance gaps have been existing due to the lack of awareness amongst people that their voices actually matters in the Gram Sabha.
The first session was moderated by Mr Prabagaran, Executive Committee member at IGG and currently working as a Senior Project Training Manager (SAGY) at National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRDPR). He had participated in various Gram Sabha discussions across Tamil Nadu and also trained the local government stakeholders on various developmental initiatives.
Following is the excerpt from the webinar session:
Dr Senthil Kumar spoke about the importance of Member of the Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) and how it can be helpful for the developmental activities of the constituency. He said that the current stalling of MPLADS funds for the next two years is against the spirit of cooperative federalism, wherein he iterated that these funds could have been utilized effectively, to tackle the Covid scenario by procuring proper medical equipment.
That would have improved the health infrastructure of his constituency. He shared some of his innovative projects like e-community toilets and Bus –Shelter cum Library under MPLADS. He told us that the preference for MPLADS projects will be decided based upon on the needs arises from the community, and he had cited a few examples like schools, which lack proper toilets and infrastructure. So the preferences will be given to those basic needs first.
When we asked about his participation in Seliyampattu and Navaapatti Village panchayat Gram Sabha meeting, he said that people are still not aware of their rights given under the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act.
He is of an opinion that village panchayat presidents have much more powers than MP/MLA. He is quite happy that the local government elections in Tamil Nadu had happened recently after five years of no election; otherwise, it is a problematic scenario for people in village panchayats without an elected leader and no proper Gram Sabha to address their developmental issues/needs.
He made his ground observations that during the period without elected representatives, Panchayat Secretary and District administration take over the rights of the members of Gram Sabha.
He also spoke about the importance of resolution passed by members of the Gram Sabha resolution in a Village Panchayat which cannot even be challenged in the court of law, with an example cited from the recent resolution passed by some of the villages in his constituency.
Seeing the importance of Gram Sabha resolution, he urges the village panchayat presidents to document their resolutions and give him a photocopy, where it will help him as an MP to address their developmental needs one by one.
One of the participants in the webinar even suggested that these resolutions made by the Gram Sabha should be uploaded in every district website, to instil the spirit of accountability transparency in the system.
The first of a kind webinar was attended by participants from the Dharmapuri parliamentary constituency, who had understood the importance of Gram Sabha and clarified their doubts related to the functioning of Gram Sabha in their own villages.
The webinar reflected the participation of MP in Parliament is equally important to his participation in Gram Sabha meetings for the participatory constituency development. IGG is looking forward to interacting with more such MP’s in future to sensitize the importance of Gram Sabha.