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Analysis of Yojana Magazine : Making Gram Sabhas Vibrant

Context

These Gram Sabhas, being the direct representative platform, which includes the voters of the village/Gram panchayat, have been vested with the powers for direct supervision of the rural programmes and projects, and to ensure accountability of Gram Panchayats.

Role of Gram Sabha

  • Gram Sabhas (GSs) provide citizens with a direct say in the decision-making process out of respect for their villages.
  • It provides a public platform for the citizens to elaborate on their problems, along with the felt needs and aspirations of the local community.
  • It helps the implementation of the development programmes and schemes of the Panchayat.
  • It identifies beneficiaries for different programmes and schemes. However, if the Gram Sabha fails to identify such beneficiaries within a reasonable time, the Gram Panchayat shall identify the beneficiaries.
  • It solicits support — in cash or kind or both and voluntary labour — from the public for community welfare programmes.
  • It supports the programmes of mass education and family welfare.
  • It promotes unity and harmony among all sections of the society in the village.
  • It discusses and recommends appropriate action with regard to reports of the Vigilance Committee.
  • It considers levy of taxes, rates, rents & fees & enhancement of rates thereof.
  • It considers all such matters as may be referred by the Gram Panchayat for its decision.

Constitutional Provisions

Article 243: Defines Gram Sabha as ‘a body consisting of persons registered in the electoral rolls relating to a village comprised within the area of panchayat at the village level’.

Article 243A: A Gram Sabha may exercise such powers and perform such functions at the village level as the Legislature of a State may by law provide.

Major hurdles in Gram Sabha’s effective functioning

  • It has been noticed that the functioning of the Gram Sabhas has not been smooth and they have come under criticism due to a lack of regularity and transparency.
  • Issues such as low participation, irregular Gram Sabha meetings, absence of a coherent Gram Sabha agenda, etc., have been some of the major hurdles in their effective functioning.
  • The limited participation of villagers as well as critical stakeholders such as elected representatives, government officials, line departments, and subject experts have been observed in several States. This, in fact, has been a major hurdle for the Governments in convening Gram Sabhas effectively.
  • In various instances, it is seen that the vulnerable sections of the village community hesitate to voice opinions due to inhibitions on account of their financial and social standing.
  • The elected representatives of the Gram Panchayat, especially the Sarpanch, exercise significant powers which often prevents their criticism in Gram Sabhas, and reduce Gram Sabhas to mere symbolic, instead of functional and vibrant platforms of democratic local governance.

Who decides the powers and functions of the Gram Sabha?

  • The respective States have the mandate to decide on the powers and functions of the Gram Sabha as per their Panchayati Raj Acts and rules.
  • A variation is seen in the mandatory number of Gram Sabha meetings to be held in a year, across the States.
  • Currently, the mandatory number of Gram Sabha meetings in a year to be held varies from a minimum of 1 meeting (in Tripura) to a maximum of 6 (in Chhattisgarh and Telangana); with most of the other States/ UTs, the range for these mandatory meetings is 2 to 4.
  • These meetings are also conducted on the days of national importance, namely, Republic Day, government Jayanti, Labour Day, Independence Day, and Gandhi Jayanti.
  • In addition to the above, Gram effectively is also organised on various campaigns like Constitution Day, Covid Awareness campaign, Fit India Campaign, International Yoga day etc.

Need and Relevance of Gram Sabhas

  • The Gram Sabhas were envisioned as unique institutions which would enable the citizens to highlight grassroots-Level problems and build consensus on possible solutions.
  • The decisions of Gram Sabhas being open and transparent, in real-time provide universal acceptance.
  • Gram Sabhas provide the ideal platform for several flagship schemes (such as Health, Education, Nutrition, Water) to leverage direct contact with the citizens to make them more accepting and become eager to participate.
  • Gram Sabhas promote people’s participation in addressing local problems.

How to enhance the functioning of Gram Sabhas?

  • To convene Gram Sabha meetings effectively and periodically.
  • Gram Sabhas must be given functional autonomy at the local level. Like, The allocation of the Finance Commission’s United Grants can be utilised to suit the local needs.
  • Ensuring periodic Gram Sabhas.
  • Formulating and distributing Agenda/Action Taken Report (ATR).
  • Preparing Annual Calendar.
  • Effective Scheduling of upcoming meetings.
  • Organising Sabhas at a convenient time.
  • Administrative presence of Group A and B officers in all the Gram Sabha meetings.
  • Augmenting people’s participation in Gram Sabhas(The minimum quorum for the meeting should be 10% of the members out of which at least 30% should be females).
  • Incentivising Ward Members/Elected Members.

Way Forward

  • To ensure effective functioning of the Gram Panchayats, It is important to revitalise the Gram Sabhas as an assembly of the village.
  • Bringing transparency, responsibility, and accountability in panchayat functioning and its functionaries would go a long way in creating Gram Panchayats as engines of socio-economic growth in the rural areas.
  • Vibrant Gram Sabhas could also chart ways for achieving India’s Sustainable Development Goals by facilitating their localisation to the Gram Panchayat level.
  • The suggested recommendations such as increasing the frequency of Gram Sabhas, formation of Agenda and Action Taken Report, awareness generation, etc., are bound to provide momentum to the functioning of Gram Sabhas.
  • Moreover, MoPR is in the process of developing an integrated, real-time online system that would not only facilitate effective scheduling of Gram Sabhas but also exhort the citizens to utilise Gram Sabhas to participate in the decision-making process.

Conclusion

By facilitating participative democracy, the Gram Sabhas will not only contribute to the socio-economic development of the villages but also create collective transformational change in the rural areas of the country.

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