Sarpanchs Rap BRS For Turning Them into Figureheads

Hyderabad: Reflecting upon their five-year tenure that is set to end on January 30, sarpanchs across Telangana rapped the BRS government for cutting their powers and turning them into figureheads by enacting the Telangana Panchayat Raj Act of 2018.

Unhappy, debt-laden and stymied, representatives of sarpanchs bodies pegged the number of those who would re-contest the local polls at just 20 per cent.

Interaction with a cross-section of sarpanchs across the districts made it evident that farmers felt the curtailment of powers was done systematically.

M. Manjula, sarpanch from Addakula mandal of Mahbubnagar district, said, “By making joint signature of sarpanch and upa sarpanch mandatory for the passage of cheques, the independence of sarpanchs was curtailed. Seventy five percent of us in the state faced this situation. We had opposed this provision tooth and nail, but it was retained by crushing us autocratically, even as most of the sarpanchs owed allegiance to the BRS.”

Bansilal, sarpanch from Usirikayalapalli village of Singareni mandal in Khammam district, said: “The government forced us to construct rythu vedikas, burial grounds and dumping sheds but did not pay the bills in time. We used to get around Rs.4- Rs.5 lakh per month, both from the Centre and state, which fell to Rs.2,85,000 and then to Rs.1,90,000 per month. The cost of work done was not reimbursed. The funds dried up due to the tiff between the BRS and BJP,”

“The funds given to us were sufficient for paying power bills, multi-purpose workers and tractor rents. This situation led to the death of a sarpanch in former CM KCR’s village Chintamadaka also. To top these, collectors who forced us to take up works were also given power to remove us from our posts in the 2018 Act,” said Bansilal.

Manjula said that 60 to 70 per cent of the villages don’t have income resources. “Very few have income from weekly haats, trade licences and other tax income from private companies. The tax that we collect has to be paid in the STO (State Treasury Office),” Manjula said.

P. Praneel Chander, general secretary of the Telangana State Sarpanches Forum, said, “The 2018 Act, for the first time in the country, gave power for removal of a public representative to a collector, a bureaucrat. Extending the logic: is it okay if the chief secretary of the state is given power to remove an MLA from his or her post? Earlier, only a minister had the power to remove a sarpanch, which could be challenged in the court.”

“Public amenities like burial grounds, rythu vedikas were all taken up with NREGS funds, which were not reimbursed properly. Both the Centre and the state failed us. Nearly '800 crore of royalty from the use of sand and soil that the panchayats have to get are pending. The 32 per cent share of registration charges we have to get for land conversion to real estate have not been given for four years now, even as 70 per cent of the real estate transactions in Telangana had happened in the panchayats,” he said.

Prof. Sujatha Surepally, of the sociology department from Satavahana University, said that public representatives from the BC, SC and ST communities began to be elected in the majority of the instances, post the provision of reservation in local bodies.

“The Telangana government worked against the spirit of Telangana struggle, which stood for decentralised development. Development model itself has to be redefined now. The formation of 33 districts was done without factoring in the financial viability, which also made them dependent on the state government. Villages in the Husnabad area struggled to stop from being included in the Siddipet district. The division was done with an eye on real estate,” she said.

“Caste, gender and class play a central role. The joint cheque power was given to upa sarpanches to curtail the power of those from disadvantaged communities in a systematic manner. Many sarpanchs faced harassment and in districts like Nizamabad, extra-constitutional structures like village development committees call the shots, making them figure heads,” she added.

Prof. C.H. Balaramulu, currently visiting faculty at the Centre For Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad, said that the change in power dynamics over the years ensured panchayats are no longer the centre, which has shifted to the urban centres and the MLAs and MPs are currently deciding who should be the sarpanch now.

“Similarly, the MPPs and the ZPTCs have become powerless. Earlier, MPs and MLAs had to rely on the panchayat samithi presidents to garner votes. Only 11 of the 29 powers which had to be transferred to the panchayats were done in tune with the 73rd Constitutional amendment act. They too have been given only on paper,” Balaramulu said.

Political analysts said that the opinion of the gram sabha, which was mandatory to set up some industries, has been watered down.

“The instances of the starting of pharma companies in Choutuppal and the ethanol factories in Stambampalli village of Jagtial district and Chittanoor village in Narayanpet district without local consent are stark examples. The politicians have started to rue that gram sabhas, which are mandatory for taking some decisions, have become an obstacle for development,” said Donthi Narasimha Reddy, a policy analyst.

When the Centre and state divided the taxes between themselves by introducing GST, the share of villages was not found mentioned there, he added.

Commenting on the situation, Prof. Kodandaram, the founder of the Telangana Jana Samithi, said, “The decentralisation of powers as mandated in the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendment was violated in letter and spirit. The funds needed for local bodies had to be devolved as per the finance commission recommendations. The BRS government did not do that. They even took digital signatures of sarpanchs and paid electricity bills of the panchayat without the need for their role. Programmes to be undertaken were decided top-down. The Telangana Panchayat Raj Act of 2018 reversed the process and centralized power. This led to a situation where sarpanchs who had financial muscle survived.”

The removal of VROs and VRAs was part of this process of consolidation of power, he said.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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