Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

[op-ed snap] Trampling on grassroots: On T.N. local body polls

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Periodic elections to local bodies

Context

Three years the due date in 2016, rural local bodies in Tamil Nadu will witness elections in the last week of this month. Urban local bodies are also likely to have elected representatives next year. 

Travesty of law

  • It is a travesty of the law that these elections have been delayed. 
  • Cities, towns and villages have been under the rule of unelected officials for too long. 
  • Under a Supreme Court order, polls for all local bodies will have to be held.
  • The exception is only to those districts that have been divided recently to create new ones. 

Issues

  • Administrative lapses and political litigation over ward delimitation in various local bodies as per latest population figures in the 2011 Census resulted in the unprecedented delay. 
  • Originally announced on time in 2016, the notification was cancelled by the Madras High Court, citing irregularities in it. 
  • Since then, the issue of delimitation, the announcement of new districts and occasional litigation have contributed to the delay in elections.

Urban Local Bodies

  • There have been frequent changes in the mode of electing mayors of city corporations and chairpersons of municipalities. 
  • Originally, direct elections were held, but it was changed to an indirect mode in 2006. 
  • In 2016, the Jayalalithaa regime opted for indirect elections, that is, only ward councillors would be elected by the people and these representatives would elect mayors and municipal chairpersons. 
  • The current government reversed the decision and chose the direct election model. 
  • Recently, it once again changed its mind and restored the system of indirect election, citing “better accountability and collective responsibility”. 
  • It claimed that there was scope for conflict between a directly elected head and the councillors, and it would be eliminated if councillors themselves elected the mayor or chairperson. 

Other challenges

  • The attitude of the two main parties towards the importance of local bodies has been quite lukewarm. 
  • The posts of the heads of various local bodies are politicised. This hampers devolution of funds and letting the various tiers work independently. 
  • District panchayats frequently undermined as most parties consider them as a redundant third tier among Panchayati raj institutions. 
  • Including local self-government bodies as partners in development is still a far cry.
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