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Mani sulks as panchayats get a raw deal

Chandrika Mago

Tuesday 2 November 2004, by MAGO*Chandrika

SRINAGAR: At a time when panchayati raj minister Mani Shankar Aiyar is pushing the restructuring of all Centrally-sponsored schemes to give panchayats a starring role, he is upset that the UPA government’s first big schemes does not reflect this common minimum programme commitment.

The ambitious national food-for-work programme, aimed to benefit the country’s most vulnerable 150 districts, does not put panchayats at the core: the district collector remains the central authority.

The rural employment guarantee Bill, too, does not reflect the centrality of panchayats. A response to this will be discussed when state secretary-level officials meet early November.

Nevertheless, during a just-concluded, two-day national meet on panchayati raj institutions here, Aiyar dwelt at some length on the need to restructure about 300-odd Centrally-sponsored schemes reaching rural areas to make panchayats the primary unit of planning and implementation. It is an idea which will ruffle feathers in every department or ministry.

He has already taken up the issue with the PM and Aiyar’s ministry is now supposed to have a say in what goes on. But this does not tranaslate into a veto power of any sort, the minister said.

While the government wheels grind on this suggestion, running up against departments unwilling to hand over control, Aiyar has launched a parallel track. The conference, which had officials from virtually every state, has set up a group of secretary-level officials from half-a-dozen states to examine the restructuring possibilities. Aiyar wants states, rather than his lean ministry, to state what they want.

Aiyar wants to take Rajiv Gandhi’s dream further. Not only should every Central or state-sponsored scheme keep panchayats at the deciding core, there should be a panchayati raj component to every department budget, he says.

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