Wednesday, November 8, 2000,
Chandigarh, India



Panchayati Raj institutions

Panchayats or rural local self-governments have ancient origin in India. There was a well-developed system of village panchayats throughout Indian history. Gandhiji rightly claimed that India live in the villages and pleaded for the transfer of power to the rural masses. He argued that India’s Independence must begin at the bottom. Thus, every village would be a republic or a panchayat, enjoying full powers.

Though various measures have been tried from time to time to give a proper and definite role to the Panchayati Raj system, it was only after the 73rd constitutional amendment that the constitutional status was conferred on the Panchayati Raj institutions (PRIs).

No one disputes that it is historic legislation. The legislation is necessary but it is not enough. Its spirit should be translated into practice.

PRIs have to be vested with such authority and power as will enable them to function as effective institutions of self-government. They are to act as the welfare government, and must bring social justice. State legislatures failed to take cognizance of the profound implications of the constitutional status given to the panchayats as institutions of self-government. Accordingly, the panchayats, under all the state Acts, are institutions that lack autonomy.


Autonomy has no substance if the panchayats do not have at their command adequate resources to discharge various functions. Gram panchayats have a meagre income. No institution of self-governance can perform any meaningful role with such meagre resources. Autonomy is closely related to economic independence. None of the states seems to have paid adequate attention to make the panchayat bodies financially viable.

Decision-making over substantial public resources will have to be placed in the hands of local representatives sooner or later.

Gambling: new dimension

Many state governments have been pandering to the gambling instincts of the people by running lotteries. A new dimension has been added to this “something for nothing”, the “reward without work” mentality by some television shows. Now foreigners have joined this game, draining away India’s foreign exchange resources.

Indian citizens are receiving by air mail from a post bag address in Australia, in envelopes marked “Confidential”, a communication that they are the favoured few in a billion-dollar lottery draw of Spain and within a week’s time there should be a response for participation. Of course, the participation amount of up to $100 is to be sent. Payment is by cash or by some International Credit Cards.

Presuming that the lottery is bona fide, the question arises whether the permission of the Government of India or various state governments has been obtained for selling tickets in India.

The Reserve Bank of India should not remain a silent spectator to the virtual draining away of millions of dollars from this country, collected from a large number of Indians whose greed for billions would have been stimulated by playing on their gambling instinct.

Towards fewer holidays

The governments of Punjab and Haryana and the Administration of the Union Territory of Chandigarh should have to think a lot before deciding the number of public holidays for the next calendar year — 2001.

There is merit in the demand that the number of holidays should be curtailed. As per reports, the Maharashtra government is contemplating reducing public holidays from 25 to three days in a bid to enhance the efficiency and productivity of employees and to restore the health of the state’s economy. It also plans to offer six optional holidays to its employees during the proposed implementation of the recommendations of the Eleventh Finance Commission.

Holidays other than the national holidays — January 26, August 15 and October 2 — are largely based on religious considerations and serve merely to satisfy the sentiments of different constituencies. Political expediency also dictates the closure of government offices on certain occasions.

Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh should constitute committees to hold talks with various employees unions for a consensus on this issue.

Both the Eleventh Finance Commission and the Fifth Pay Commission had recommended for curtailing public holidays for increasing productivity.

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