April 6, 2002, Chandigarh, India
Vajpayee suggests more powers for panchayats
New Delhi, April 5
“If needed, this conference can discuss another amendment to the Constitution to make Panchayati Raj institutions stronger and accordingly recommend to the government. But there should be unanimity on the issue”, Mr Vajpayee said in his inaugural address to a two-day conference of heads of panchayats here.
Panchayats have too many responsibilities but they have no funds to carry out important programmes like primary health, primary education and provision of drinking water to the people in the rural areas, he said and suggested they should also try to mobilise resources.
As far as development is concerned, elected representatives should forget their affiliation to political parties and wholeheartedly support welfare programmes, the Prime Minister averred.
Pointing out that the world was facing an economic crisis and its impact on India, Mr Vajpayee said: “We are overcoming difficulties and marching forward.”
“If we can fully mobilise our resources and properly use them, India will be among the top in the world,” Mr Vajpayee observed.
The conference was attended by Rural Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman K.C. Pant among others.
Recalling the crucial role played by Rajiv Gandhi as the Prime Minister 10 years ago in the devolution of powers and funds to panchayats by twice amending the Constitution, Mr Vajpayee praised him and said the steps taken by him were “revolutionary and historic”.
“If needed, another amendment to the Constitution can be undertaken,” he stressed.
Stating that there were 34 lakh elected representatives, including 10 lakh women, the Prime Minister said it was really a marvel for the world.
Mr Vajpayee said that resources mobilised by the panchayats were meagre and the average worked out to a paltry Rs 7,000 at the block level. “What can a panchayat do with this small amount,” he wondered.
Expressing serious concern over the fact that drinking water supply had not been provided to all villages even after more than 50 years of freedom, the PrimeMinister said a massive drinking water supply programme should be launched similar to the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana to cover all habitations in a time-bound manner.
Referring to the recently adopted new water policy, he said that top priority had been accorded to supply of drinking water in the 10th Plan.
Admitting that the country was not fully tapping its potential, the Prime Minister cautioned that all development work should be beyond politics and asked the heads of panchayats to forget that they had contested the elections on political lines.
“India has immense potential and it can achieve a place of pride in the world,” he said, underlining the need for strengthening the grassroots by giving more power to the panchayats.
Leader of the Opposition and Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Friday called for a joint session of both Houses of Parliament to review the “Panchayati Raj” system and discuss methods to arm “gram panchayats” with more powers and resources.
Delivering the keynote address at the Akhil Bharatiya Panchayat Adhyaksha Sammelan, Mrs Gandhi said she had mooted such a move in the Lok Sabha earlier.
The Opposition Leader urged the Union Government to ensure that the state governments implemented Panchayati Raj legislations seriously. PTI, UNI
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