Even as many sarpanches of Haryana are on the warpath with the state government, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s revelation about the working of panchayats casts a dark shadow over their integrity and scruples. The CM has said that nearly 1,100 former sarpanches had not yet handed over the development records of their villages. The inquiry initiated into their explanations for this lapse, including that the records were burnt, soiled or washed away, would bring the truth out. In the light of such dubious claims, the protesting sarpanches’ demands seem questionable, for they are linked to the use of developmental funds and their continuation in power. The sarpanches want the withdrawal of two corrective steps — one, the e-tendering process for development works above Rs 5 lakh that has been introduced to bring in transparency and accountability; two, the ‘right to recall’ law that allows people to remove a sarpanch if they are not happy with his/her performance.
These course-correction measures are commendable and necessary also in the light of Haryana Lokayukta Justice Hari Pal Verma’s report for 2021-22, tabled in the Vidhan Sabha in December 2022. Underscoring many instances of misappropriation of lakhs of rupees, it states that in most cases, the record of panchayats was found missing as it was in the custody of sarpanches. Also exposing the swindles going on in villages is the audit report of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) for 2017-18 that lists many cases of irregular expenditures and account books. Giving further credence to rampant wrongdoings is the recent conviction of a former sarpanch and a gram sachiv of the Aashiyaki Tappa Jadthal panchayat for embezzling Rs 7.44 lakh during the construction of a pathway in the village in 2020. While they had shown its cost as Rs 8,37,399, the inquiry evaluated it to be just Rs 92,692.
Given that crores of rupees are disbursed annually to PRIs, the goings-on smack of a huge scam. The panchayat records and quality of works done must be regularly checked. Those responsible for maintaining registers and supervising the works must be penalised if anything is found amiss.
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