Building the capacity of the Panchayat Leaders

Building civic leadership, social accountability and governance

Grama Suyasarbu Iyakkam (GSI) is the State Level Registered Association (2009) of village Panchayat Presidents in Tamil Nadu, functioning with the main objective of training elected representatives in their roles and responsibilities, micro level planning for economic development and social justice and to lobby the state for decentralisation of functions, funds, and functionaries (3 Fs). GSI has district level representatives from around 15 districts. GSI organises orientation and training at district/block level for elected representatives and lobby with state Government for decentralisation. GSI is promoted by CRUSADE and is represented in its executive committee as institutional member.

GSI aims to bring in civic engagement in the local governance and social accountability process to improve the delivery of government services and the programmes and, in the long run, lead to poverty reduction.

With only half the districts under GSI, the impacts may be few, but a beginning has been established. A few achievements are:

  1. GSI requested monthly honorarium for Village Panchayat Presidents, Vice Presidents and Ward Members. Although GSI did not succeed, the monthly allowance of Presidents raised from Rs 500 to Rs 1000 and the sitting fee of Ward Members raised from Rs 25 to Rs 50.
  2. Threat of dismissing Panchayat Presidents under Section 205 of the Act by the collector is diluted. In Virudhunagar district, the Panchayat presidents who were dismissed were revoked due to the intervention of District Level Association.
  3. Recently Government has issued an order enabling Panchayat Presidents to issue birth certificate.

It has been established that through the ward level planning process, CRUSADE’s target area’s needs ( such as approach roads, cement streets, street lights , drinking water , drainage , house pattas, old age pension, widow allowance , disability allowance , ration cards , etc) are identified and largely achieved .

CRUSADE organizes several exposure training for panchayat presidents in Tamil Nadu to Kerala Panchayats particularly to study their ‘Peoples Planning’ campaign, which is an attempt at ensuing genuine participatory planning from below, wherein people’s involvement is sought to be maximized first in plan formulation and thereafter in implementation. Some of the presidents were also trained in KILA (Kerala Institute of Local Administration) on Kerala Panchayat system.

Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRI) is a frontline and closer institution to the people, its importance relayed in India by the 73rd Constitutional amendment, came into force from April 1993. In Tamil Nadu, it is enshrined by the Tamil Nadu Panchayat Act, 1994. The Act provides for structures for decentralised governance at three levels: Village, Block and at District. It also provides for reservation of seats (ward members) and offices (Chairperson/ Presidents) including one third seats and offices for women. It further enunciates a planning committee at the district level to consolidate the village/ block level plans.

PRIs are responsible for primary education, primary health-care, drinking water, sanitation, street lighting, local roads, solid waste management etc. But in reality, they are starved off by technical knowledge for planning and funds for implementation. PRIs are further constrained by the unbridled powers entrusted to the inspector of Panchayats (District Collectors) even to dismiss the elected officers.