PRI Bodies Functioning and Role of Media

Bibhudatta Mahapatra*

The Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 relating to Panchayats containing articles 243 to 243-O imparted some basic features of certainty, continuity and strength to Panchayat Raj institutions all over the country.

The main features of the 73rd Amendment are – (i) a three-tier system of Panchayat Raj for all States having a population of over twenty lakhs; (ii) Panchayat elections to be held regularly every five years; (iii) reservation of seats for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and for women (not less than one-third of seats), (iv) constitution of State Finance Commissions;  (v) constitution of District Planning Committees to prepare development plans for the district as a whole; (vi) establishment of State Election Commissions; and (vii) establishment of Gram Sabhas.

Functioning problems:

  1. Unscientific distribution of functions:

The Panchayati Raj scheme is defective in so far as the distribution of functions between the structures at different levels has not been made along scientific lines. The blending of development and local self- government functions has significantly curtailed the autonomy of the local self government institutions.

Again it has virtually converted them into governmental agencies. Even the functions assigned to the Panchayat and the Panchayat Samiti overlap, leading to confusion, duplication of efforts and shifting of responsibility.

  1. Incompatible relation between the three-tiers:

The three-tiers do not operate as functional authorities. The tendency on the part of the higher structure to treat the lower structure as its subordinate is markedly visible. M. P. Sharma rightly observes the hierarchical domination and predominance, “fitters down step by step from Zilla Parishad to Panchayat Samiti and from them to the Village Panchayats” Needless to state that this kind of mutual relationship is not in comensurate with the genuine spirit of democratic decentralization.

  1. Inadequate finance:

The inadequacy of funds has also stood in the way of successful working of the Panchayati Raj. The Panchayati Raj bodies have limited powers in respect of imposing cesses and taxes. They have very little funds doled out to them by the State Government. Further, they are generally reluctant to raise necessary funds due to the fear of losing popularity with the masses.

  1. Lack of cordial relation between officials and people:

Introduction of the Panchayati Raj aimed at securing effective participation of the people. But in reality this hardly happens since the key administrative and technical positions are manned by the government officials.Generally there is lack of proper cooperation and coordination between the people and the officials like Block Development Officers, the District Officers etc. Again the officers fail to discharge the development duties more efficiently and sincerely.

  1. Lack of conceptual clarity:

There is lack of clarity in regard to the concept of Panchayati Raj itself and the objectives for which it stands. Some would treat it just as an administrative agency while some others look upon it as an extension of democracy at the grass roots level, and a few others consider it a charter of rural local government. What is all the more intriguing is the fact that all these conceptual images could co-exist simultaneously tending to militate against each other every now and then.

  1. Undemocratic composition of various Panchayati Raj institutions:

Various Panchayati Raj Institutions are constituted setting aside democratic norms and principles. The indirect election of most of the members to Panchayat Samiti only increases the possibility of corruption and bribery. Even the Zilla Parishad consists of mainly ex-official members. They are, for the most part, government officials. This negates sound democratic principles.

  1. Disillusionment on structural-functional front:

The performance of Panchayati Raj Institutions has been vitiated by political cum caste factionalism, rendering developmental projects into chimeras. Corruption, inefficiency, scant regard for procedures, political interference in day to day administration, parochial loyalties, motivated actions, power concentration instead of true service mentality- all these have stood in the way of the success of Panchayati Raj. Furthermore, the power to supercede the local bodies on the part of the State Government clearly violates the spirit of democratic decentralization.

  1. Administrative Problem:

The Panchayati Raj bodies experience several administrative problems. They are the tendency towards politicization of the local administration, lack of co-ordination between the popular and bureaucratic elements, lack of proper incentives and promotion opportunities for administrative personnel and apathetic attitude of the government servants towards development programmes etc.

  1. Politics is an inevitable part of a democratic frame -work:

The manipulative nature of rural politics is manifest in the techniques used at the time of elections. The fact-finding research teams observe that the caste system in rural India has made a mockery of the concept of rural development. Even the Panchayat elections are fought on caste grounds and the traditional dominant castes have manoeuvred in such a way that they still occupy the positions of power in the changed set-up.

The political elite in the villages develops a vested interest in the perpetuation of the caste system. As a result, the Panchayats which were to bring about social changes have themselves become victims of caste divisions. As K. Seshadri pointed out, the institution which was created to bring changes in the socio-economic structure, due to the mere logic of the situation, legitimizes the authority of socially and economically well-off persons.

  1. It is being increasingly noticed that the Panchayati Raj Institutions are viewed only as organizational arms of political parties, especially of the ruling party in the state. The State Government, in most states, allows the Panchayati Raj Institutions to function only upon expediency rather than any commitment to the philosophy of democratic decentralization.

Role of Media

  1. Media can play a vibrant role in addressing the issues mentioned above by making the local people conscious about their rights and duties.
  2. More and more space, enough time slot should be given while printing and broadcasting the local news especially relating to PRI bodies functioning in the villages.
  3. With the latest technological development and in the age of IT and New Media, any such local development can be shared in the Social Media which can play the role of a catalyst in bringing about change in the system.
  4. Social media tools reduce or eliminate the ability of councils to influence coverage of their organization’s message. Considering traditional media relations with mainstream media outlets, the perception of control within councils is probably greater than the actual control that a PRI body can exert.
  5. A proportion of local authorities are using a range of social media in their communications, although the numbers using such tools regularly are small. There’s also an appetite among a larger number of local authorities to use the most popular social media tools in their communications within the next six months.
  6. Communicators that don’t use social media tools personally are much less likely to use social media tools in their work than those that do use them personally. There is also a correlation between a communicator’s age and their personal use of social media tools, meaning that councils with older communicators are less likely to be using social media than those with younger communicators.
  7. However there isn’t a strong correlation between level of personal use of social media tools as a whole and level of professional use within a council communications mix. This implies that there are other reasons why social media is not used beyond personal familiarity with the tool.
  8. Using an appropriate tool for a campaign’s objectives and one that is used by a campaign’s target audience ranked highly as factors in channel choice for campaigns.

Conclusion

It is now around three decades since these provisions came into force and it is time to reflect on the experience gained and redesign the strategy, if necessary. Almost all states have now reported compliance with the mandatory provisions of the Constitution relating to the creation of the PRIs at different levels. There have been problems in granting the local bodies’ full administrative control over the state government staff through whom they have to function. Even otherwise, state control over the functional domain of the PRIs is still large. The exercise of the powers devolved on PRIs is subject to several conditions and approvals by the state government. Many states have failed to follow up their Panchayat Acts with necessary rules and orders. These shortcomings have rendered the tasks of normative assessment of the financial requirements of these bodies and a comparison of the level and adequacy of fiscal decentralization across states extremely difficult. However Media can play a vibrant role in bringing out the said issues to the notice of the public and would go a long way in sorting out the miscommunication and issues those are arising due to the functioning, non-functioning and over functioning of the PRI bodies.

References

  1. S.L. Goel and Shalini Rajneesh. ( 520p – Hardbound – 2009 ), (Second Enlarged & Revised Edition)  Panchayati Raj in India: Theory and Practice
  2. V. Venkatesan., (2002) Institutionalizing Panchayati Raj in India, Kalyani Publishers
  3. India, 2007, P. (686-689) Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.
  4. Subrat K.Mitra. 2001. Making Local Government work: Local elites, Panchayatiraj and Governance in India, in Atul Kohli (Ed). The Success of India’s Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  5. M.P.Dube & Munni Padalia., (2000) Democratic Decentralization and Panchayati Raj in India: Prentice Hall Publications.

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