Without proper Devolution of Power to Panchayati Raj Institutions, Rural Development will remain a farcry in Manipur.___________ By-SeramNeken
Socio-political environment in Manipur during the past few decades had been infested with increased trust-deficit on the government, widening distance between the ruled and the rulers, conflicts between state and non-state actors, and burgeoning tensions among various communities. Amidst the unfavorable social atmosphere, real progress in economy, human resource and knowledge could neither be strived for nor achieved. However, during the past one year, the people of Manipur have begun to feel a course of social reconstruction under the so called ‘People’s Chief Minister’.
At the first stint of his rule, Shri N Biren Singh was able to bring about a meaningful solution to the ‘Churachandpur Imbroglio’ that had boiled the state for a long time. His another innovation aimed at recouping the lost ties came under the Mission ‘Go to Hills’. Really fruitful are the results of this Mission that the valley inhabitants are now experiencing free movement to the hill districts and the vice versa. There was a time when the valley dwellers were reluctant to visit the hill districts of Manipur due to communal tensions and for fear of anti-social elements. Such days are gone. During the recent ‘Sirui Festival’, Ukhrul was so heavily thronged with visitors from the valley that huge traffic congestion of Imphal-Ukhrul Road occurred on the eve of closure of the festival. Not only Ukhrul, but all other hill districts also wear a peaceful look nowadays. The reminiscence of ‘Emotional integrity’ between the hill and valley dwellers has begun to resurface on Manipur soil today. Credit goes to the BJP-led government of Manipur and its charismatic Chief Minister.
The quality of Parliamentary Democracy is measured by the amount of proximity between the people and their representatives. The closer the relation between the ruled and the rulers, the brighter will be the Democracy. Now, none can deny the fact that the people of Manipur in general have felt the presence of a People-friendly Government in Manipur. Trust-deficit on the government has diminished to a great extent. This is only because of the institutionalized mechanisms of ‘MeeyamgiNumeet’ and ‘Hill Leaders’ Day’ mooted by Shri N Biren Singh.
Amazingly, the Chief Minister of Manipur is never tired of meeting hundreds and hundreds of his subjects who approach him for one or the other amenities entitled to citizens. It has apparently become his way of life to listen to the people and help them grow. As a result of ‘MeeyamgiNumeet’ and ‘Hill Leaders’ Day’, many a good number of poor and helpless from the nook and corner of the state have been encouraged to live meaningful lives. One beautiful aspect of such a meet is that people from very remote villages brave the geographical hurdles to reach the Chief Minister’s Bungalow only to shower blessings and small-but-valued gifts from their villages. During the last seven decades since merger into India, none had ever dreamt of such a day when a Chief Minister of Manipur would personally attend to the poor and the helpless visitors to give a ray of hope in their lives. Even though other Ministers and MLAs do not heartily arrange ‘MeeyamgiNumeet’ at their premises, we can well claim that the Chief Minister is never tired of institutionalizing such regular rendezvous with his subjects, and general people’s faith on the Chief Minister is increasing day by day.
Moreover, the pro-poor health assistance schemes taken up by the Manipur Government in the form of ‘Chief MinistergiHakshelgiTengbang’ (CMHT), ‘Chief MinistergiSotharabasinggiTengbang’(CMST) etc. have been praised at every corner of the state.
In spite of all the positive images in governance, the State Government is still neglecting the grassroots level Democracy in the villages. The Panchayati Raj Institutions in Manipur are yet to be empowered in order to be able to serve the rural population. The concept of Devolution of Power to Panchayats is almost absent in Manipur today for obvious reasons. No doubt, the recently launched Mission entitled ‘Let’s go to village’ orchestrated by the BJP-led government in Manipur under the guidance of Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, has indeed activated and recharged the already lethargic and red-tapist administrative machinery to reach-out to the village population. Thanks to the incumbent Chief Minister of Manipur, who is now widely branded as ‘People’s Chief Minister’, for his innovative efforts in transforming the indisposed Manipur Society. However, the real success of the Mission lies in empowering the Panchayati Raj Institutions.
It is not possible that the whole administrative machinery go to the villages daily to attend to the needs and grievances of the villagers. Instead, we must strive to empower the existing elected local bodies so that they serve the aspirations of the huge rural population that is ailing with poverty and ignorance. Panchayati Raj Institutions, by virtue of their constitutional status, are the vital components of government at the grassroots level. Local leaders are more conversed with the local issues than any other leaders of varied levels. Hence, power to Panchayats means power to villagers. Without proper Devolution of Power to Panchayati Raj Institutions, rural development will ever remain a far cry in Manipur.
Funds of various schemes such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) have not been released to implementing agencies regularly and on time. The amount of honorarium and other entitlements currently given to elected representatives in Panchayats are really embarrassing. Zilla Parishad Members who represent around 12,000 to 18,000 voters get an honorarium of Rs. 4000/- per month, while the Pradhans who represent around 3,000 to 5,000 voters are paid Rs. 3000/- as monthly honorarium. Ward members representing around 500 voters get a monthly honorarium of Rs. 1,000/-. In fact, the Panchayat representatives do not even get the minimum wages entitled to a manual labour under the Minimum Wages Act. It simply indicates that the State Government is neglecting the rural development aspect and the grassroots level democracy.
Regarding the Devolution of Power to the PRIs, Manipur is in the 23rd position in the Devolution of Power in Practice (DPr) of 25 states in India: (Ministry of Panchayati Raj; Devolution Report, 2014-15). This is highly discouraging. Bothin terms of Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution of India, and also the Manipur Panchayati Raj Act. 1994, the Panchayati Raj Institutions in Manipur are not suitably empowered. Hence, all other efforts aimed at village development will never be successful in the absence of a powerful Panchayati Raj system.Instead of yelling ‘Let’s go to village’, the government may initiate another Mission called ‘Power to Panchayats’for a sustained village development.
(The writer is Member, Imphal East Zilla Parishad)