The new Telangana Panchayat Raj Act, 2018, though welcomed by a majority of sections, left certain gray areas for panchayats to worry about. Piloting the Bll, Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao said in the Assembly a few days ago that, once elected, the sarpanch would be allowed to serve a full five-year term as he/she would be elected directly but the fact remains that the government has reserved its right to take action against the person including removal. The number of gram panchayats will go up to 12,741 as 4,380 new panchayats will be formed.

Though the earlier Act also had provisions under which a sarpanch could be removed, the new Act did not put in place any mechanism where by the ruling party would not resort to witch-hunting or adopt step-motherly treatment to the sarpanches who are from a different party.

The new provision where by the state government could, through the Collector, remove the sarpanch if he/she fails to ensure greenery in his village, is considered Draconian as the party in power could use this provision to wreak vengeance against sarpanches of other parties if is otherwise clean.

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Chandrasekhar Rao said that this provision was necessary to ensure compliance of rules by the sarpanches and if there are any charges of vindictive punishment against the government, the sarpanch was free to go in for an appeal. But the state does not have any ombudsmen to get a fair deal since a sarpanch who is dismissed would have to go in for appeal, has to turn to the Panchayat Raj officials and the Panchayat Raj Minister, who is part of the government, where it is anybody’s guess what kind of justice would be meted out.

Panchayat Raj movement experts argue that Village Panchayat is like Parliament and sarpanch has more powers than the President of India but in practice, sarpanches in villages have to remain loyal to the ruling party for survival and even to get funds from the state. The experts wonder how a ruling party in a state which vehemently opposes invocation of Article 356 by the Centre against it, would not even think twice when it comes to suspension or removal .

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The new Act is more or less the same as the earlier one except for addition of few clauses here there since the original Act has allegedly been allowed to remain with flaws and gray areas so that whichever party is in power could use it to its benefit. Though there were constitutional amendments on transfer of funds to the gram panchayats from the sates, even today they are observed in breach than in practice.

There are allegations that in Telangana state government has not transferred any funds to them till now since it came to power in 2014. The TRS government, it is alleged, only transferred the funds that had been released by the Centre for the gram panchayats but that too after deducting the arrears they were due to power and water utilities till 2014.

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It is not as though all provisions are unsavoury. The amendments to the earlier Act like holding gram sabha once in two months, ensuring quorum for gram sabha, continuation of reservations for two terms are welcomed by several sections. Identification of beneficiaries at gram sabhas would go a long way in checking malpractices and continuing reservations would help the sarpanch or the ward member to work with a sense of commitment.

For panchayats to flourish, the state government should stop bullying the sarpanches into joining the TRS and leave them alone after transferring funds they are entitled to. Any vindictive action against sarpanches on flimsy grounds would only perpetuate the Panchayat Raj system in its present form, defeating the purpose for which it had been developed – ushering in villages throbbing with vitality.#KhabarLive



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