A team of Panchayati Raj members from Jharkhand, which visited Kerala during 19 to 25 January 2014, was impressed by the panchayati raj system in Kerala. The Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) in Kerala have been devolved with more powers in terms of fund, function and functionaries, the team members noted. One additional term ‘F’ has also been added their as ‘Freedom’ which also attracted the members of the team.
The team consisting of 6 Zila Parishad Presidents, 6 Pramukhs of block Panchayat Samities and 5 Mukhiyas of gram panchayats, along with the officials of UNICEF, SIRD and PRI department, visited Kerala as part of a study tour organized by UNICEF and the Department of Panchayati Raj, Jharkhand. All the PRI members were women. During the visit, the team attended orientation classes at the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), visited gram panchayat/ Zila panchayat offices, visited school/anganwadi centres and interacted with PRI members, villages and SHG members.
In a meeting organized in SIRD, Ranchi on 21st of March 2014, the panchayati raj members shared their experiences, views and good practices in Kerala. They felt that Jharkhand panchayati raj system could also become as effective and efficient as in Kerala.
Smt Rinku Devi, Mukhiya of Harina Gram Panchayat in Dhanbad district, said that the average annual budget of a gram panchayat in Kerala is about Rs. 7-9 crore, compared to Rs. 6-10 lakh in Jharkhand. “It is 100 times more than of Jharkhand Gram panchayat’’, she said.
About 40% of the plan funds of Kerala government is allocated to gram panchayat every year. This comes to about Rs. 1-2 crore per gram panchayat. Non-plan funds of the state government are also shared with the gram panchayat. Panchayati Raj Institutions also get maintenance funds from State Government. “This system of devolving more funds for Gram Panchayats could be adopted in Jharkhand” said Smt Anita Ba, Pramukh of Kersai block in Simdega district.
Besides, gram panchayat in Kerala raise their own funds by collecting house tax, licence fee from shops, entertainment tax from cinema theatres and professional fee from employees in the gram panchayat. Gram panchayats in Jharkhand do not raise their own income, although they are permitted to do so under the state PRI Act. The gram panchayats in Kerala have their own shopping complexes, from where they collect monthly rent. The annual budget of block panchayat is about Rs. 30-40 crore and Zilla Parishad Rs. 70-80 crore.
The team was also impressed with the facilities and infrastructures in gram panchayat office in Kerala. All Mukhiyas have been provided with office vehicles in addition to another vehicle for general use. The gram panchayat office has 10-15 staff with 5-8 computers, 8-10 rooms and big conference hall. There are 30-35 employees each in block panchayat office and Zila Parishad office.
The PRI members in Kerala receive 30 days of training during their tenure of 5 years. Mukhiyas in Kerala get honorarium of Rs. 6,600 per month, while Pramukhs get Rs. 7,300 and Zila Parishad presidents get Rs. 7,900 per month. Members at all three levels of the Panchayati Raj system also get honorarium.
The team members were impressed by the “kutumbshree” ,the livelihood programme of Kerala government, run by SHG members. Most of the SHG members earn Rs. 4,000-5,000 every month. Almost half of the women in the gram panchayat are SHG members. The team visited a catering unit of SHG and a unit which made poshahar in packets for anganwadi kendras.
Jharkhand team members were impressed by the rainwater harvesting system installed in houses, schools and office to collect, conserve and use rain water. Some mukhiyas said that they wanted to introduce the practice in their gram panchayats (tomorrow, March 22, is the World Water Day).
Mukhiyas from Jharkhand evinced keen interest in the process of preparing annual gram panchayat plan as in Kerala. It is prepared by wide discussions and debate at gram sabha level. After technical assessment of expert committee, project proposals are prepared and endorsed by gram sabhas.
There were other aspects of Kerala life that caught attention of the Jharkhand team, like the cleanliness and hygiene in roads, villages and houses. Open defecation is non-existent in Kerala, as all houses have toilets and people use them.
However, there is one area where Jharkhand fares better than Kerala, according to the Jharkhand team members. Election to panchayat bodies is fought on party lines in Kerala. In Jharkhand it is politics free. “Most of the mukhiyas, pramukhs and zilaparishadpresidents in Jharkhand are fresh faces in public life and we do not have party affiliations. We couldn’t have entered PRI system, had it been fought on party lines” said Smt Mailina Topno, Zila Parishad President of Khunti district . “Most PRI members in Jharkhand are young, mostly around 30-35 years while in Kerala most are of 50-60 years, because only experienced party members could get party tickets to contest elections”, she said.
Job Zachariah, Chief, UNICEF Jharkhand said that some mukhiyas have already initiated steps to emulate good examples and practices of Kerala. They have decided to make gram panchayats child friendly as in Kerala, based on indicators relating to health, education, nutrition and child protection.
Several PRI Members (Archana Mahto, Mukhiya of Moramkala in Ramgarh; Kiran Kumari, Zila Parishad President of Deoghar district; and Divya Barla, Pramukh in Simdega district) said that they would hold gram sabha of children, as done in Kerla, to seek their views. It will be then incorporate it in the annual plan. Grievance box placed in schools to register complaints on child abuse and vigilance committee set up in every ward to prevent violence against women, are other examples that mukhiyas would like to adopt in their gram panchayats.
Mr. Shashi Ranjan, Director Panchayati Raj Department, Dr. Pravin Shanker, Director of SIRD and Mr. Mahadeo Dhan, Deputy Director, SIRD also attended the meeting, besides over 40 Mukhiyas, Pramukhs and Zila Parishad Presidents from the state. The meeting was coordinated by Mr. Kumar Premchand, PME Officer, UNICEF and Dr. Vishnu Rajgadia, State Coordinator of Jharkhand Panchayat Women Resource Centre. Mrs. Richa Chaudhary and Mr. Subir Kumar Das, both UNICEF consultant and Mr. Ajit Kumar Singh, Faculty CTI also shared their views. Mr. Rajeev Ranjan, Faculty of SIRD coordinated this two days workshop.