The HINDU – THRISSUR, January 24, 2014
The allocation of funds for gram panchayats, empowerment of women, infrastructure in villages and the Kudumbasree Mission in Kerala have inspired a team of local body chiefs from Jharkhand to take up a similar model of development in their State.
The 27-member Jharkhand team is on a four-day visit to the State to study decentralised planning and local self-governments here. The team led by UNICEF chief in Jharkhand Job Zachariah comprises women panchayat presidents, most of them from Naxal-affected and remote areas in the State.
Hugely impressed by the Panchayat Raj system in Kerala, they said the annual budget of a gram panchayat in Kerala was hundred times more than that of a local body in Jharkhand. “On an average, a gram panchayat in Kerala has an annual budget of Rs. 2-3 crore, compared to Rs. 5-10 lakh in Jharkhand,” said Kiran Kumari, panchayat president of Deoghar district in Jharkhand.
The team visited panchayat offices at various levels in Thrissur district and interacted with the representatives of local self-governments. They attended classes at the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA) near Thrissur on the various aspects of decentralised planning and the devolution of power. They will also visit panchayat offices in Ernakulam district.
The team, which conducted a field visit to Mundathicode panchayat, was surprised to learn from vice-president V.P. Sraswathi that the panchayat had been generating an income of about Rs. 1 crore every year through collection of house tax, professional tax and licence fee from shops. They said panchayats in Jharkhand did not levy taxes and the public did not get their construction plans approved from the local bodies. A modern shopping complex and an indoor stadium in the gram panchayat came as a surprise for the team.
Rinku Devi, gram panchayat president of Dhanbad district, was impressed with the fact that most marriages were registered in Kerala. “We have heard of birth registration but not marriage registration. Marriages are not registered in Jharkhand. Only half of the births are registered in our State,” she said.
Some members were impressed with the size, staff strength and infrastructure facilities at the gram panchayat offices. “We have only one or two staff members in panchayat offices. The panchayat presidents are not provided official vehicles. We will ask our government to make similar arrangements,” said Archana Mahto, gram panchayat president from Ramgarh district.
The narrow urban-rural gap in Kerala also caught their attention. “There is no distinction between a village and a town here. The entire State looks like a huge town with good roads, electrical energy and well-maintained houses. Houses and offices are neat and clean,” said block president Divya Barla from Simdega block.
The team observed that women in Kerala were more empowered. Rainwater harvesting systems installed in houses and offices, and the activities of Kudumbasree Mission were other things that impressed them. Some even clicked photos of electric meters in houses as they were absent in most houses in rural Jharkhand.
Mr. Zachariah said UNICEF would urge the Jharkhand government to devolve more funds, functions and functionaries to local self-governments. Many presidents have already decided to translate into action what they saw and learned from Kerala. Some of them said they would hold bal sabhas to know their issues and make gram panchayats child-friendly. Some others decided to set up working groups on various issues and prepare annual plans.