By Rizwan Rasheed
AAFTER the repeal of Section 370 and subsequent amendments to the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, the rural areas of the Union Territory are experiencing an unprecedented decentralization of power and authority. The establishment of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) in India aims to develop self-reliance at the local village level. The PRI ensure that people are involved in the planning, decision-making, implementation and delivery process. The idea is to essentially transform the villages socially and economically through these institutions. 3Fs- Funds, functions and officials are devolved to local rural bodies to make these institutions accountable.
While the fledgling MICs in Jammu and Kashmir are overflowing with funds and functions, the system is plagued by a smaller number of civil servants. Like elsewhere in India, Jammu and Kashmir faces the same challenge of understaffing in the MICs. In a research article based on a national survey, Aditya Dasgupta and Devesh Kapur argue that local bureaucrats are often under-resourced in relation to their responsibilities. They call this phenomenon “bureaucratic overload”. Due to bureaucratic overload, government programs often fail on the ground due to poor implementation by local bureaucrats.
There is a shortage of staff at all three levels of the PRI in Jammu and Kashmir. The PRIs are responsible for implementing and implementing a plethora of programs and expectations of them are very high. Interestingly, the amended provisions of the 1989 law state that the Halqa Panchayat may employ the personnel necessary for the performance of its functions, but that “the Halqa Panchayat shall pay remuneration to such personnel from its own resources”. Although contract staff have been hired, it is very few. The nature of the responsibilities that these jobs entail does not correspond to the contractual nature of these jobs. Nor is the meager remuneration that contract workers receive. Most of the work of village level staff involves field visits, technical work and data collection. These are travel and other allowances that the staff concerned are not adequately remunerated. Consider the VLWs who are field officials. They have to travel regularly, but they are not reimbursed enough for their trip.
Another challenge faced by the MICs in Jammu and Kashmir is the lack of adequate training of staff. As a result, staff lack the necessary skills to perform their duties and responsibilities. It has been more than a year since the accounting assistants (Panchayat) were recruited, but some of them have not yet received training to carry out their duties. The lack of staff training prevents the specialization of staff and therefore has consequences for the organization at the generic level. This hampers the seamless functioning of the department.
Also, the lack of capacity building for elected officials and populations living in the villages has consequences for decentralization. Since ordinary people are involved in the decision-making process and the PRI works by collecting input from people, ordinary people need to be aware of their rights and responsibilities. Very little has been done to empower citizens in the operation of the PRI.
Additionally, one of the most time-consuming jobs for PRI today is collecting and updating data. As part of Digital India, several apps and websites need to be updated regularly. This is very important but time-consuming work. However, there are few staff available to do the work required. Therefore, personnel responsible for one job are used to perform other tasks, thus affecting their main job. For example, responsibility for updating the data of the recently released JALDOOT app has been assigned to Gram Rojgar Sahayaks (GRS). GRS, in addition to their main responsibilities, will measure the water level of selected wells in the villages twice a year and update the data.
Apart from the problem of lack of staff, the MICs in Jammu and Kashmir also face the problem of not being able to generate their own income. Even though MICs have the power and authority to generate their own revenue through tax and non-tax revenue, this is not fully realized in Jammu and Kashmir. Accordingly, they must be entirely dependent on funds from the center and the union territory government.
The PRIs were created with the aim of making the villages self-sufficient and self-sufficient. It is a democratic decentralization which aimed to realize the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi. The PRI was meant to be a bottom-up approach to development in villages – people would make decisions about the governance of their own villages. However, the bottom-up approach has not yet been realized. Even after more than three decades of existence of the PRI, they still follow a top-down approach for the most part. The reason behind this is that the institutions do not have enough resources. They are understaffed in relation to their responsibilities. Moreover, the MICs in Jammu and Kashmir are not generating all the revenue they should be generating.
Since the MICs in Jammu and Kashmir are nascent, it is important to learn from the experiences of other states and union territories of India. The MICs in Jammu and Kashmir need to be put on the right track so that their full potential is realized. This will ensure that Gandhi’s dream of targeting Gram Swaraj is fully realized.
*The fourth phase of the J&K government’s Back to Village (B2V4) program began on October 27
The author works in the Department of Rural Development and Planning, J&K
- The article represents only the personal opinion of the author, not that of the organization where he works. The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the editorial position of Kashmir Observer
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