Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) are rural local governments entrusted with the responsibilities to prepare plan and implement schemes for economic development and social justice in rural India. A number of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) assign important role to PRIs. In addition, PRIs are also involved in implementation and monitoring of several State Schemes. For achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in rural India, PRIs will have to play a key role. Importance of PRIs is also in ensuring people’s participation and enforcing downward accountability in the rural development initiatives. It would not be wrong to say that if India has to achieve good governance, PRIs have to function effectively as envisaged by the Indian Constitution.
Part IX of Indian Constitution is applicable in all States and UTs except Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland & parts of Hill areas of Manipur, Darjeeling district of West Bengal, parts of Assam and Tripura. Currently there are approximately 2,55,309 PRIs in India, of which approximately 2,48,160 Gram Panchayats (GPs), 6,284 Intermediate Panchayats (IPs) and 595 District Panchayats (DPs).Article 243 G provided for the Powers, Authority and Responsibilities of Panchayats, Subject to the provisions of the Constitution, the Legislature of a State may, by law, endow the Panchayats with such powers and authority and may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government and such law may contain provisions for the devolution of powers and responsibilities upon Panchayats at the appropriate level; subject to such conditions as may be specified therein, with respect to a) the preparation of plans for economic development and social justice; and b) the implementation of schemes for economic development and social justice as may be entrusted to them including those in relation to the matters listed in the Eleventh Schedule.
Therefore the Panchayat is expected to perform with reference to these duties, responsibilities and authority such that the delivery of services is par excellence. However, due to inadequate capacity, experience, training, etc. they are unable to do so resulting in loss of confidence in the Ministries / Departments to delegate / nominate them as agents for service delivery. Same arguments are used by State governments to avoid devolution of functions, funds and functionaries to Panchayats. Hence, capacity development of PRIs is imperative to strengthen rural local governance in India.
Challenges of Capacity Development of PRIs
Reaching out to large numbers of ERs and functionaries
As stated earlier, there are 2.48 lakh GPs and number of ERs is about 28 lakh. Added to these are more than 10 lakh functionaries that are working at the GP and below levels under various Ministries/Departments State Rural Development Institutes along with other support training institutes and NGOs are dealing with the issue of capacity building of this huge number in several ways. However, the infrastructure currently available and dearth of quality trainers for Panchayat level capacity building makes it a mammoth challenge to be addressed.
Preparing appropriate training modules
While reaching out to a large number of stakeholders, it is necessary to ensure that the standards of the training modules is maintained, and the needs of people with diverse backgrounds are addressed. This requires a great deal of institution building, networking, monitoring mechanisms, etc. ERs of PRIs is a heterogeneous group consisting also of illiterate or less educated and of marginalised sections such as women, SC and ST. Preparing a training module which can cater to this heterogeneous group is a challenge. Development of ERs and functionaries of PRIs involves imparting knowledge, skill development and attitudinal change and hence all three components need to be addressed by any module. PRIs have to deal with varied subjects and sectoral experts are required to give inputs in the preparation of modules which is a challenge.
Deploying adequate quality trainers
Different modes of training require quality trainers with specific subject matter specialization and expertise. With change in the approaches to training, trainers are required with special skill-sets for such modes of training. It is also of utmost importance that these trainers have extensive knowledge of grassroots’ circumstances / conditions in diverse geographical conditions, culture, environment, etc., to be able to tailor make the trainings as per the requirement of the ERs.
Handholding at GP level
For effective capacity development of ERs apart from classroom training programmes, utopian, as generally what is communicated is far from ground reality. The lectures at these sessions explain the various rights, powers and duties of the ERs and PRI functionaries. In reality neither would the PRI have been devolved any functions by the State Government, nor would have been involved in any of the Government programmes. Mentoring is a necessary component for effecting the gains from a good training programme. There are extremely rare cases where some NGO has done handholding of a PRI.
Unviable size of Panchayats
The below tables shows the average population per GP and the status of functionaries in PRIs across the country. There are about 8000 GPs with a population of 500 or less. Any resources made available to a GP with uneconomical area are of little support. Human resource at such levels is also impractical.
Lack of office buildings and staff
About 48476 Panchayats (about 20%) are without Panchayat building and many Panchayat buildings are in dilapidated condition. only 63% of total number of Gram Panchayat having sanctioned posts for the Panchayat Functionaries (Secretary or Equivalent) and approx. 31% of total sanctioned Posts of Secretary or Equivalent are vacant. Lack of requisite manpower at Panchayat level makes it difficult for proper functioning of the Panchayat as an institution for local governance and development, and severely constrains their activities and proper reporting.
Capacity Building Initiatives
Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat SashaktikaranAbhiyan (RGPSA): RGPSA was a Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) implemented during financial year 2012-13 to 2014-15 having State component and Central component. Key objectives of the Scheme included a) to enhance capacities and effectiveness of Panchayats and the Gram Sabhas; b) to enable democratic decision-making and accountability in Panchayats and promote people’s participation; c) to strengthen the institutional structure for knowledge creation and capacity building of Panchayats; d) to promote devolution of powers and responsibilities to Panchayats according to the spirit of the Constitution and PESA Act; e) to strengthen Gram Sabhas to function effectively as the basic forum of people’s participation, transparency and accountability within the Panchayat system; f) to create and strengthen democratic local self-government in areas where Panchayats do not exist; g) to strengthen the constitutionally mandated framework on which Panchayats are founded.
Training infrastructure: Fourteen District Panchayat Resource Centres (DPRCs) have been sanctioned from 2013-14 to 2016-17 under RGPSA, out of which ten DPRCs are completed and four DPRCs are under construction. Further, three Divisional Training Centres (ETCs) and two Panchayat Training Centres have been constructed under State Plan. Three DPRCs have been sanctioned in the FY 2017-18. The panchayat functionaries in the State are trained by State Institute of Rural Development (SIRD) and Central Training Institute (CTI) at Ranchi, Divisional Training Centre (DTC) each at Hazaribagh, Chaibasa and Palamu and Panchayat Training Institute (PTI) at Deoghar. The SIRD in the State provides training to all kinds of functionaries whereas DTCs and PTI provide training only to the Panchayat functionaries. DTCs and PTI have been allotted adjoining Districts of the State for providing training to the functionaries. The CTI and SIRD provide training to the PR functionaries of the entire State. DPRCs also provide training at the District headquarters level.
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