Implement 73rd, 74th amendments to empower Panchayats, ULBs: Rahul27 September 2011
The Daily Excelsior
Jammu: All India Congress (I) Committee general secretary, Rahul Gandhi, MP, today called for implementation of 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution of India empowering Panchayats and Urban Local Bodies leading to development in both rural and urban areas. He said there was no dearth of funds with India and there were a number of Centrally Sponsored Schemes for benefits of the rural masses but admitted that 'implementation part’ remained an area of problem, and corruption could be one reason for that. Addressing and inter-acting with Sarpanches and Panches, delegates from border areas, Youth Congress probables for office bearers and students in separate functions at Dak Bungalow and a public meeting in border town of Rajouri, Celebrations banquet and Gurjar Desh Charitable Trust in Jammu, Mr Gandhi called for full empowerment of Panchayats in Jammu and Kashmir. He responded in positive to a demand raised by a group of Sarpanches and Panches for implementation of 73 and 74th amendments of Constitution of India, granting powers to the Panchayats and Urban Local Bodies, in the State. 'Till the Panchayats are empowered, the process of development in rural areas can’t be completed’’, Rahul said in an impressive, albeit brief, speech at all the venues, where large gatherings of Panchayat members, Youth Congress workers, delegated from border areas and students waited for hours together to listen to him. Rahul’s schedule to Rajouri and Jammu got delayed by nearly half an hour as he had nearly an hour long one-to-one breakfast meeting with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah at Nehru Guest House in Srinagar this morning before his departure for Rajouri followed by Jammu. Omar and Rahul reviewed working of National Conference-Congress coalition Government, which is completing three years on January 5, 2012. Rahul had made no commitment to Congress workers yesterday on a demand of some of them for rotational Chief Minister in the State. As per the agreement between NC and Congress, Omar would be the Chief Minister of the State for full term of six years. Official sources said various political issues including steps required for resolution of Kashmir problem for which both Omar and Rahul favoured dialogue, security scenario, issues of development, implementation of Centrally Sponsored Schemes, Central help to the State in different sectors, upcoming report of Interlocutors on Jammu and Kashmir and functioning of the coalition Government figured prominently during the meeting. The issues of State and national perspective also figured in the meeting. Mr Gandhi is reported to have assured Omar Abdullah of all help from the Central Government in development of the State. He was also reported to have stressed for empowerment of Panchayats for development of rural areas. After his meeting with Mr Abdullah, Rahul Gandhi flew-in to Jammu and was received at Technical Airport Jammu by CM’s Political Advisor Devender Rana on behalf of the Chief Minister. From the Airport, Mr Gandhi flew to border town of Rajouri. Worthwhile to mention that the State Cabinet had recently approved a report submitted by Chief Secretary Madhav Lal recommending more powers to the Panchayats. However, the State has not implemented 73rd and 74th amendments for empowerment of Panchayats and Urban Local Bodies in the State. Even Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh during first term of the UPA Government had called for implementation of 73rd and 74th amendments while addressing a gathering in Udhampur while launching rail service. Several Congress leaders have also been raising the issue of the implementation of the two amendments. In budget session of the Legislature in March, the setting up of Finance Commission and Election Commission for Panchayats was approved through a legislation while there had been no word from the Government on full implementation of the two amendments. Mr Gandhi said while all political parties were speaking about corruption in the country, it was only Congress, which had taken the initiative to overcome the menace. The Congress general secretary, who invited suggestions from the students on ways and means to end corruption at a function at Celebrations banquet in Jammu, was told by the participants that corruption has resulted due to vested interests of some politicians, who were working for their own interests instead of national interests. Asserting that there were days when there was financial crunch in India, Mr Gandhi said now there was no dearth of funds with the Centre and a number of Centrally Sponsored Schemes and programmes including NREGA, Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan and Right to Information Act have been implemented for benefit of the people. 'You can call it corruption or anything if the benefit of these schemes is not reaching the rural masses and other people’’, he said, admitting that 'implementation part’ of these policies remained a problem. He added that if these schemes were fully implemented, the people would benefit a lot. Asserting that empowerment of Panchayats in Jammu and Kashmir in line with the Central Panchayati Raj Act would not only give more responsibilities and powers to Sarpanches and Panches, Mr Gandhi observed 'it is more important that the Panchayat members are given powers to ensure development at grass-root level’’. Noting that elections to Panchayats have been held in J&K after decades, the Congress general secretary said he has already spoken to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, PCC (I) chief Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz and Incharge J&K of Congress, Mohan Prakash on complete empowerment of Panchayats and implementation of Centrally Sponsored Schemes in the State. 'It is most important that Sarpanches and Panches get their rights. They are given responsibilities to ensure development at the grassroot level,' he said. The Congress general secretary was commenting on demands of Congress leaders including a number of Sarpanches and Panches in Rajouri for implementation of the 73rd and the 74th amendment of the Panchayati Raj Act to empower Panchayats in decision-making and financial matters in accordance with the Central Panchayati Raj Act. The Congress youth leader said there was no dearth of money for development. 'Whatever is needed is given but it must be ensured that it reached the grass-root-level in villages. 'If it is not reaching the grass-root-level, you call it corruption or any other thing, but I feel it should reach the villages,' Mr Gandhi said. Panches and Sarpanches must ensure that the money meant for development should reach the grass-root-level, he said. Mr Gandhi said corruption can be stopped only by establishing democracy at the grassroot level. 'If we have to stop corruption then our democracy (Loktantra) should reach to the grassroot level in villages and to the common man,' he said. 'If the country is to be changed, it cannot be changed from the top, it can be changed from the ground level,' he said. 'Policies can be from the top, ideas can come from the top, thoughts can come from the top, but their implementation has to be at the level of Municipalities, Panchayats and Wards,' he said. The AICC (I) general secretary asked his party activists to coordinate with the coalition Government to ensure speedy and equitable development of all three regions of the state. 'You have your own government in New Delhi. We will help you (J&K) from New Delhi (in overall development),' he said. 'Here also, we have a coalition government, you should coordinate with it so that Jammu, Ladakh and Srinagar will equally move fast (on the path of development),' Rahul said. 'Whatever development we can have in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, we will do it,' he said. On the demand raised by Sarpanches, Panches and delegates of border people for poor connectivity between Rajouri and Poonch, the Congress leader said on his return to New Delhi he would examine the demand for a rail link between Jammu to Poonch. Minister of State for Power and MLA Rajouri Shabir Khan told Mr Gandhi that a survey has been conducted for rail line between Jammu to Poonch and the project should be implemented. Mr Khan also demanded Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the Pahari people. Voicing concern over the point raised by some people about poor road link between Rajouri and Poonch and mobile connectivity, he said next time he would travel by road to Poonch and would like to see improvement in the road condition. He was shocked to hear that it takes several hours to travel between Rajouri and Poonch. He said as far as mobile connectivity was concerned it can be overcome shortly. Extending the hand of friendship to the people including youth, Mr Gandhi said he would come again to the border areas for a long time friendship with the people of the area. He added that he has come to listen to their problems and take up them with Central and State Governments to get them resolved. A handicapped youth interrupted the speech of Mr Gandhi to invite his attention towards him. Later, he met the youth and listened to his problem. The Congress leader said the problem of employment in Jammu and Kashmir was required to be addressed through different means. He assured the youth that steps would be taken to provide more employment opportunities to them. Mr Gandhi met residents of twin border districts of Rajouri and Poonch at Dak Bungalow and said he had come to make relations with them and understand their problems. 'I have come to make relations with you, to listen to your problems and to mitigate them,' he said. Launching the membership drive for the Youth Congress at the closed-door meeting, the Congress general secretary said the exercise was aimed at building strong relationship with the border region. 'I have come here today to launch the Youth Congress membership drive. This is another step of building up the relations.' Gandhi asked the youths to come forward and 'become partners in spreading the ideology of the party and in strengthening it'. 'I have started the concept of elections in the Youth Congress by ensuring transparency in the membership drive,' he said, adding that there will be no nomination culture in the Youth Congress any more. Addressing Sarpanches and Panches at Gurjar Desh Charitable Trust, he reiterated his call for empowerment of Panchayats. Mr Gandhi said it was the task of Panchayat members to check corruption and ensure that funds, sanctioned by the Centre and the State Government, reached the grass-root level. He called upon the people to get prepared for forthcoming Urban Local Bodies elections after Panchayat polls. The Sarpanches and Panches demanded that tenure of Panchayats should be raised to six years at par with the Assembly, 33 per recent reservation for women, Constituency Development Fund for every Panchayat at Rs 15 lakh per year, Rs 15, 000 salary per month for Sarpanch and Rs 10,000 for Panch. Due to paucity of time, the inter-active session couldn’t take place with Sarpanches and Panches, who protested after Mr Gandhi left the venue to attend another function with Youth Congress delegates at the Trust. A number of Sarpanches and Panches including Noor Hussain and Satish Kumar of Kishtwar, Rakesh Choudhary of Chak Dessa, Chowdrian, Hiranagar, Nakhori Bandral of Mareen and Balbir Kumar said they had been waiting since morning for an inter-action and Question-Answer session with Mr Gandhi but it didn’t happen. 'Mr Gandhi came and left within few minutes’’, they regretted. They also alleged bias in issuance of cards for entry in the function saying only one faction had been issued bulk of cards. Some of the Sarpanches and Panches said they had come up with a lot of problems and expectations from Mr Gandhi but they didn’t materialize. Inter-acting with potential Youth Congress candidates before returning to New Delhi at Gurjar Desh Charitable Trust, he said the nomination culture in the YC would come to an end with the election process right from booth level to Ward, Assembly, Parliament and State level. He said the All India Youth Congress president Rajiv Satav and Meenakshi Natrajan, MP, both of whom were accompanying him, have reached the top level of Youth Congress through the same election process. Ashok Tanvar, MP, Amarinder Singh Raja, a Youth Congress leader besides Mohan Prakash and Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz were also accompanying Mr Gandhi. Rahul said only potential and deserving candidates would be elected. He said though all political parties were talking about corruption, it was only the Congress, which was serious in tackling the menace, and was taking steps in this direction. Mr Gandhi said the menace of corruption can be eradicated if more and more youth joined the politics. The Congress general secretary’s address was followed by a brief Question-Answer session as Mr Gandhi was running short of time. A Youth Congress worker from Udhampur, Sanjeev Sharma alleged 'goondagardi’ by the National Panthers Party in Udhampur and wanted a solution to it. Mr Gandhi didn’t respond. Ishfaq-ur-Rehman Poswal of Gujjar United Front said 5.5 lakh nomadic Gujjars would be deprived of membership of the Youth Congress in the absence of identity cards. Replying to the query on behalf of Mr Gandhi, Meenakshi Natrajan, MP said all youth in the age group of 18 to 35 years can have membership of Youth Congress provided they have some sort of cards. She added that the Gujjar nomads might be having some sort of identity proof. Mr Poswal wanted to know about the Model Code of Conduct for elections. Mr Gandhi said the Youth Congress has formed an Election Commission for the elections and, of course, there will be a Model Code of Conduct. He said the YC has tied up with an organisation 'FAME’ formed by former Election Commissioner J M Lyngdoh for the election. To another question that kin of Ministers and senior politicians were vying for YC posts and in that event a common youth won’t be able to contest, Ms Natarajan said the Returning Officers for the elections would be from outside the States like Punjab and Maharashtra. She said there was no bar on anyone including kin of Ministers to contest for the YC posts. A Youth Congress worker from Doda Ishfaq Ahmed sought extension in membership drive in Doda due to its topography. Prior to two functions at Gurjar Desh Charitable Trust, Mr Gandhi had an inter-action with students at Celebrations banquet, Marble Market, Trikuta Nagar. At the very outset, he posed a question to all participants as to what were reasons for corruption in the country, whether corruption in India was more than the United States and Germany and how it can be tackled? The inter-action was participated by several students, who blamed politicians for corruption saying some of the politicians have started working for their own interests instead of the country leading to corruption. Mr Gandhi called upon the students to go to grass-root level to end corruption and play a role in national building. He said the transparent election process of Youth Congress would end 'bhai bhatizabaad’ as earlier Ministers and other senior functionaries used to nominate their own kin to the posts. However, now only deserving candidates would be elected from booth level to Wards, Parliaments and State level body. Students in GGM Science College held a demonstration today saying a College authority had asked students to participate in the function of Rahul Gandhi. Meanwhile, in a security breach, a Tavera vehicle crossed security zone at Marble Market minutes before the arrival of Rahul Gandhi as the area had been declared no traffic zone excepting those with permission. SP City (South) Rajeshwar Singh said the number of the vehicle has been noted and it would be traced. He said the violation took place before arrival of the VVIP.