Cabinet Gives Nod To Incorporation Of 73rd Amendment In J&K PRA

Cabinet Gives Nod To Incorporation Of 73rd Amendment In J&K PRA

8 February 2014
The Daily Excelsior
Mohinder Verma

Jammu: In a significant development aimed at empowerment of democratic institutions, State Cabinet today gave nod to the incorporation of all the major provisions of 73rd Amendment in the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act and a Bill in this regard would be tabled in the State Legislature during the Budget Session beginning from February 10. The Cabinet also approved introduction of bill seeking establishment of institution of Ombudsman for Panchayats. Though during the deliberations over the 73rd Amendment arguments were witnessed between the Congress Ministers and some of their colleagues from the National Conference yet due to the intervention of Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah the consensus finally arrived at between the two coalition partners about incorporation of all the provisions of 73rd Amendment in the State Panchayati Raj Act. Mr Abdullah, who is the strong votary of strengthening democratic institutions, while intervening during the arguments between the Congress and National Conference Ministers, stated that incorporation of all the provisions of 73rd Amendment would ultimately help in achieving the goal of empowering the people, which is the basic spirit of democracy. Sources told EXCELSIOR that when the draft bill seeking incorporation of certain provisions of 73rd Amendment in the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act came up for hearing, all the Congress Ministers in one voice stressed that instead of certain, all the provisions of 73rd Amendment should be incorporated so as to empower the democratic institutions and the people. However, they were opposed by some senior National Conference Ministers, who stated that only those provisions should be cleared by the Cabinet on which the consensus has already been reached between the coalition partners after hectic discussions at different forums, sources said, adding “this led to arguments with Congress Ministers, who had a detailed discussion shortly before the Cabinet meeting, making it clear that they would not budge from their stand of incorporating all the provisions of 73rd Amendment”. Chief Minister, who has always stated that fully empowered Panchayati Raj System in Jammu and Kashmir was his dream, intervened during the arguments and said, “there is no harm in incorporating all the provisions of 73rd Amendment in order to empower the people. The essence of democracy lies in empowering people to draw blueprints of development”. Following Chief Minister’s intervention the arguments came to an end and Cabinet unanimously decided to table bill in the State Legislature during the forthcoming Budget Session for incorporation of all the provisions of 73rd Amendment to J&K Panchayati Raj Act, sources said. Now, with this significant decision, the Chairman of the District Planning and Development Board, which is the main spirit of 73rd Amendment, will be elected as against the existing practice whereby Minister is nominated as Chairman of the District Development Board by the Government. The Chairman of the District Planning and Development Board (Zila Parishad) will be elected by the Electoral College comprising Chairmen of the Block Development Councils, MLAs-MLCs from the concerned districts, presidents of Municipal Councils-Committees etc. Similarly, the Chairman of the Block Development Council will be elected by the Sarpanchs and Panchs of the concerned block. Similarly, there will be separate Election Commission and Finance Commission for the Panchayati Raj System and reservation to the women, SCs and STs in all the three tiers. At present, there is reservation to the women, SCs and STs only in the Panchayats, sources said, adding the reservation in respect of the SC and ST categories will be to the extent of their population in specific constituency and to the extent of 33% for the women. The amendment also provides for reduction in the age of candidates for contesting elections for the positions of Panchs and Sarpanchs from 25 years to 21 years, sources informed. Among the other main provisions of 73rd Amendment, which will also be incorporated in the State Act include grant of constitutional guarantee to Panchayats on completion of five years term followed by elections after every five years, financial and administrative powers including control over development and 14 identified departments, security to Panchayat members, emoluments to Panchayat members and to BDC and DDPB. The provisions pertaining to removal of Sarpanch, membership of Marketing Societies, status of Chairmen of BDC and financial powers of Panchayats etc would also be incorporated in the State Panchayati Raj Act. It is pertinent to mention here that Rahul Gandhi, Vice-President of All India Congress Committee, AICC Incharge Jammu and Kashmir, Ambika Soni, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz had a number of times stressed that 73rd Amendment should be extended to Jammu and Kashmir in totality in order to empower the people in real sense. The decision on 73rd Amendment was pending since long because of difference of opinion on several provisions including elected Chairman of the District Planning and Development Board and consensus on several points was reached between them after series of meetings and discussions in the Coordination Committee. Finally, both the parties have arrived at consensus today on all the major provisions, which will go a long way in empowering the people. The Cabinet also gave nod to the introduction of Bill seeking establishment of institution of Ombudsman for Panchayats. “Since the State Government has devolved powers of 14 departments to the Panchayats, the possibility of Panchayats not performing their functions either strictly as per the Panchayati Raj Act or indulging in certain practices detrimental to the public interest cannot be ruled out”, sources said, adding “there is a need to have an institutional mechanism for the purpose of investigating charges of corruption and maladministration in the Panchayati Raj Institutions so that transparency and accountability is ensured in these institutions and Ombudsman would meet this requirement”. “The institution of Ombudsman is further important for attracting grants under General Performance Grant of 13th Finance Commission”, sources said while disclosing that State Government has not been able to assess the performance grant of Rs 363 crore already allotted in absence of the institution of Ombudsman.