In TN, panchayat chiefs set a model; publicise income-expense statements
Tamil Nadu has been witness to some attacks on Dalit and woman panchayat presidents recently. The elected heads were prevented from accessing their rights and performing their duties. However, there is a silver lining to these otherwise unfortunate events. Some panchayats are doing a real positive work and giving hope that the three-tier governance system can work after all.
After a three-year delay, the state finally conducted rural local body elections in December, 2019. The elected representatives took charge in January, 2020 and it has been six months since they are at the helm, but you can see a change not witnessed for years.
Panchayats are required to conduct gram sabha meetings four times a year i.e. on January 26 (Republic Day), May 1 (May Day), August 15 (Independence Day) and October 2 (Gandhi Jayanti). This year they were able to conduct the meeting only on January 26. Due to lockdown, they were unable to hold the meetings on May 1 and August 15. As a result, they could not carry out essential discussions about the financial condition of their respective panchayat and the development works they need to focus on.
It is in this backdrop that some panchayat presidents submitted the statements of income and expenses in public domain using various methods.
In Karuppambulam panchayat of Nagapattinam district, panchayat president Subburaman printed his panchayat’s statement of income and expenses in the format of a handbill and distributed it to each and every household. Likewise, Rekha Raman, president of Pandeswaram panchayat in Tiruvallur district, has distributed her financial statement as a handbill. In Sittilingi panchayat in Dharmapuri district, president Madheshwari has uploaded the statement on her social media account. It is interesting to note that most such presidents are first-timers with no previous experience of how the panchayat system works.
“During the election campaign, I had promised that I will ensure transparent governance. I told them that every six months I will make my financial condition public. So I have printed the statement as a handbill and distributed it,” said Subburaman. He is a first-time president chosen after a gap of 32 years. Before that, presidents were selected on a rotational basis.
Though Subburaman faced no opposition to this kind of initiative either from past presidents or political party heads, he received discouraging comments from other panchayat presidents.
“We had requested other panchayats to come out with their financial statements in public. Some of them followed, but most others have not done so,” said Subburaman.
Rekha Raman said she is under scrutiny from past presidents. “They wrongly accuse me of taking credit for work done by them.”
“When I say that such and such work was completed without mentioning any names, the past presidents claim the work was a result of their past works. I don’t have any problem if they take the credit, but what annoys me is that they repeatedly find faults in my work,” Rekha Raman said.
From day One, all that she wanted was the proceedings of panchayat to be transparent. “So the first time I conducted a gram sabha, I made a PowerPoint presentation to reveal the financial health of the panchayat. That had gone well with the people, since until then the presidents never showed a panchayat statement in public,” she said.
“It was due to lockdown that we decided to publish the financial statement as a handbill and distribute it among all. Once normalcy returns, we will conduct the mandatory meetings and display the statement through slides,” Raman added.
This is being done mainly in accordance with our goal of bringing about a fully transparent panchayat administration. “This is the first step towards attaining this goal,” tweeted Madheshwari, president of Sittilingi panchayat in Dharmapuri district. “We have resolved to put out one such report every six months,” she added.
The idea behind such efforts is to bring people’s faith back in local governance. “People’s faith can strengthen our panchayats,” said Nandakumar Shiva, general secretary of Thannaatchi, an organisation working towards creating awareness about the Panchayat Raj system.
“There is a thing called ‘proof of concept’. It means we show the proofs for the concepts we are talking and working about. For example, when we say we will provide a transparent government, we must show that in proof. Making financial statements in public is a step in this direction,” he said.