TN panchayats face cash crunch as state government assumes most powers
According to several rural local body representatives, the panchayats have no funds to initiate even small repair works in their villages. Pic: iStock

TN panchayats face cash crunch as state government assumes most powers

The Constitution grants them a lot of power but, in practice, rural local bodies have little in the way of decision-making and funds

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On April 23, ahead of National Panchayati Raj Day, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin announced a slew of incentives for rural local bodies. It made good headlines, but local body representatives found little cheer. There is a feeling of helplessness as, most of the time, all the financial powers are vested with the state government, they say.

“We are completely hopeless. We cannot do anything on our own for our village,” Durai Muthu, president of the Melanaikuzhi village panchayat in Ariyalur district, told The Federal. “Even the subject (agenda) of the gram sabha has already been fixed by the District Rural Development Office and we cannot discuss anything other than that. Though the Panchayat Act has given all the rights to the local bodies, in reality, the villagers can’t do anything on their own.”

Grand promises

Stalin announced last month that the gram sabhas would meet on World Water Day and Local Governance Day besides Republic Day, Labour Day, Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti. He further said village secretariats would be set up in each village and the sitting fee for the elected representatives of the rural local bodies would be increased.

“What’s the use of conducting such gram sabhas when the people can’t decide the subject of the meeting? Even if a resolution is passed in the village panchayat council, it would not be taken seriously by the state government,” said Durai Muthu.

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According to several rural local body representatives, the panchayats have no funds to initiate even small repair works in their villages.

“My village has less than Rs 5,000 now. I don’t want to reveal the actual amount because I am ashamed,” said Suresh, president of the Rajapattinam village panchayat in Cuddalore district. “The condition is so pathetic and we don’t get our legitimate share of funds from the State Finance Commission. Every time the state government announces something for the rural local bodies, the fund is being taken from our share in the State Finance Commission,” he told The Federal.

CSR funds come through the collector

Durai Muthu alleged that even the CSR funds that are due to the villages in which the respective industries are located are not given to them.

“A Powergrid facility is located in our village and our villagers have lost a lot of natural resources and farming (land). So, if we could get the CSR fund, at least we could do something to facilitate drinking water and other infrastructure development in our village,” he said.

In reality, according to several village panchayat presidents, CSR funds from various industries are granted only if the district collector recommends it.

“The district collector would not give us the entire CSR fund from the industry functioning in our village. He would divide and allot it. Our village doesn’t get enough funds for the sacrifice our villagers have done,” another village panchayat president in Villupuram district said.

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Panchayat presidents to whom The Federal spoke to claimed that even the State Finance Commission (SFC) funds allocated to each village were not enough.

“You cannot even pay the pending electricity bills with the SFC funds. Now, with the new secretariats, the electricity bills will again shoot up. We don’t know whether to be happy with the new announcements or to be sad that they would reduce the funds further because of it,” Rekha Ramu, head of the Pandeswaran village panchayat in Tiruvallur district, told The Federal.

‘More power to local representatives’

Nandhakumar Shiva, general secretary of Thannatchi, a movement encouraging grassroot democracy, said that though the announcements were convincing, he was skeptical about the funds for the projects. “The village secretariat would in a way make the administrative work easy. But we don’t know from which fund they are going to initiate the process,” he said. He felt the state government should give more power and finances to local body representatives.

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“For five years there were no local body representatives, the bureaucrats have learnt to run the show without them. And now, with the state government taking up more funds from them, the local body representatives are being rendered hopeless and helpless,” he told The Federal.

A senior official with the department of rural development and panchayat raj, on condition of anonymity said that they are aware of the funds crunch in the village panchayats and it would be solved once the SFC funds are released. When asked about other issues, the official said that they are related to the government’s policy decision.

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