A majority of the 12,524 gram sabhas in Tamil Nadu on Friday (June 28) took a resolution to oppose development projects being brought by the government.
The meetings were held for the first time after being deferred in May due to the Lok Sabha polls, whose model code of conduct was in place. The Sabhas also called for holding of the civic polls, which has not been held since the AIADMK came to power in 2016.
The absence of local bodies for the past three years has stalled a plethora of welfare schemes, say activists. After a long wait, the state has announced that it will conduct the local body elections soon and as a first step, it has notified the wards that would be reserved.
Though there are no elected representatives, most of the villages conducted the gram sabha meetings on the mandated dates, presided by the block development officers. The meetings this time also discussed the water crisis prevailing in their villages and passed resolutions stressing on the importance of water conservation and creating new water resources.
Village panchayats in delta regions of Cauvery region like Irulneeki also passed resolutions against the upcoming hydrocarbon project. PR Pandian, general secretary, Tamizhaga Cauvery Vivasayigal Sangam, who attended one of the meetings, said in a statement that if the Central and state governments do not give up the project, then “we would move the court”.
In Koodankulam and surrounding areas, village panchayats have passed resolutions against the ‘away from reactor’ spent fuel facility. Likewise, in Salem, the home district of Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami, village panchayats such as Minnampalli, Kuppanur, Ramalingapuram, Nalikalpatti and Nilavarapatti passed resolutions against the Eight Lane Chennai-Salem Green Corridor project.
Speaking to The Federal, Nanda Kumar Siva, general secretary, Thannaatchi, an organisation working towards creating awareness about Panchayat Raj, said that almost every panchayat passed resolutions to conduct local body elections immediately. “Villagers are gradually gaining awareness about panchayat raj. They actively participated in gram sabha meetings and voiced their concerns over not having an elected local body,” he said.
K Saravanan, president of the organisation, said that in many villages, panchayats rules were violated and they turned out to be an eyewash. “Officials should inform about such meetings at least a couple of days before. But in panchayats like Sittilingi in Dharmapuri district, people were informed only on the day of the meeting.
When people gathered at the meeting place, the officials just read out the agenda drafted beforehand by the Directorate of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, without giving an opportunity to voice out their opinions,” he said.
Meanwhile, Makkal Needhi Maiam president and actor Kamal Haasan participated in gram sabha meetings held at 72 villages like Kathiramangalam in Thanjavur district, via video conferencing. During the meetings, he urged the people to pass resolutions that ensure and expedite local body elections.