Every village in India that has a population of at least 300 people, is governed by a Panchayat, whose members are elected from among the villagers. These elected leaders oversee local affairs ranging from road construction and sanitation to education and maintaining civil records. The Panchayats are, so to speak, central elements of grassroots democracy in India, resulting from an ambitious move towards power decentralisation. They are also the key to community level development, being in charge of planning, supervising, and executing schemes and government programs in their respective area.
Because they are a crucial institution of local democracy, it is essential that Panchayat members behave in an exemplary manner, being accountable and honest. Unfortunately, the wages received by the Panchayat members all over India are very low, leading to corruption and the misuse of public funds.
A similar situation was played out in Bihar where 14 council members of the Mahuawa panchayat were not paid Rs. 500 per month salary for over a year. Usually, these members are remunerated by the state government or by taxes levied at the local level, but because none of this has been implemented in Mahuawa there was an arrear of almost Rs. 6,000. As a result, most local members had to work other jobs to make ends meet. "I had medical ailments to take care of, my child's fees to take care of; but due to these arrears, I was unable to do anything," recalls Ramlanga Bhuiya, a council member. The sarpanch also was anxious for his team members were suffering due to the negligence of the Block office.
It took a Community member Suresh Sharma from the village, to motivate the council and the citizens to raise into action. The council members collectively wrote an application to the Block Development Officer (BDO) and went to meet him. The BDO deposited the amount into the village's expense account within the next few months, availing salary to the 14-member council body.
In order to strengthen local level democratic bodies, it seems necessary to provide the Panchayat members with salaries that are sufficient to sustain themselves and their families. Suresh hopes his video will raise awareness about the issue, so that the accountability of Panchayat members and towards them remains transparent for a just and effective development at the grassroot level.
This video was made by a Video Volunteers Community Correspondent Suresh Sharma.
Community Correspondents come from marginalised communities in India and produce videos on unreported stories. These stories are ’news by those who live it.’ they give the hyperlocal context to global human rights and development challenges. See more such videos at www.videovolunteers.org. Take action for a more just global media by sharing their videos and joining in their call for change.
Community Correspondent (CC) Puja Thakur, in this video is inquiring about the existing Panchayati Raj systems in Tea Gardens of Alipurduar of West Bengal state.