Corruption Beckons Unpaid Panchayat Members

Assamese Panchayat members do not receive any wages and struggle to make ends meet. 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 decentralization. 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. The situation is particularly dramatic in Assam, where Panchayat members do not receive any form of compensation for their work. Normally,(on paper?) 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 Kacchar district. As a result, most local leaders are relying on other jobs to make ends meet. Ajit Singh, our Community Correspondent in Assam, became alarmed by the situation after hearing about it from a politician friend, who has been warning her peers of the potential consequences of this wage-less situation.  “As of now, because they are not compensated, most of the Panchayat members tend to be rather casual about their work, coming irregularly, and not following office hours. But what scares me the most is the risk of corruption. They are in charge of projects involving large amounts of money. The temptation is great.” explains Ajit. 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. Ajit hopes his video will raise awareness about the issue, since honesty and accountability of Panchayat members is the key to transparent, just and effective development at the grassroot level.

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