What’s wrong with Goa’s panchayats and their gram sabhas?
The Functioning of Gram Sabhas in Goa
Ms Seema Fernandes
Goa Institute of Rural Development & Administration
Ela, Old Goa
No date mentioned. 107pp.
There’s so much being written on Goa, but because it’s not widely catalogued or uploaded to cyberspace, it’s difficult to keep track of what all is being said. Here’s a book one came across because of a chance visit to the Goa Institute of Rural Development & Administration at Ela, Old Goa, in a wholly different context.
Seema Fernandes’ conclusions: Goa’s overall panchayati raj (rural governance) system needs improvement. Most people are ignorant about the “entire working of local self government in Goa”. Some didn’t know that ordinary meetings and special ‘gram sabha’ (village council) meetings are convened in the panchayat.
Most women said their husbands attended meetings, but very rarely discussed matters at home. Others were ignorant about the quorum needed to conduct gram sabhas. Most had never attended a gram sabha meeting in their life — they don’t feel the need to attend, or see it as a “male dominated meeting”.
And check this out: “The people did not attend meetings because they feel that the Panchayat (village council) is not working for the village. They have selfish motives and due to (their) affiliation with political bodies, only promises are made but hardly fulfilled.”
Other issues raised include:
* Elected women representatives do not address women’s issues at the gram sabha meetings.
* At meetings, people appear “least bothered” to hear the minutes of the earlier meeting, and “are not bothered” on other crucial issues like the expenditure of the outlay of previous years.
* Some issues dominate the meets: issues pertaining to the grant of NOCs for constructions, water connections, which gutter or road or culvert has to be built or re-constructed, why a particular person was given a construction license, or illegal houses.
* Meetings tend to lack decorum in conduct, aggravated by the fact that no time is given for the discussion of agenda items. This leads to a lack of interest in meetings, boredom, and walk-outs. “Many a times, discussions get heated and uncontrollable by the presiding officer; people would gherao
the elected representatives over issues affecting them,” says the study.
Ms Fernandes stresses the role of gram sabhas in rural socio-economic development. But she says it can be a meaninfgul institution only when a majority of the people are involved. In reality, attendance is very thin. Average attendance is around 30-50 people, except in rare cases. So,
the majority is absent when decisions are taken.
“In the first place, the majority of the people are quite ignorant of the role and importance of the gram sabha,” says the study.
It adds: “People have expectations from the panchayat and this hampers the participation at gram sabhas… Lack of sound financial resources, adequate staff, instability of the sarpanchas, interference at all levels are some of the
reasons hampering the success of the panchayat.”
Ironically, though decisions are binding on the panchayat, “it remains only on paper”. Participation in Goa’s gram sabhas is selective and “therefore it can be called as a group of people who have vested interests in attending the
meeting, and as such it can be called an autocracy.”
This 94-page report (plus annexures) comes with seven chapters. An introduction, another on the efforts towards strengthening gram sabhas, a brief overview of literature on gram sabhas in India, the Goa panchayati raj act, people’s participation, an analysis and conclusions.
Interesting issues for those wanting to understand this issue of vital relevance to today’s rural Goa. But it’s not printed as a book (yet) or available for sale. Such work needs to be widely disseminated and discussed, if Goa’s panchayats are to have a future beyond window-dressing.