Monday, 3 February 2014

Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Sashaktikaran Abhiyan will Bolster State Election Commissions

The State Election Commissions constituted under Part IX and Part IXA of the Constitution of India have functions, responsibilities and authority to conduct elections to Panchayats and Urban Local Bodies at par with the Election Commission of India. 
However, the institutions of State Election Commissions have not been strengthened to the extent of the Election Commission of India. This strengthening is central to conducting free, fair and regular elections to the Local Self Governments.
            An initiative in this direction was the setting up of a Task Force by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj to suggest measures for strengthening the institution of the State Election Commissions. The Task Force submitted its Report on 14th October, 2011. The Standing Committee of State Election Commissioners gave their views on 9th December, 2011. Some of the important recommendations given by the Standing Committee as accepted by Ministry of Panchayati Raj are:
·        The State Election Commission (SEC) should be authorized under Law to notify the dates to conduct elections, enforcement of codes of conduct, filing of nomination, withdrawal of nomination, scrutiny, final list of candidates etc. The SEC shall appoint polling personnel either by itself or by delegated authorities.

·        SECs should be given the status of a High Court Judge. They should also have the salary, allowances, perquisites and all serving/retirement benefits of a High Court Judge.

·        The tenure of SEC should be for five / six years or upto 65 years of age whichever is earlier and without any provision for extension.

·        Personnel from Public Sector Undertakings and Central Government offices located in the State should be drafted for conducting Panchayat elections and in view of the law and order issues, sometimes encountered during the Panchayat elections,  central paramilitary forces as in the case of Assembly and Parliamentary elections may be deployed.

·        SECs should have the flexibility to utilize funds as per their priorities without having to seek approval of the Finance Department of the State Government in every instance. In case of elections, the freeze on non-plan expenditure enforced in the months of February and March should not be applied to SECs and funds of SECs should not lapse at the end of the financial year, as in the case of government departments, as this causes serious difficulties for elections organized in April and May.

·        In 12th Five Year Plan, the State Election Commissions should be given a grant from the proposed scheme of Panchayat Shashaktikaran Abhiyan (PSA) if the following conditions are satisfied at least by the second year of the Plan: The State Election Commissioner must be full time; He should have a tenure of five / six years or up to 65 years of age whichever is earlier;  There should be no provision for extensions; The protection given to the SEC under Article 243K must be available under the state law or rules governing the State Elections Commissions; the SEC must have the status of a High Court Judge.

·        Allocations for SEC including expenditure on conduct of local self body elections and on administrative expenses should be clearly provided in the States’ main budget, since the period when general election is due is known in advance and SECs should have the flexibility to divert funds between different heads of accounts while incurring election-related expenditure. They should have the flexibility for procurement etc. similar to ECI norms.

·        Release of funds from Central Finance Commission can be recommended if the conditions like the structure of SEC recommended above and also the following conditions: Panchayats and Municipalities should not be superseded en masse; There must be at least one third reservation for women:  Constitution of State Finance Commission;  Both direct and indirect elections should be through SECs.

·        The SECs should call for Observers for elections to Panchayats and Municipalities from the Government of India through Ministries of Panchayati Raj, Urban Development and DoPT who shall work under the supervision and control of the SECs, as is the case with the Election Commission of India.

·        SECs should be vested with powers for delimitation of wards, reservation of seats and their rotation. The policy of delimitation should, however, rest with the State Government.
Some of the states like West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Sikkim, and Uttarakhand have already given the status of High Court Judge to the State Election Commissioners. It is heartening to see that a State like Mizoram which was not required to have State Election Commission to conduct elections to Village Councils and District Councils has now constituted a State Election Commission and has vested these powers with it.
In order to strengthen the Pahchayati Raj system and also to address critical gaps that constrain it, Ministry of Panchayati Raj has formulated the Scheme, Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Sashaktikran Abhiyan (RGPSA) which will be implemented during the Twelfth Five Year Plan period. RGPSA aims to enable States to strengthen their Panchayati Raj systems in their context by choosing from among a menu of activities. States would have access to funds on the basis of perspective and annual plans prepared under the scheme. States would be required to fulfill the following essential conditions for accessing to funds:
·        Regular elections to panchayats or urban local bodies under the superintendence of SEC

·        1/3 reservation for women in panchayats or other local bodies

·        Constitution of State Finance Commission(SFC) every five years and placement of Action Taken Report (ATR) on the recommendations of the SFC in the state Assembly

·         Constitution of District Planning Committees in all districts
RGPSA will provide performance linked funds from 2014-15 onwards. Activities that would be supported under RGPSA include: Strengthening of State Election Commission;         Administrative and Technical Support at the Gram Panchayat level; Construction /renovation of Gram Panchayat Buildings; Capacity Building and Training of Elected Representatives and Functionaries; Institutional Structure for Training at State, District & Block level;  E-enablement of Panchayats, etc.
The funding of RGPSA for State plans is envisaged on a 75:25 sharing basis by the Central and State Governments respectively. For NE States, the ratio will be 90:10. Gross Budgetary support of Rs. 6437 crore has been allocated by the Planning Commission for 12th  Five Year Plan period, out of which Rs. 6200 crore is proposed to be spent as Central share for Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Sashaktikaran Abhiyan. The schemes of Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Yojana(RGSY), e-Panchayat, Panchayat Empowerment and Accountability Incentive Scheme(PEAIS) and Panchayat Mahila Evam Yuva Shakti Abhiyan (PMEYSA) will be subsumed in RGPSA from 2013-14.

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