Local Government is a State subject figuring as item 5 in List II of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India. Article 243 G of the Indian Constitution enshrines the basic principle for devolution of power to the rural Local Bodies. As per this article, subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Legislature of a State may, by law, endow the Panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-Government and such law may contain provisions for the devolution of powers and responsibilities upon Panchayats at the appropriate level, subject to such conditions as may be specified therein, with respect to the preparation of plans for economic development and social justice; the implementation of schemes for economic development and social justice as may be entrusted to them including those in relation to the 29 matters listed in the Eleventh Schedule.
5.1 L.C. Jain Committee
The Government of Tamil Nadu is committed to ensuring that the Panchayat Raj Institutions function as effective institutions of Local Self-Government. In 1996, soon after the conclusion of the first ordinary elections to the three tiers of Panchayats, the Government constituted the First High Level Committee under the Chairmanship of Thiru L.C. Jain, the then full-time Member of the State Planning Commission to give recommendations on the entrustment of powers and functions to the three tiers of Panchayats. The Committee submitted its report to the Government in April, 1997.
The L.C. Jain Committee used 12 notations viz. Advise, Assist, Co-ordination, Establish and set up, Implementation, Identification of persons to be assisted, Inspection, Management and maintenance, Planning, Review, Supervision and Take over in respect all the 29 items for demarcating roles and functions of the 3 tiers of Local Bodies.
To operationalise its recommendations, the Committee suggested the following:
• Establishment pattern of Village Panchayats, Panchayat unions, District Panchayats need an analysis.
• Engagement of professionals and consultants for speedy
development, right from village level upto district level.
• Human Resource Development for PRIs (Training, Sensitization
and Attitudinal change).
• Scheme review powers to be given to Local Bodies.
• Need for efficient Accounts and Audit arrangements for Local Bodies.
• Preparation of Works Manuals for Local Bodies.
• Guidelines for Maintenance of Assets created and handed over to the Panchayat bodies.
• Creation of proper Management Information System.
• Constitution of various Committees of PRIs.
• PRIs to be given clear working instructions on how to exercise the
functions transferred to them.
Many of the recommendations of the L.C. Jain Committee have been crystallized into action towards empowering the Panchayats. Apart from the Rural Development Department, other departments such as Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Forests, Social Welfare, Revenue, Khadi and Village Industries, Education, Health and Family Welfare, Adi-Dravidar Welfare, Co-operation, Food and Consumer Protection, have issued Government Orders for devolution of powers and functions in their respective spheres to the three tiers of Panchayats.
5.2 Ko. Si. Mani Committee
Again, the Government in G.O. Ms. No. 320, Rural Development (C1) Department, dated 11.11.1997 constituted the Second High Level Committee under the Chairmanship of Thiru.Ko.Si.Mani, the then Hon’ble Minister for Rural Development and Local Administration with experienced persons including sitting MLAs of various political parties as members of the Committee to recommend more devolution of powers and functions to the Panchayats. This High Level Committee submitted its report on 11.1.1999 with 1209 recommendations to the Government. The Government accepted 718 recommendations and issued orders for their implementation.
The key recommendations of the Ko. Si. Mani Committee are:
• Strengthening and convening Grama Sabhas more frequently than the existing four times in a year.
• As in Panchayat Unions, appointment of engineers, junior assistants, water supply maintenance staff in major Village Panchayats.
• To train the Panchayat staff in carrying out minor repairs for street light maintenance.
• Village Panchayats to be empowered to constitute Standing Committees.
• Collection of licence fees for Dangerous and Offensive Trades to be entrusted to Village Panchayats.
• Rural Welfare Officers to be redeployed for field work.
• The appointment of noon-meal staff like cook, ayah to be done by Appointment Committee in Panchayat Unions.
• A full time Secretary to be appointed for District Panchayats.
• Guidelines to be framed for five standing committees of District Panchayat.
• District Panchayat Chairperson to be made as a member of District Purchase Committee.
• District Collector to continue as the Chairperson of the District Planning Committee.
• Direct Elections to elect Panchayat union Chairpersons and District Panchayat Chairpersons.
• Concurrent Audit and Continuous Audit to be introduced in all Local Bodies.
• All the assets created under R.D. schemes to be handed over to Village Panchayats and Panchayat unions. An asset maintenance grant may be allocated to Village Panchayats and Panchayat Unions.
5.3 M.K. Stalin Committee
This Government, in continuance of its commitment to devolve greater powers and responsibilities to rural and urban Local Bodies, constituted the Third High Level Committee under the Chairmanship of the Hon’ble Minister for Rural Development and Local Administration, Thiru. M.K. Stalin vide G.O.Ms No.6 RD & PR(C1) Department, dated 22.1.2007 and with select District Panchayat Chairpersons, Panchayat Union Chairpersons and Village Panchayat Presidents besides certain subject experts as members. The Committee was required to study the duties, functions and powers already entrusted to the rural and urban Local Bodies and make recommendations for further devolution of the same in order to make them more effective.
The Third High Level Committee decided to get the views of as many stakeholders as possible before formulating its recommendations. In this context, the following strategies were adopted:
(i) Conduct of State Level Conference: A State Level Conference of Chairpersons of District Panchayats and Panchayat Unions, besides the urban Local Bodies was held in the presence of the Hon’ble Chief Minister on 18.03.2007 at Chennai. A total of 27 District Panchayat Chairpersons and 363 Panchayat Union Chairpersons, besides the heads of urban Local Bodies participated in the Conference. Various issues pertaining to effective functioning of Local Bodies were deliberated upon and discussions held in this Conference.
(ii) Conduct of Regional Conferences of all Village Panchayat Presidents: Despite the very large number of Village Panchayats (12,618) in Tamil Nadu, recognising the fact that Village Panchayats represented the tier that performs some of the most important functions - the Hon’ble Minister for Rural Development and Local Administration, Thiru. M.K. Stalin, convened Regional Conferences of all Village Panchayat Presidents at Erode (24.07.2007), Tiruchirapalli (25.07.2007), Tiruvannamalai (03.08.2007) and Virudhunagar (23.08.2007) to ascertain their views on devolution and the difficulties, if any, in their functioning. 11,984 Village Panchayats Presidents out of a total of 12,618 Presidents in Tamil Nadu participated in these Regional Conferences and made 47,108 recommendations.
(iii) Internal meetings were held to deliberate on various issues brought forth to the Committee through various forums, including the State Level and Regional Conferences of Local Body representatives.
(iv) Meetings were also held by the Chairman of the High Level Committee with Secretaries and Heads of Departments of various departments to deliberate upon devolution of further powers of rural Local Bodies on 11.10.2007 and 12.10.2007.
The Committee presented its report to the Hon’ble Chief Minister on 10.12.2007 and submitted a total of 99 recommendations categorized under 39 subjects. The important recommendations of the third High Level Committee are highlighted below:
• Grama Sabha to act as a forum of Social Audit for all the schemes implemented by various Departments.
• Approval of the list of all individual beneficiary schemes to be done by Grama Sabha.
• Conversion of multi-member wards into single member wards in all the Village Panchayats as is there in the case of the Panchayat Unions and District Panchayats.
• Stability of tenure of rural and urban Local Body representatives by making the moving and passing of No Confidence Motions more stringent.
• Designating November 1st of every year as the “Local Bodies Day”.
• Empowering weaker Village Panchayats by enhancing their State Finance Commission grants and allocating the entire Central Finance Commission grants to Village Panchayats so as to enable them to meet the expenditure relating to water supply, electricity charges and sanitation.
• Pooling of assigned revenues of Local Cess, Local Cess Surcharge, and Surcharge on Stamp Duty and Entertainment tax at State Level and apportioning it to the districts thereafter.
• Giving Panchayat Raj Institutions greater operational independence by enhancing administrative sanction powers of Village Panchayats, Panchayat Unions and District Panchayats for works taken out of their General Funds.
• Rationalisation of Village Panchayat Accounts.
• Issue of Identity Cards to the Heads of three tiers of Panchayat and for the Members of Panchayat Unions and District Panchayats.
• Making BDOs (Village Panchayats) as separate Pay Drawing Officers.
• Provision of Telephone facility to all Village Panchayats.
• Provision of Wireless to Panchayat Unions.
• Vehicles for Panchayat Raj Institutions and key functionaries of Rural Development Department.
• Revival of Namakku Naame Thittam.
• Formulation of Panchayat Union School Renovation Programme.
• Setting up of Libraries and Sports Centres in all Panchayats under AGAMT.
• Designating Village Panchayats as ‘Village Level Committee’ for selecting the beneficiaries and implementing the schemes of various other departments at Village level.
It is important to note that 61 recommendations have already been accepted by the Government and necessary orders issued.