By: Lawan Thakur
Member of Parliament Lalu Yadav appears reasonable when he says that MPs should be paid one rupee more that the cabinet secretary. While he is going by the government protocol on hierarchy to justify his demand, the logic can be extended up to panchayat level, for which there is a greater need if democracy is to be further strengthen in this country.
While the Himachal Pradesh government has been quick to increase pension benefits of former MLAs, I firmly believe that the local bodies’ members (panchayat members and member to municipal bodies) too should also be suitably paid, at least at par with the panchayat secretaries of panchayats and executive officers of municipal bodies. In present day scenario, each panchayat is spending between Rs 70 lakh to Rs 15 crore in one year under NREGA and various other schemes. The pradhan and the elected members are the agencies which are totally involved in planning, supervising, and executing the works in their area. The pradhan is supposed to be on job every time. He has visitors to meet him; he himself has to visit various offices and to attend various government programmes being performed/executed in his panchayat; to hold courts to resolve disputes and so on. His duties are thus endless. But we pay almost nothing to him. This situation should change.
Being a public figure, he or she needs to entertain people who come to meet them. Take for example a simple necessity of offering tea to anyone who visits a pradhan. I am sure a pradhan is not paid a monthly salary enough to support even 50 cups of tea every day. And if he is not courteous, he fears losing goodwill, so looking for alternative means of funding the hospitality is natural. Paying panchayat functionaries well may thus help in curbing the deep-rooted corruption in rural development as even people with professional abilities may opt for grassroots politics.
A recent survey by a government agency highlighting that around 80% of pradhans in the state indulge in corruption, should be reason enough to work out accountability measures, for which settling of salary of the panches, pradhans and other panchayat functionaries can be the first step.
If the institution of Panchayati Raj is to be strengthened, there is need to infuse confidence and sense of duty among people who participate in grassroots democracy. And this confidence will come only when the government shows confidence in the institution, which in turn is possible if panchayat functionaries get the freedom to work without distractions.