Assembly passes Panchayat Raj Amendment Bill

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An amendment bill that provides for disqualification of gram panchayat members and gram panchayat (GP) presidents who fail to convene meetings of ward sabhas and gram sabhas was passed in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday even as Opposition members vociferously objected to the ‘disqualification’ clause.

The government tried to mollify the Opposition by making some changes in the bill including holding panchayat officers responsible for delays, but to no avail. The bill was passed by a voice vote even as the Opposition staged a walkout.

The Karnataka Panchayat Raj (Amendment) Bill, 2013, introduces a clause making it mandatory on the part of GP members to convene a meeting of ward sabhas at least once in six months. Similarly, the Bill makes it obligatory on the part of GP presidents to convene a meeting of gram sabhas at least once in six months or when a request is made by not less than 10 per cent of the members of gram panchayat for discussing specific issues  The penal clause in the Bill provides for disqualification or removal of the GP members and GP presidents if they fail to convene the meeting (later changed to two successive meetings).

Members from the Opposition including the JD(S), BJP and the KJP objected to the disqualification clause stating the Bill was being too harsh on elected representatives. They also said the bill had been drafted “hastily”and demanded that the government withdraw the Bill.

Fear of misuse

Former chief ministers Jagadish Shettar (BJP) and B S Yeddyurappa (KJP) said the disqualification clause could be misused by vested interests to target GP members. They said a comprehensive discussion on the issue was required and demanded that the bill be referred to a joint select committee of the legislature.

C T Ravi (BJP) said it was the duty of panchayat development officers and panchayat secretaries to convene gram and ward sabha meetings and demanded that the bill be modified to include officers under the penal clause. Elected representatives will be punished by the people in the elections if they prove themselves inefficient, he pointed out.

Leader of the Opposition H D Kumaraswamy said several GP members migrate in search of labour or work and may not be able to convene meetings at short notices. B R Patil (KJP) said that the State was not yet socially forward for effective implementation of the provisions of the Bill.

Speaker Kagodu Thimmappa wondered whether it was the duty of the GP members to convene meetings. He felt it was the responsibility of panchayat officers.

‘Empowering GPs’

Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Minister H K Patil said the aim of the government was to empower the GPs and also ensure that they discharge their responsibilities effectively and hence the bill.

However, BJP members trooped into the well of the House insisting on their demand that the Bill be withdrawn or the disqualification clause be removed. The Speaker adjourned the House for sometime and called the floor leaders to his chambers to discuss the issue.
Discussion on the bill was taken up again in the evening. Patil said the government had agreed to modify the bill and effect the disqualification clause only if the GP members fail to convene two successive meetings. Further, panchayat officers would have to assist members in convening the meeting and disciplinary action would be taken against the officers for lapses. However, the Opposition insisted that the disqualification clause be removed and staged a walkout.

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