Thursday, June 28, 2012

UDF upsetting decentralisation process: Isaac

Staff Reporter

Former Finance Minister Thomas Isaac MLA has said the United Democratic Front government is systematically upsetting the decentralisation planning process.

At a meet the press programme organised by the Kollam Press Club here on Wednesday, he said the guidelines for this year’s decentralised planning process was released by the UDF government only on June 15. This virtually made it impossible for the local bodies to prepare their plan process as per the guidelines within the 35 days stipulated in the guidelines.

Along with this year’s plan, the local bodies were asked to submit their respective plan programme for the next five years, too.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Vilappilsala panchayat rules out talks with corporation

TNN Jun 9, 2012, 04.36AM IST

Ruling out all chances of a negotiation, Vilappilsala panchayat officials have intimated the government that the panchayat was not ready to give in to any demand of the corporation which was presented at the last mediation committee meeting.

In the meeting convened by the high court appointed mediation committee in May, the corporation had put forward the three demands before the panchayat. The corporation demanded that it should be allowed to transport the manufactured fertilizer from the factory, to transport clay to the factory for land-filling and to process the already dumped garbage in the factory. The all-party meeting convened by the Vilappilsala panchayat president Sobhana Kumari on Wednesday firmly objected to accepting any of the demands of the corporation. They said that unless the government implements the cabinet decision to permanently shutdown the plant, the panchayat would not bow down to any kind of pressure.

The decision was formally communicated to minister for urban affairs Manjalamkuzhy Ali on Friday. "We have made our stand clear to the government. Now we will present our version at the mediation committee meeting to be held on June 15. None of the party representatives want to oblige to the demands of the corporation and naturally panchayat has to stand by them," said Sobhana Kumari.

Meanwhile, the panchayat will slam the second notice on city corporation asking the civic body to shut down the operations of the Vilappilsala waste processing plant. The panchayat had first sent the notice in May demanding immediate closure of the garbage treatment plant. The notice cited that the corporation did not have any licence to run the factory and that the panchayat holds the right to demand the shutdown of any factory that functions without a valid licence. It had also demanded the corporation to take action on the contents of the notice within 15 days from the receiving of notice.

"Till date we have not received any intimation as response to the notice. As per the municipality act we need to serve three notices before we can move the court. Accordingly, the second notice will be served this week itself," said Sobhana Kumari. A panchayat official said that the notice was ready and it would be served on Monday.

Chandy admits failure

For the first time, chief minister Oommen Chandy has admitted his role in worsening the garbage crisis in the city by deciding to lock the Vilappilsala garbage treatment plant. "We can't use force and shoot at people for opening up the plant," he said during a meet the press organized by Kesari Memorial Journalists Trust here on Friday.

Chandy added that his efforts to convince the locals about the advanced waste treatment plant proposed to replace the existing plant failed. "We had held several rounds of talks with agitators but couldn't convince them as we failed to keep the promises we had made on earlier occasions," he said. Government's plan was to invest heavily at the Vilappilsala plant to set up some industrial units. "The new plant based on advanced technology wouldn't have required the space occupied by the old plant. The vacant space could be used for setting up new projects. But, they didn't listen to that. I wish they would have," he said.

CM said the government now has a focus on how to deal with the garbage crisis. A three-pronged strategy - setting up a plastic shredding unit, encouraging waste treatment at source by providing 75% subsidy and setting up advanced treatment plants for garbage treatment in cities - would be adopted by the government to solve the garbage issue. Chandy also clarified that the government would not open the plant forcefully. --tnn

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Local bodies use funds for other purposes

N.J. Nair

The impressive Plan funds absorption rate projection by local self-government institutions (LSGIs) during the previous financial year was due to the routing of the lion's share of development and maintenance funds for non-productive purposes.

Official statistics pegged the total Plan expenditure of grama panchayats at 79.30 per cent, block panchayats at 82.86 per cent, district panchayats at 71.80 per cent, municipalities at 79.12 per cent, and Corporations at 79.03 per cent. The overall expenditure as on March 31 was 83.17 per cent. The government and the local bodies had described it as a major achievement and challenged the critique that the projected utilisation rate was inflated and substantial sums were diverted for fruitless ventures.

LSGIs are bound to spend at least 80 per cent of the development and maintenance funds apportioned to them, failing which, the shortfall would be deducted from their future allocation.

An order issued on March 1 brought down the mandatory expenditure limit to 70 per cent. Another order issued on April 16 further lowered the limit to 60 per cent citing various reasons, including lack of time in Plan preparation and selection of beneficiaries. The Piravom by-election was cited as one of the main reasons for bringing down the absorption rate.

Official sources told The Hindu here that the civic bodies had routed about Rs.100 crore from their development fund during the last lap of the year to the Kerala Water Authority (KWA) as drinking water cess arrears of public taps. This amount was cleared under a one-time settlement scheme.

Contribution of civic bodies to the Social Security Mission was made obligatory. Sanction was accorded for releasing funds to the mission. This direction came as a blessing in disguise to a majority of LSGIs to empty their kitty which should otherwise have been used for developmental purposes.  The Ernakulam district panchayat alone is understood to have made a contribution of Rs.50 lakh to the mission.

Another direction was to dole out funds to provide infrastructure facilities to accord deemed university status to the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA). 

Such massive diversion of the development and maintenance funds for other purposes is pointed out to be in contravention of the basic tenets of decentralised planning, governance, and development. Though elected members were saved of the trouble of preparing projects, selecting beneficiaries, and executing projects in a flawless manner, it deprived large sections of the benefits due to them and also flouted the purpose of devolving funds and powers to the grassroots level, sources said.

Cabinet decides to abolish TAGs in panchayats

Roy Mathew

The Cabinet on Wednesday gave formal approval for introduction of five year plans in three-tiers of panchayats and abolish technical advisory groups involved in approval of plans.

Briefing media, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that the advisory groups were being abolished to simplify the plan approval procedure and reduce delays. Now, the panchayats themselves would draw up the plan on the basis of proposals from grama sabhas. The technical hands available in the panchayat should obtain the clearance of higher authority for the plan. Expert groups need be consulted only if technical hands are not available in the panchayats.

Anyone having complaints about the technical approval thus granted could approach an appellate authority chaired by the Collector. The authority would have the district planning officer, deputy director of Local Self Government Department and a town planning officer as members.

The Chief Minister recalled the State Planning Board had earlier recommended introduction of five-year plans on the lines of the plans being prepared at the national and State levels to streamline the planning process. The annual plans of the panchayats would have to be approved by the District Planning Committee within 20 days of receipt of the plan. Once the approval is received, the panchayat themselves could undertake the preparation of detailed projects and implementation.

Mr. Chandy said that the Cabinet had also decided to abandon the sectoral plan allocations for local self governments. However, village and block panchayats should spent 45 per cent of total allocation for infrastructure development. In case of municipal bodies, this would be 55 per cent. Besides, the three-tier panchayats should set apart ten per cent of their allocations for fulfilling the needs of the weak and disabled and older persons. Allocations specified for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes earlier would remain the same.
He said that Panchayat Raj Act would be amended to extend ban on plastics to panchayat areas also. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ministers ‘skip’ development council meet

The meeting of the State Development Council (SDC) held in Thycaud, Thiruvananthapuram on Friday to discuss developmental schemes, proved to be a non-starter.

While chief minister Oommen Chandy arrived to chair the meeting at 10 am, only three ministers, P. K. Kunhalikutty, Adoor Prakash, K.C. Joseph and a handful of local self-government employees, cared to arrive on time.

It was only a few minutes later that local employees began trickling in followed by ministers V.S. Sivakumar, Manjalamkuzhi Ali, Aryadan Muhammed and Dr M.K. Muneer, prompting a clearly exasperated CM to as, “What is the purpose of holding such a meeting if no one is interested in attending it?

The main podium where Mr Chandy and the council of ministers sat had many empty chairs between Planning Board vice-chairman, K.M. Chandra-sekharan who sat at one end and chief secretary K. Jaya-kumar who sat at the other.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Engineering cadre yet to fall in place

S. Anil Radhakrishnan

The Engineering Cadre created for the Local Self-Government Department (LSGD) in the State five years ago as part of transferring certain functions and responsibilities from various departments to the local self-government institutions in the wake of decentralisation of powers is yet to fall in place.
Reluctance of the Public Works Department personnel and meagre promotional avenues in the LSGD are cited as the main reasons for the delay in setting up a full-fledged engineering cadre.

The decision to deploy staff to the LSGD was taken to cope up with the increased functional responsibilities transferred under the Kerala Panchayat Act and the Kerala Municipality Act of 1994.
In 2008, the government had abolished 1,415 surplus posts of engineering and ministerial staff from the sanctioned strength of the Public Works Department and shifted them to the LSGD. Among the 564 ministerial staff, there were one administrative assistant, 14 divisional accountants, 18 junior superintendents, 324 clerks, 105 typists, and 102 peons. The government had fixed November 1, 2010 as the cut-off date for reckoning the juniority of the personnel to be transferred to the LSGD.

However, the Chief Engineer (Administration) of the PWD informed the government that the number of the junior superintendents was not sufficient for the smooth functioning of the department. The Chief Engineer also suggested exempting the posts of junior superintendents from deployment. The service organisations also demanded exemption for the supervisory posts from deployment citing the reason that the promotion avenues in the LSGD are meagre. 

The government has now exempted the 15 junior superintendents from deploying to the LSGD. President of the Grama Panchayat Association P.T. Mathews said the creation of the engineering cadre and making available the services of an assistant engineer and two overseers in each panchayat would benefit the panchayats.

The government has now decided to create 529 posts in the engineering cadre for the LSGD. These include the posts of 65 Assistant Executive Engineers, 203 AEs, 50 Grade I Overseers, 26 Grade II Overseers, and 185 Grade III Overseers.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Trifurcation hits coordination

 N.J. Nair 

Trifurcation of the Local Administration Department by the UDF government, it seems, has taken a toll on the coordinated functioning of the rural and urban local governments and defeated the concept of evolving integrated district Plans for the overall development of the State.

The State being an urban-rural continuum, both the urban and rural local governments are facing similar challenges on a variety of issues such as refuse management and sanitation.
A coordinated functioning could have helped to work out easy and viable options to such serious issues. Execution of welfare schemes as well as the flagship Centrally sponsored schemes could have been more effective under a single entity. Grama panchayats are the implementing agency of all major Centrally sponsored schemes such as the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), and the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY).

Under the present dispensation, Panchayats and Rural Development have been placed under two Ministers and this division is said to have a debilitating impact on the execution of such schemes.
The fund absorption rate of the MGNREGS during the previous financial year has been pegged at 44 per cent.

Official sources toldThe Hinduhere that the Central government funds transferred to the Rural Development Department had not been effectively utilised for want of executing officers and a clear action plan. The role of elected members and grama sabhas had been reduced to that of agents for identifying beneficiaries for such schemes. On devolving powers and funds to the civic bodies, it was specified that grama sabhas should not be made a forum for identifying beneficiaries and doling out Plan funds to individual beneficiaries.

Grama sabhas

Grama sabhas should have a constructive role in the implementation and monitoring of all projects. The new system has in effect led to a reversal of its role and defeated the concept of decentralisation of powers. At most of the places, the grama sabhas had not been convened at all.

Local governments had a crucial role in coordinating the housing schemes of the Central and State governments for the marginalised sections in urban and rural areas. Since the IAY component was found to be inadequate for constructing a house, civic bodies had identified the beneficiaries in their locale, prepared an integrated list and contributed their mite for constructing houses. Such initiatives had virtually become a thing of the past, the sources said.

The trifurcation exercise had gone against the Union government's initiative to amend the Constitution for heralding a series of reforms, including formation of district councils, for strengthening the decentralisation process.

The sixth report of the second Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Veerappa Moily had pointed out that “considering the rapid urbanisation and the increasing need for peri-urban areas to be taken into account in city planning and development, there must be greater convergence between rural and urban governments”.

The report says that the institutional arrangement under which panchayats cater to the rural areas and the municipalities to the urban areas will work only at the micro level and when it comes to the district level, the distinction disappears.

UDF pushing back Panchayat Raj system in state

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The UDF is pushing back the Panchayat Raj system in the state, opined Dr George Mathew, Chairman of the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi. He was delivering the keynote address at a symposium ‘Power to the People; Panchayati Raj Today’ organised by the P Viswambharan Foundation here on Saturday.

Pointing to the trifurcation of the portfolio of the local self-government and rural development, Dr George Mathew said the move derailed the local government system in the state, which was a model for the world. He termed the move as an anti-people step and asked why there was no public protest or mass movement against it. “Congress leader and former Union Minister of Panchayat Raj Mani Shankar Aiyar told me that the trifurcation of the Local Self-Government portfolio in the state was a retrograde step,” he said.

Another major issue he pointed out against the UDF Government was its laxity in accepting the second part of the Fourth Finance Commission report submitted by economist M A Oommen. “The government accepted the first part which was about the devolution package for Local Self-Government institutions. The government is yet to approve the second report submitted in March. The report is about devolution of asset management and fiscal responsibilities to local governments, which would strengthen the local bodies,” he said.

Passing of the Kerala Industrial Single Window Clearance Boards and Industrial Township Area Development Act was against the 73rd amendment which calls for repealing Acts . He specifically pointed out the case of Aranmula Airport, where 500 acres of land, including acres of paddy fields, were acquired through the Act. “What role are the local self-governments playing against the move?” he asked. While MPs and MLAs were getting crores as funds, people’s representatives in local bodies were starving for funds, he said.

Local bodies facing re-bureaucratisation

C. Gouridasan Nair

Democratic decentralisation in the State was fundamentally premised on freeing local self-government institutions from the grip of bureaucratic rule and giving governance capabilities of the grassroots full play.
As decentralised planning and governance completes one-and-a-half decades, the local self-government institutions appear to be faced with the threat of re-bureaucratisation with the government on the verge of doing away with the Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs).
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has said so and his statement has been echoed by Rural Development Minister K.C. Joseph and, according to sources in government, work is in full swing at the Secretariat to go in for a formal decision to dispense with the TAGs on the plea that they infringe on the powers of the political leadership of the local bodies.
A decision on the issue, the sources say, is likely to be taken by the State Cabinet at its weekly meeting on Wednesday.
Those who are vociferous in their demand for abolition of the TAGs, which are essentially mechanisms for vetting projects prepared by the local government bureaucracy, appear to have forgotten that it was created by the United Democratic Front (UDF) government, when A.K. Antony was Chief Minister, to replace the much-maligned expert committees, which were seen to be acting as entities superior to the local governments.
The expert committees themselves were evolved forms of Voluntary Technical Corps (VTCs) which attracted the services of several prominent persons from different areas of expertise.
Although political pressure resulted in the replacement of VTCs with the expert committees, the concept was borrowed by the Centre when it devised the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and is slated to be integrated into the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).
The TAGs, which essentially are the new, but altered, avatars of the VTCs, are under the District Planning Committees (DPCs). From the beginning it has been made clear that they cannot overturn a local government priority and are supposed to only ensure that the local governments have followed the guidelines while preparing the projects.
Although the TAGs have the weakness that their coordination, done by officials, is weak and are dependent mostly on voluntary work of non-official members, they de-bureaucratised the vetting system, especially in the matter of granting technical sanctions. The TAGs have also been successful in ensuring orderliness in the vetting process, based as they are on well laid-out formats and procedures.
It goes to the credit of the TAGs that, despite the criticism from political leadership, they have functioned without giving rise to any complaint of corruption or partisanship, even on the question of technical sanctions. Although the TAGs are sought to be abolished in the name of giving greater authority to the local government-level political leadership, the fear of those who think that the TAGs must stay is that once they are dispensed with, the projects drawn up by the local government bureaucracy will get to be vetted by higher level bureaucrats, which cannot but result in re-bureaucratisation and, worse, corruption.
If that happens, the would only result in the entire project formulation and approval process slipping out the hands of the local government leaderships, the exact opposite of what the dissolution of the TAGs seeks to achieve. There is no sign that the government has so far looked at the possibility of reforming the TAGs. In sharp contrast to the practice of the last LDF government, no major exercise to take a close look at the decentralisation process and its attendant processes has taken place so far. This applies to the TAGs as well.

Call to strengthen decentralisation

N.J. Nair

The decentralised governance and planning exercise of Kerala, which has emerged as a model worth emulating for the rest of the nation, needs to be further galvanised and made more responsive and accountable, says economist and Fourth State Finance Commission chairman M.A. Oommen.
Mr. Oommen toldThe Hinduhere on Sunday that the Panchayat Day celebrations should be an occasion for serious introspection over the way the movement had evolved during the past 15 years. Devolution of powers and funds had helped the local governments to gain their own identity and become the fulcrum of grassroots development.
Still, one cannot overlook the fact that it had failed to make serious interventions in the productive sector such as agriculture and not yet worked out viable options for solid, liquid, and medical waste management, which is the prime responsibility of local bodies. This points to the absence of a vision statement and also the disquieting fact that adhocism continued to rule the roost, he said.
Success stories continued to stand as rare exceptions and had not yet become the central tendency. Kudumbasree, as an institution for women empowerment, had recorded exemplary gains. The mission had made remarkable strides in lease land farming and developing micro enterprises. The minor ills such as bureaucratisation and politicisation attempts may be questioned, but Kudumbasree held a great promise for the State, he said.
Mr. Oommen said grama sabha, the kingpin of local democracy, had by and large failed to deliver. Still, the astounding success registered by grama panchayats such as Adatt, Akatthethara, Kanjikuzhy, Kunnathukal, and others in the conduct of grama sabhas and planning were really inspiring. The Grameena Patana Kendram functioning under the Karakulam grama panchayat was one such laudable experiment.
He said preparation of Plan projects and their execution had been mostly reduced to a routine ritualistic exercise. The financial management system called for a thorough revamping. Asset creation with a proper asset registry for road and non-road assets was imperative. New accounting practices had to be put into practice. The accounting system in panchayats was still in a rudimentary stage. Be it the Plan grant, own resource or the funds apportioned for the Centrally-sponsored schemes, every rupee given to panchayats should be accounted, he said.
Mr. Oommen said bunching of expenditure at the fag end of the financial year should not be entertained. Budget should be the instrument of financial control. The government had approved the State Finance Commission recommendation that 60 per cent of the funds should be expended by October in every financial year and shortfalls should be penalised by future cuts. This recommendation should be implemented in its true spirit. Local governments should thus develop as an epitome of the State government, he said.
Mr. Oommen said efficient and committed leadership was the key to development.