Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Interview: A Neduncheziyan, Director, Panchayats - Stemming the Rot


Interview: A Neduncheziyan, Director, Panchayats
Stemming the Rot

Nedunchezhiyan, Director, RD, PRIs and ULB is on a cleaning spree. Loads of changes are on the anvil to check the cancerous malaise called corruption involving Panchayati Raj Institutions. Making clear his stand, he said that he is not here to make the Panchayats work, but whatever they do, they need to do it diligently with utmost accountability. In a freewheeling interview, he spoke to The Light of Andamans on various issues related to the major changes he has initiated to bring accountability to the Panchayati Raj Institution.

By Zubair Ahmed

To begin with, sanitation and disposal of solid waste in villages is a major issue today. Earlier, the Deputy Commissioner, South Andaman had stated that the Gram Panchayat will make arrangements to collect garbage, Panchayat Samiti will shift the garbage to the dumping grounds managed by Zilla Parishad. The arrangement failed. There is confusion on the ground.
The Panchayat Regulation clearly says that sanitation and garbage disposal is the subject of Gram Panchayat. I am aware about the minutes of the meeting held by the Deputy Commissioner. But, Gram Panchayat has to keep their area clean. They have been provided fund for that. They should identify sites to dump the waste and make arrangements for transportation too. If the fund is insufficient they can come to us. Besides, we have approached Government of India to implement Total Sanitation Campaign. We have requested for Rs 35 crores to create dumping grounds and solid waste management system. This is apart from the regular fund. There should not be any issue on this subject. It's very clearly mentioned in the regulation.

Why does the Directorate or the authorities wait for someone to make a complaint to take action against corrupt PRI members? If no one files a complaint, the elected member goes scot-free after his term. Is this justified? Why can't you have a monthly or quarterly monitoring system like MGNREGA to keep a tab on utilization of fund?
The Panchayati Raj Institutions with the three-tier system should function independently without any interference. Gram Sabha should conduct social audit to check any kind of deviation from the set rules and regulations. But, the mechanism in most cases has proved ineffective. Hence, we have suggested many changes in the rules. We have incorporated many preventive measures and stringent rules to check corruption. Regular monitoring and audits will be carried out and it's going to be a regular feature now onwards. Once elected as member, they cannot go scot-free even after five years. The issue is that self-autonomy is not compromised. Their power has been enhanced and they will be given a free-hand to rule. But, the vigilance monitoring aspect will be strengthened. There will be regular monitoring of their expenditure.

There is a wide complaint that you issue orders verbally and never give instructions in writing?
It's a misleading statement. If what I speak is there in regulation, why should I give it in writing? In case of emergency, if I give verbal instruction, they can send back the file with my instruction for my approval. Those who complain want to save their skin.

The rearrangement of Technical Wing was a major step taken after you took charge of the Directorate. Was that an easy decision?
Not an easy decision. I had to put a lot of effort to clean the stable. We were not even given proper space for office. The present Directorate building was under Zilla Parishad. We had to fight to get the space back.

You talk of devolution of power, whereas, still, the executive staff or those on diverted capacity from various line departments do not report to the elected Pradhan. They report to the Panchayat Secretary or the Executive Officer?
There are two aspects. The Pramukh of Panchayat Samiti is the Head of the Institution and the Executive Officer is the Head of the Office. Even if the Junior Engineer reports to the Panchayat Secretary, JE is responsible to the Gram Panchayat through him. The Assistant Engineer although reports to the Executive Officer, he is ultimately responsible to the Panchayat Samiti. This is done for smooth functioning of the office.

It is learnt that you have proposed changes in the Rules? What are the salient changes proposed?
Yes, we have incorporated many changes in the Rules. It is yet to be endorsed by the Admn and we hope that within two years, there will be drastic changes in the functioning of PRI. Our major focus was on accountability of the PRI members as the money given to them is meant for development. It should not be diverted to be siphoned off. Monitoring and preventive mechanism has been strengthened with regular watch on their activities and the penal action against violators is also suggested. We have also proposed that the beneficiary of developmental work should not be a single household or family. In many cases, the relatives of the PRI members become beneficiaries of many projects, which need to be checked.

If there is a dire need where the beneficiary is a single family and the Gram Sabha passes the work.
It depends upon Gram Sabha, if they have no problem, and in such cases they can carry out the work. The Rule is incorporated to prevent misuse and violations.

It has also come to light that you have proposed a cap of 30% for purchase including energy bills from GIA -General Fund. Do you think the amount is sufficient?
Before taking a decision on this aspect, we had carried out a wide study of all panchayats and fixed the cap on purchase. However, it's not yet final. But, we believe that the amount of 30% is sufficient and the energy bills are not more than Rs 4 Lakhs annually.

You have put a limit on usage of vehicles by the PRI heads, whereas, AEs and EEs can use the vehicles unlimited. Is it justified?
Yes, I don't think there should be a limit for the usage of vehicle for the technical staff as they have to make frequent visits to the work sites as well as panchayats from Diglipur to Beodnabad in South Andaman.

The quarter of AE located in Junglighat was renovated using funds diverted from Panchayats in Ferrar Gunj Tehsil. Is it not violation of Regulations?
I am not aware of this issue. I will look into it. However, the establishment needs fund for functioning. It can be met from the 5% contingency of Panchayats. But, I will look into the matter and see if there is any violation.

Panchayat Secretaries complain that they are overburdened with responsibilities of two panchayats? There is staff shortage at all levels. Why are you not filling posts?
The complaint is from regular Panchayat Secretaries. Those who have joined on deputation have no complaints and are coping up with their responsibilities. I don't think they are overburdened. Moreover, the Village Level Workers feels it inferior to work under Gram Panchayats as VLWs, but they are willing to work as Panchayat Secretaries. I have proposed that we should have one VLW attached with each panchayat.  Once we appoint regular Panchayat Secretaries, the shortage will reduce. I also understand that the Panchayat Secretaries does not have any promotion channel, which needs to be created. I am working on it too.

And, what about Group C staff for Panchayats?
Yes, it's long pending decision. The posts were created 15 years back. I don't know why it was not filled. The matter is also under my consideration. There is staff shortage in Panchayat. We need to fill the post of Group C staff to overcome it.

Do you think, the PRIs need to be sensitized about the Rules and Regulations as well as their role and functions?
Yes, we have initiated awareness and training programme on a massive scale. We are touching every nook and corner. From February onwards, programmes on various aspects of PRIs are also conducted.

After 15 years of PRI system, how do you rate them in the Islands?
Although, the Islands have its own drawbacks, we are not lagging behind in any aspect from other states. We have made Article 243 (G) mandatory whereas many states are yet to do it. Our focus should be on strengthening of infrastructure and systematic functioning methodology.

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