Is panchayati raj institution a boon or a bane for Arunachal?

Monday Musing

[ Bengia Ajum ]

Ever since the panchayati raj system was been introduced in the state, it has become the cause for dividing the people of the state. Instead of helping villagers in self-governance, the panchayat elections have deeply divided citizens of the state. Within a family, brothers and sisters have gone on to become the worst enemies owing to election-related incidents. Hatred grows so big that, at times, they bay for one another’s blood.

The political parties and politicians use panchayat elections to divide family members and villagers, so that they continue to rule. The election offers the best chance to them to implement the divide and rule policy in order to strengthen their kingdom. Instead of working for the uplift of the people, most of the time, these elected panchayat leaders are busy fighting among themselves. The state has witnessed how Lower Dibang Valley last year and Papum Pare district recently witnessed intense political battles over the post of the zilla parishad chairperson (ZPC).

The panchayat system was introduced in Arunachal as early as in 1969, under the NEFA Panchayati Raj Regulation, 1967. However, the system is a total failure as the elected members have virtually no power and it is the local MLAs who still run the show. The elected panchayat leaders are totally dependent on the local MLAs for every little scheme and project. The claim of local self-governance is a myth as the panchayat leaders have not been fully empowered by successive governments despite tall promises. Other than those grassroots leaders who share good rapport with MLAs, the rest of the panchayat leaders remain idle for the period of five years. Some of them even do not know their role, duties and rights. Only during assembly and parliament elections, the panchayat leaders feel empowered and are also seen to be active.

The most saddening aspect is that panchayat elections are fought on the basis of clanship. The local MLAs and other leaders interested in fighting for the assembly election extend support to the person who is a member of a clan which has a sizable population in the area. Many a time, it happens that people from the same clan, who are relatives by blood, are pitted against one another. In such a situation, the family gets bitterly divided and the wound takes a long time to heal. The flow of money during panchayat elections is also very high. The involvement of huge amounts of money during elections destroys the basic fabric of governance. The panchayati raj institution is considered to be the first layer of governance. If there is so much corruption at the grassroots level, how can we expect the MLAs and the MPs to be honest? Lack of power and deep-rooted corruption has made the panchayati raj institution a toothless tiger in Arunachal. Observing the whole system, one is compelled to ask whether the panchayati raj institution is a boon or a bane for Arunachal.