By Bhabani Prasad Mahapatra* in Bhubaneswar, July 9, 2017 : Union finance minister Arun Jaitely in the last budget had announced to lift one crore households out of the poverty and making 50000 gram panchayats poverty free by 2019. The union government has done well in identifying the Gram Panchayat as the unit of intervention for various development programmes.

However, the moot question is – will it really be achieved by 2019?

Post the implementation of the 14th Finance Commission recommendations, the flow of untied funds to the rural local bodies has gone up substantially compared to the funds for rural local bodies based on the recommendations in the 13th Finance Commission.

For instance, in a developing state like, Odisha, the 14th FC has recommended Rs 16229.61 crore for rural local bodies during 2015-20, which is Rs 10492 crore more than the funds recommended by 13th FC for the period 2010-15.

The resource sharing formula of the 14th state finance commission for rural local bodies is 75:20:5 for GP:PS:ZP. Based on this formula, around Rs 12171 crore will be untied funds for the rural local bodies in Odisha. This is quite a lump sum amount to be invested in rural Odisha.

The government has issued guidelines for preparing the gram panchayat development plan (GPDP) to spend these resources properly. This plan requires each panchayat to prepare a five year perspective plan with annual action plan. The ministry of Panchayati Raj has also developed monitoring software like plan plus, PRIA soft.

However, there are still many structural and operational issues to be addressed in the ground. These issues are related to lack of participatory planning, lack of capacity of the functioning of the people’s representatives, poor monitoring by the executives etc.

Unless the government takes proactive measures listed below, the purpose of empowering the rural local bodies shall be defeated.

For one thing, the state government should start with vigorous audio visual campaign in various media channels like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) and other schemes. These campaigns should highlight the importance of the gram Sabha and the government may choose any celebrity for this campaign. As per the GPDP guidelines, the state government should do the campaign on “our village, our plan” which is not properly visible. This will generate awareness regarding the role and responsibility of the people along with elected representative.

For another, the pre-budget discussion should be extended to local level. Odisha has been a pioneer in the pre-budget discussion in India. The state level pre-budget discussion has been institutionalized due to persistent and consistent efforts of the civil society organisations.

On the eve of budget, citizens are invited from various walks of life and the finance department along with other departments of the government listens to the suggestions/views of the participants. Opinions are also shared in various public forums.

Even the government has started a committed portal through which people can send their proposal / suggestion through e-mail / SMS etc. At least a space has been provided for the citizen in the state budget discussion. But there is no such space available for the budget discussion at panchayat level.

Media has to play an important role in highlighting the lapses in panchayat level. The media was abuzz in the recent panchayat election in Odisha. But that intensity is absent while doing a follow up for the panchayats. The panchayat should be one of the prominent issues for the discussion in the print, electronic and social media.

The state government can publish an annual statistics of Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) in Odisha. This can help the government and citizens to monitor and track the programme.

All the Gram Panchayats should publish the approved projects in the wall of the panchayat building. To ensure Transparency and Accountability, the central government on 26th June 201

6 issued guidelines to make the receipts and expenditure of the GPs public. However, it seems, these guidelines are also not taken seriously at GP level in Odisha.

To conclude, there has been an improved transparency in the release of the funds to the state and Gram panchayats post 14th Finance Commission recommendations. However, to make the panchayats hunger, malnutrition and poverty free, budget transparency needs to be ensured at the panchayat level.

(*Bhabani Prasad Mahapatra works in an Odisha based Civil Society Organisation.)