8000 protest for powers to Panchayats

Posted on July 18, 2012

Shri Eshwarappa, Minister of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, addressed a crowd of over 8000 people gathered in Freedom Park, Bangalore, today. The rally had been called to demand devolution of funds, functions and functionaries to Grama Panchayats.

The Minister had promised to attend the rally, organised by Grama Panchayat Hakkottaya Andolana, a state-wide movement of Grama Panchayat and Grama Sabha members, in response to the State Budget and related Government orders which cut funding for Panchayats and restrict their use of  limited funds. CWC helps to facilitate the Andolana’s campaigns and serves as its secretariat.

At around 3pm, the Minister had still not appeared, and the protestors declared their intention to march to the home of Shri Eshwarappa in  Windsor Manor and police barricaded the protestors in the park.

Finally at around 3.45pm the Minister arrived gave in to pressure and addressed the crowd. However, his words were disappointing to the assembled protestors. He said: “I cannot make any decisions without discussing with the relevant departments. I will inform you of any decisions after the assembly session.”

This was not enough to satisfy the thousands of Panchayat members, including a large majority of women, who had travelled from 27 districts across Karnataka to attend the rally. They are making plans for further protests.

The day began with traditional songs of solidarity sung by women from around the state. The thousands of representatives from all over Karnataka brought with them grains from all the different geographical regions of the State, including ragi, rice, corn and moong gram, to symbolise the collective knowledge and experience of the whole State. The grain was collected and placed on stage.

Shri Bhoomakkanavar H.K., Working President of the Grama Panchayat Hakkottaya Andolana and Shri K. Naveen, State Committee President, Grama Panchayat Hakkottaya Andolana welcomed all the participants, and especially welcomed the dignitaries and leaders on to stage.

Shri Damodar Acharya, General Secretary of Grama Panchayat Hakkottaya Andolana, addressed the participants, criticising a recent government order which requires Panchayats to spend 60% of their ‘untied’ funds on past electricity dues and 40% for staff salaries, leaving them with effectively no discretionary funding.

He said: “We demand repeal of this order, which makes a complete mockery of democratic decentralisation. Drought is prevelant in this State, and the Panchayats are the ones who are solving these issues at the local level. We must be empowered. This is a Constitutional right for us.

“Through our Grama Sabhas, we demand that unless politicians give us financial devolution, they cannot set foot inside our villages. Our call is ‘Gramadalle Teermana, Gramakke Anudana‘ – ‘decisions made by the Panchayats, funds for the Panchayats’. If they do not listen to our call, our protest will grow louder.”

Throughout the day, leaders and supporters of Grama Panchayat Hakkottaya Andolana, including eminent freedom fighter Shri H.S. Doreswamy, gave a stirring call for Grama Panchayat and Grama Sabha members to work together in demanding their rights from the State government. Shri H.S. Doreswamy said: “We might as well simply lock the representatives in the Assembly. All they are doing there is sitting around bickering with each other.”

The thousands of protestors present drew attention to their issues by shouting powerful slogans and displaying placards like: ‘Grama sabha teeramanave anthimavagirali’ – ‘The decision of the Grama Sabha should be binding and final’ and “Namma adhikaara nammage kodi / Give us our rights and powers”. They filled a 100m long cloth banner with messages of collective strength and protest – and moved on to an extra paper banner when they ran out of space.

Shri Sharan Prakash Patil, MLC from local government constituency, urged Shri Eshwarappa, Minister of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, to attend the rally in person and hear the demands of the thousands attending. At around 3pm, the protestors began to prepare to march to the home of Shri Eshwarappa. Police barricaded the 5000 protestors in the park to prevent the march.

Eventually, at approximately, 3.45pm, the Minister belatedly arrived. The crowd returned to their seats and listened attentively, but, following his disappointing remarks, the group agreed to plan further protests.

The key demands of the event were:

  1. Implement Panchayati Raj. After 20 years, the State Government should finally comply with the 73rd Amendment and the Karnataka Panchayat Raj Act of 1993 by devolving to the Grama Panchayats all the finances, functions, and functionaries of the 29 departments specified in the eleventh schedule of the Constitution.
  2. Fiscally empower Grama Panchayats. Enhance grants to Grama Panchayats to not less than one crore per year for the next five years. Raise the honorarium for Panchayat members beyond the current cursory Rs. 500.
  3. Allocate funds according to Panchayats’ needs. Implement the recommendation of the Third State Finance Commission that statutory development grants be allocated according to backwardness and performance as well as population.
  4. Release funds immediately to reduce risk of famine. The State Government must provide urgent additional funds to Grama Panchayats for famine prevention.
  5. Stop holding up NREGA funds. The State Government still consistently holds up the release of funds to Panchayats to pay for work done under NREGA. All NREGA payments should be made to Panchayats within 24hrs of work being completed.

Read more about CWC’s work with local government.

The dignitaries who lent their support to the protesting Grama Panchayat and Grama Sabha members were:

  • Shri H.S. Doreswamy, Freedom Fighter
  • Shri J.D. Naik, MLA from Bhatkal
  • Shri N.L. Narendra Babu, MLA from Bangalore
  • Shri Abhaya Chandra, MLA from Mudabidri
  • Shri Kumar Bangarappa, Former Minister
  • Shri Dayananda Reddy, MLC from local self-governments
  • Shri Sharanprakash Patil, MLC from local self-governments
  • Shri Srinivas Mane, MLC from local self-governments
  • Shri Basavaraj Horatti, MLC
  • Shri S.R. Patil, Opposition Leader in the Legislative Council
  • Smt Cynthia Stephen, State Programme Director of Mahila Samakhya Karnataka
  • Smt Sumana Baliga, Advocate of High Court of Karnataka
  • Shri C. Narayanswamy, President of Karnataka Panchayat Parishat
  • Shri Shudra Srinivas, Eminent socialist and writer
  • Shri B. Gopal, Senior Vice President of JD (S)
  • Shri Ramanand Rai, Former Minister
  • Smt Padmini, President of Sugrama
  • Smt Kalyani, Mahila Samakhya Karnataka – Nanjungud
  • Shri R. Prabhakar, Convenor of People’s Campaign for Right to Water
  • Shri Mahima Patel, Honorary President of Grama Panchayat Hakkottaya Andolana
  • Shri K. Naveen, State Committee President of Grama Panchayat Hakkottaya Andolana
  • Shri Damodar Acharya, General Secretary of Grama Panchayat Hakkottaya Andolana
  • Smt Nandana Reddy, Convener of Grama Panchayat Hakkottaya Andolana