We often hear and talk about village welfare. There are above eight lakh villages in India. Most of them are neglected and in a wretched condition. Unless these villages are uplifted, the country cannot be developed as a whole as the villages are, as if, the nervous system of the country.
It is the duty of the government to look out for the ways and actualise them for the all-round welfare of the villages. In fact, villages are the arteries of the country, and if the arteries do not work properly the heart will be blocked. So we should build better villages for better towns and cities. There should be good roads in the villages to connect the railway stations and towns. Homes should be well-roofed and electrified, and pure drinking water should be available. Markets, post office, bank, police station and health centre should be near at hand. There should be cooperative societies to help the poor cultivators, weavers, traders, fishermen, artisans and others so that they do not fall into the clutches of merciless money lenders. Agriculture should be modernised and cottage industries should be set up and developed to solve the unemployment problem. Above all, general education and vocational training should be given due importance in rural areas.
For all these programmes, the three-tier Panchayat system is very helpful, as it is graded by the Gram Panchayet, Panchayet Samiti, and the Zilla Parishad. Rajib Gandhi, the former Primer Minister of India, viewed that the Central Government also has a duty to watch whether the State Governments are performing their responsibilities properly. So the Panchayet Act of 1973 has been amended to help the State Governments in proper working of the Panchayet.
The importance of the Gram Panchayat is very great as the development of the whole country begins here at the grassroots level. This Gram Panchayat, alike the Panchayet Samiti and Zilla Parisad, is a body of persons elected from the local people by the villagers, as per pre-scheduled jurisdiction. The Panchayet System in West Bengal has been working since 1978. Though some persons suggested that the members of the Panchayats should be elected in their individual capacity, not in the banner of the political parties, it was discarded — and the election is now in favour of the political parties. And for that, the system has both positive and negative impact.
Now the Panchayet Act has given the Gram Panchayet enough power and money from the Government. Job cards are given to the villagers for 100-day jobs per year, providing them with good wages. Poor people are now engaged in the excavation of ponds, making mud roads, land reforms, improvement of agriculture, etc., and thus not only the workers are benefited, but the villages too are getting in better shapes. Moreover, the Gram Panchayat has the power to decide some cases of litigation among the villagers. Thus it saves the villagers a lot of legal expenses and hazards at the elementary level. They need not go to courts in the towns and cities for petty cases. There is another advantage in the system — the members who are empowered to decide the cases are men of the same locality and they know the contending parties. And that is a great advantage to decide the cases justly. But it may be abused if the members are politically biased.
However, the Gram Panchayat is a useful institution for village welfare if the body does its duties honestly. But it is sad to remark that we read reports about some Gram Panchayats that neglect their duties. They misuse their power and money granted by the government.
Yet we hope, in spite of some exceptions of corruption, Gram Panchayats will perform their duties for all-round development of the villages, and we shall see prosperous, healthy, and lively villages in the near future.