In 55 years, Ambegaon Budruk gram panchayat has had 18 sarpanches. In the last two years, the panchayat has had five sarpanches and the same number of deputy sarpanches. Ten members of the panchayat have either been sarpanch or deputy sarpanch in two years. In a month or two, the panchayat will be dissolved permanently. Every member wants to be a sarpanch or deputy sarpanch before these “posts of honour” vanish after the merger with PMC.
The village is among the 34 villages about to be brought under the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC). The merger will make the PMC the biggest municipal body in the state. While most villagers are happy with the decision as this means better civic amenities for them, a few panchayats are opposing the move wary of a heavier tax regime.
Since the first announcement of a merger by the state government in November 2012, panchayats in several villages have started to quickly shuffle the post of sarpanch and deputy sarpanch among elected members so that they can claim the honour of being a sarpanch or his deputy although only for a few weeks.
Like Ambegaon Budruk, the Jambhulwadi panchayat body has seen four deputy sarpanches in less than a year. Lohegaon panchayat had two sarpanches and 5 deputy sarpanches in the same period. Ambegaon Khurd, another village, has also seen quick changes in the panchayat leadership in the last few months.
“Soon after the state government issued the GR in November 2012, we unanimously decided that all the members of the panchayat will be given an opportunity to be sarpanch or deputy sarpanch. As the post of sarpanch is reserved for women, all four women members of the body were made sarpanch one by one. Similarly, five of the six male members were made deputy sarpanch. The sixth member is yet to become a deputy sarpanch and will soon get the honour,” said Santosh Tathe, panchayat member and a former sarpanch.
“Everybody in a village has a wish to hold that post. So we decided to give every one an opportunity. This way we avoided quarrels and nullified any unwanted opposition to the merger. It doesn’t matter for how many days one occupies the position. For the rest of his life, he can boast to be a former-sarpanch or deputy sarpanch,” adds Tathe as he points towards a row of framed photographs of former sarpanches fixed on a wall of the panchayat office.
His feelings are echoed by Vinita Jambhale of neighboring Jambhulwadi village who was given the post of deputy sarpanch a month ago. She is the fourh deputy sarpanch in a year, in a seven member panchayat body. Vinita says she will resign “in a few days” so that the two members of the panchayat yet to occupy the post can have the honour.
“We have to do it quickly as there’s little time left now. I am hoping, they get at least 15 days each,” said Vinita.
The post of sarpanch can’t be shuffled as it’s reserved for Scheduled Caste (SC) and there’s only one member (the present sarpanch) who belongs to the category.
Vinita lamented that although she was made a deputy sarpanch, she couldn’t do much for the villagers. “You can’t do any work in such a short period. Hence, we have decided to dissolve the panchayat and wait for the final merger order,” said Jambhale and quickly added, “But it will be dissolved only after the remaining members get the opportunity to become deputy sarpanch.”
With inputs from PAVAN KHENGRE