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AFTER THE state government eliminated the practice of allotting local area development (LAD) fund to elected members of district panchayats last year, the Rajkot district panchayat has found a way around. It allocated Rs 18 lakh to each of the 36 constituencies of the panchayat on Tuesday and also gave the freedom to members to suggest works for groups of beneficiaries instead of individuals.
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A couple of months after Congress had won majority of district panchayats in Saurasthra and north Gujarat regions in the elections held in December 2015, the state government had issued a circular in February, 2016. The circular asked district panchayats in the state not to use district fund until guidelines for its usage were issued. Locally called swabhando or local fund, district fund is the fund which a district panchayat can use at its own discretion.
Stamp duty grant and royalty grant from the state government account for major share of district fund. Government collects stamp duty on sale or transfer of property, but repatriates certain portion of it to the district in whose administrative jurisdiction the transaction takes place. Similarly, royalty collected from the mining of minerals like sand and boulders is also repatriated to respective district panchayat by the government. These two types of grants are the major source of revenue for district panchayats, besides local levies.
Panchayat boards used to make allocation to elected members from such funds. The members used to suggest projects or works to be taken up in their respective constituencies directly to the officers of the concerned department. But the government circular in February, 2016 brought that practice to a halt and the subsequent guidelines issued in September 2016 almost abolished it. The guidelines barred members from directly suggesting any work in their constituencies and made it mandatory for them to seek prior approval of general board for such projects. The guidelines also specified the kind of work a member can or cannot suggest and The Indian Express was the first to report it.
To find a way around these restrictions imposed by the BJP-led state government, the general board of Rajkot district panchayat, at its meeting held on January 5 this year, delegated powers to district panchayat president Nilesh Virani and district development officer (DDO) G T Pandya to approve works suggested by members. The board members reasoned that the general board usually meets once in three months and mandatory approval by the board was delaying projects to be funded from local fund.
The special general board meeting held on Tuesday allocated Rs18 lakh to each of the 36 constituencies of the district panchayat. In his budget proposals, the DDO had proposed to allot Rs10 lakh from district fund, Rs1 lakh from royalty grant and additional Rs 1 lakh from royalty grant for suggesting repairs of roads. However, members demanded at the general board meeting on Tuesday that these allocations be increased. Subsequently, district panchayat president Nilesh Virani moved amendments and increased the allocation from district fund to Rs 15 lakh per constituency and also doubled the allocation from royalty grant to Rs 2 lakh per seat. After the amendments were passed, the total allocation per seat for the year 2017-18 stood at Rs 18 lakh.
Pacifying members, district panchayat vice-president Avsar Nakia said that the effective allocation was Rs 26 lakh. He said that Rs 8 lakh was to be allocated from the budget of the 2016-17 fiscal in addition to Rs 18 lakh for the next fiscal. Congress has 34 members on the board of Rajkot district panchayat while the BJP has only two. “Due to a circular issued by the state government, funds cannot be allocated to members. Therefore, it has been decided to allot funds to each seat of the panchayat and members of respective seat can suggest work for group of beneficiaries instead of individuals,” Virani said at the meeting.
“After the state government barred district panchayats from using swabhandol, we had to find a way out so that the issues of people continue to be solved at local level. All the district panchayats ruled by Congress in the state have adopted this method of authorising president and DDO to give approval and make allocation constituency-wise,” Virani said.