Last week, the state government named Chandrakant Patil as the guardian minister of Pune, replacing Girish Bapat, who, having won the Lok Sabha election would cease to be a minister in the state government. A unique practice followed in Maharashtra, guardian ministers are appointed for every district and are meant to bring a minister’s personalised attention to the development of that district.
Usually, a minister in the state cabinet hailing from a particular district is made the guardian minister of that district. If a district has no representation in the state cabinet, then an outsider is appointed. Also, one minister can serve has guardian minister for more than one districts.
Between 2004 and 2014, senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar, who represents Baramati assembly segment, was the guardian minister for Pune. This had helped the NCP to expand its base in the district — the party had also managed to strengthen its hold over the Pune Municipal Corporation and kept the Congress away.
The guardian minister is the ex-officio chairperson of the District Planning Committee (DPC), which has to be constituted in every district as per the law. There are no specific directions in the law on who should head the DPC — in some states it is headed by the administration, while elected representatives hold the post in some others. In Maharashtra, the guardian minister is appointed as the DPC head.
What does DPC do?
The DPC has to tackle matters of common interest between panchayats and municipalities, including spatial planning, sharing of water and other physical and natural resources, integrated development of infrastructure and environmental conservation and the extent and type of available resources, both financial or otherwise. The DPC is also expected to consult institutions and organisations, as may be specified, to achieve set objectives.
The guardian minister is expected to look into municipal matters and the urban rural inter-phase to assist the DPC in planning for local resource sharing, area planning, solid waste and sewage disposal, and other such matters which call for close coordination between panchayats and municipalities.
Responsibilities of guardian minister
The guardian minister is expected to oversee the combined budget of all local civic bodies under the jurisdiction of a district and ensure the passing of a common draft budget for it. The minister is also expected to review budget implementation in every quarter and ensure effective implementation of the sanctioned funds by the Union and state governments for various schemes.
The minister also acts as the protocol head of the district to receive dignitaries, including the President, Vice-President and Prime Minister in the district for functions.
Pune Guardian Minister’s responsibilities
Apart from the DPC, the guardian member acts as the head of the canal committee meeting that discusses water management from the available storage in the dams supplying water to district with priority in the sequence of drinking, agriculture and industry. The minister also proposes drinking water quota for each civic bodies depending upon the population. The quota, finalised by state government, is reserved in reservoirs by the state water resource department and supplied throughout the year.
The guardian minister also coordinates to resolve garbage disposal issues. The minister has to facilitate land acquisition for the mega-projects, like garbage processing plants, construction of highways, airports, industrial area, water supply and sewage treatment projects.
In Pune, the guardian minister additionally has to head the committee for ensuring all necessary facilities during the annual pilgrimage from Alandi and Dehu to Pandharpur. The guardian minister also monitors the preparation during Ganesh festival.
The guardian minister’s role is seen an effort by a political leader or party to gain and extend hold over the district, given the minister’s proximity to citizens.
After the guardian minister, the state government also appoints senior bureaucrats in the Mantralaya as guardian secretaries, who are supposed to hold lok adalats to address grievances of citizens.
They are also expected to coordinate among various government departments to resolve the issues and implement development projects.