With Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh on their side,the Orissa government has sidestepped the concerns expressed by Central intelligence agencies and the Home Ministry to work with gram panchayat heads who were elected unopposed.
Panchayat polls in February had seen a jump in the number of candidates winning unopposed 29 in Malkangiri alone as against seven in 2007 and 18 in 2002 panchayat polls which had raised questions in the Central internal security establishment. The Home Secretary was learnt to have asked the state to countermand the elections where candidates won unopposed. The intelligence agencies and the ministry feared that most of these victories were facilitated by threats from Maoists.
In fact,the Home Secretary was learnt to have written to the Union Rural Development Secretary to suspend release of Central funds for development schemes to those panchayats where members were elected unopposed till fresh elections are conducted.
However,during a visit to Malkangiri earlier this week Ramesh said his ministry will partner with panchayat heads in implementing developmental works. The MHA had asked the Rural Development Ministry to stop funds to gram panchayats where representatives were elected unopposed. But we have decided against it. It is likely that some of them managed their election through threat from some quarters,but still I welcome them as Indian democracy welcomes them all and they will be equal partners in our development, Ramesh said.
The state government has also ignored the MHAs caution. There is nothing in the law related to panchayats that can be invoked to countermand election of unopposed candidates. So,we are not going to do it, confided a senior state government officer.
That Orissa has sidestepped MHAs demand came to fore during a meeting with panchayat heads in Malkangiri. We want a bridge over Gurupriya river to provide us smooth connectivity with district headquarters. We are ready to take the responsibility of execution of work,if the government offers us to do it,when contractors are reluctant to execute it, Kamalu Hantal,who was elected unopposed as the head of Ralegada gram panchayat,said at the meeting on Monday. Hantal comes from a region that remains cut off from Malkangiri and is in firm control of Telugu speaking Maoists.