More than 26 years after the 73rd Amendment, the Jammu and Kashmir government has for the first time granted powers to the Panchayats to directly implement various centrally sponsored development schemes and also supervise functioning of certain government offices and schools in their respective areas.

Empowerment of Panchayats was done by the State Administrative Council (SAC) headed by Governor Satyapal Malik on Thursday evening by amending the Panchayati Raj Act, 1989. The step has come just a couple of days before the Panchayat elections are scheduled to take place after a gap of 7 years in the state.

The step is expected to bring a change in the rural scenario of the state as this is for the first time  that powers as per the 73rd Amendment, which is not applicable in J&K, have been given to the Panchayats.

A similar attempt was made in the year 2011 through a government order but it was scuttled by various elements. By making the devolution a part of the Act, the SAC has not only given adequate teeth to the Panchayats but also made it binding for the government departments to follow it.

The most significant change is the addition of specific schedules in the Panchayat Act giving extensive powers to Panchayats and Block Development Councils in many areas, covering almost 20 Departments. There are also specific schedules with financial powers for Panchayats and Block Development Councils.

An official spokesman said that the amendments with far reaching consequences will assure placement of funds, functions and functionaries at the disposal of PRIs. To make the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) the true harbingers of socio-economic development, the amendments will ensure well defined taxation powers to the Panchayats for generation of adequate resources by themselves.

The amendments define the role of the Gram Sabha in detail, placing the power to plan, implement, monitor and supervise various government schemes and programmes in the hands of people themselves. Implementation of important schemes like MGNREGA, Pradhan Mantri Aawas Yojana, Mid-Day Meal and ICDS has been devolved to the Panchayats.

The monitoring and supervision of schools and health institutions has also been passed on to the PRIs to make them accountable to the society. The Panchayats shall also be conducting concurrent/ quarterly social audit of works and programmes in their area.

However, along with all the authority, responsibility to ensure socio- economic and human development of the area including literacy, sex ratio, water conservation, natural resource management, agriculture/ horticulture development, health etc. has also been placed on the shoulders of the Panchayat. They have also been made the agents of change through sensitization and awareness generation.