In Andhra Pradesh panchayati raj institutions are being run with special officers as elections could not be held for the past two years.
Bengal could follow the same path if elections are not held

anindita chowdhury
HYDERABAD, 27 JUNE: Bengal can hope to learn a lesson or two from the state of affairs in the Panchayati Raj Institutions in Andhra Pradesh which are being run with special officers as elections could not be held for the past two years.
The lack of public representatives in more than 21,000 Gram Panchayats, often described as democracy at the very grassroots, has adversely affected their running and development work. Bengal might tread on the same path if the elections are not held on time. The West Bengal State Election Commission (WBSEC) has moved the Supreme Court to ensure adequate security forces even as the first phase of elections is due on 2 July. Elections to local bodies, both rural and urban, have not been held in Andhra Pradesh for the past two years. Apart from losing about Rs 2000 crore of Central assistance fund in the rural areas for the past two years the absence of public representatives is also affecting services to the people. “The officials are out of reach of the common people.
The government has just appointed any officer, say agricultural officer as a special officer and they are carrying out the task in addition to their existing duties. They are often away on tours. Moreover, often they are not well versed with the Panchayat Act,” said Mr M Padmanabha Reddy, secretary of the Forum of Good Governance who had filed a petition in the High Court seeking early elections. However, the government had wanted to use the census data of 2011 to work out the reservation of Backward Classes which it had raised to over 60 per cent.
Though the Andhra Pradesh High Court had said the reservation quota should not exceed 50 per cent on the basis of Supreme Court guidelines, the apex court had given clearance to the government&’s proposal earlier this year.
“Still they are dillydallying over the issue. Politicians want to hold elections only when it suits them,” said Mr Reddy. According to political observers, the ruling Congress had not been very keen to hold local body elections because of apprehensions that the newly formed YSR Congress may sweep the elections if they were held on time.
    The elections were due in July 2011 and since then the Panchayati Raj Institutions have been run with special officers, a model which the Opposition in Bengal claims that chief minister Mamata Banerjee is keen to follow. “It is not a model but compulsion”, Mr Reddy said while alleging that cases of corruption have increased. “Earlier if the people felt that the work was not progressing according to plan they could gherao the Mukhiya and call for an explanation. This is no longer happening now,” he added.  A senior official from West Godavari district agreed. “There are some pro-active officials and in those cases the Panchayats are run smoothly. But there are problems of reaching out to the people because officials can never take the place of public representatives,” the official said.  But now the polls to the Panchayati Raj institutions are finally going to be held in July. The Andhra State Election Commissioner P Ramakanth Reddy said the poll notification would be issued next week and the three-phase poll process would be conducted within the next 2-3 weeks. The entire exercise would be concluded by August first week.