Maharashtra state has put up such a remarkable performance in the field of rural development that it has been recognized at the national level. The state government has been bagging awards under the central government sponsored “Panchayat Empowerment and Accountability Incentive Scheme” for the last four consecutive years. The state was presented with the first award of Rs 2.5 crore. Likewise, other 17 Panchayatraj institutions in the state have also bagged cash awards worth Rs 1.64 crore.
This is the cumulative result of constant new experiments, effective implementation of schemes and bold decisions. Due to the good work done by Panchayatraj institutions, the villagers are getting many facilities. Village is being treated as a factor of development and accordingly its development planning is getting top priority. This is the basis of balanced development in Maharashtra. The Panchayatraj institutions have bagged prizes and awards due to fulfillment of all the norms laid down by the central government right from planning to implementation at the Gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti and Zilla Parishad. The state government has also put up an impressive performance in organizing best gram sabhas. Consequently, “Tikekar Wadi” Gram Panchayat in Junnar taluka of Pune district was honoured with the national award “ Rashtriya Gaurav Gram Sabha Puraskar instituted by the Centre in appreciation of best gram sabha practices. The award carries a cash component of Rs 10 lakh. During this period, Maharashtra Gram Panchayat Act was amended for empowerment of gram sabhas. As per amendments, the number of gram sabhas to be held in a year has been reduced from 6 to 4 and a great emphasis has been put on organizing gram sabhas in an efficient and fruitful way. Gram Sabha is the highest machinery in management of rural democracy. There is need for strengthening the Gram Sabha for development of the country in the true sense of the term. Therefore, it is essential that the working of Gram Sabha is made more transparent, public-oriented and efficient. Keeping this factor in view, this novel decision was taken to effectively reach out to the villagers the information related to organizing of Gram Sabha, planning, objective and participation. Now the invitations for gram sabha are issued via Short Messaging Service (SMS) besides media like traditional crier and information on the notice board.
The state initiated Paryavaran Santulit Samruddhi Gram Yojana (eco-friendly village prosperity scheme) in 2010-11 with a view to materialize the concept of green, clean, prosperous and self-sustained village. The parameters of the scheme were determined keeping in view the integrated and sustainable development of villages. It envisaged the plantation of as many as trees as the population of village, guarantee to keep trees alive, getting village rid of obnoxious practices like open defecation, banning use of plastic in village, ensuring 100 per cent collection of water and house taxes, keeping village clean and neat, suitable management of sewage and solid waste, encouraging the use of unconventional energy resources in village. The villages fulfilling the norms under the scheme are given a special incentive in the form of funds for various village developmental works. The state has been able to grow and sustain an estimated 15 crore trees through this scheme. Considering the importance of the scheme, the state has now decided to further implement this scheme permanently.
In all, there are 27,920 Gram Panchayats in Maharashtra. Out of them, there are 1280 Gram Panchayats having more than 5000 population. Though these villages have more population, they continue to be Gram Panchayats as they have less percentage of non-agricultural employment and commercial transactions.
A micro and environment development plan is being prepared on the pattern of town planning while developing these towns with the intention of making available basic civic amenities to them like cities. An effort is being made to regulate the use of land in town, norms of construction, parameters of land development, zoning of land and Development Control Rule in a planned manner. Under the e-Panchayat programme in the state ‘Sangram’ ie “Computerised Rural Maharashtra” project is being implemented. Under this programme, all Zilla Parishads, Panchayat Samitis and almost 28000 Gram Panchayats have been linked with computer and have gone online. Out of them, e-banking facility is being made available in 20000 villages and Maharashtra is going to be the first state offering such facility in the country. Software called Sangram soft has been developed to digitize the day to day functioning of all Gram Panchayats in the state. They make available prototypes ranging serially from 1 to 27. It has been made mandatory since April 1, 2013 that all the certificates issued by the Panchayatraj institutions should be issued in computerized form. These Sangram centres have been granted the status of ‘ Maha-E-Seva’ centre. Accordingly, 19 types of certificates are being made available to the villagers at their village. Maharashtra led the country in implementation of e-Panchayat programme in 2012-13.
An important decision was taken that Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis should issue development work tenders through e-tendering process and purchase material through the same process. This helped make the purchase process more transparent and simple. A training programme under the Rashtriya Gram Swarajya Yojna (National village self-governance scheme) is being implemented in 21 districts in Maharashtra. There are 11 Panchayatraj training centres, 9 Gram Sevak training centres and one joint training centre in the state. Development projects are being carried out for 2.31 lakh public representatives of the Panchayatraj institutions through training. The rural development department has adopted a transparent, coordinated and online transfer policy. This policy has become more acceptable as the transfers are being done through mutual understanding. After the general transfers are over, Panchayat Samiti chairmen will be able to transfer 10 percent personnel in a year while the Zilla Parishad presidents will be able to effect 20 percent transfers in a year. The honorarium of the office bearers of the Panchayatraj institutions too has been increased substantially. The path-braking Rashtriya Jivannoti Abhiyan to promote the living standard of people is being implemented in 10 districts of the state. A total of 6913 km long roads were built under the Prime Minister Gram Sadak Yojna in the last 3 years in the state and hence as many as 2360 localities were linked. A Special Incentive scheme (including electrification) to provide civic amenities to the Gram Panchayats is being implemented under the District Annual Scheme. Under this, 1715 Gram Panchayats have been provided funds for works like planned development, market development, street lighting facility, laying out parks and gardens, study centres, library, recreation centres for senior citizens, building ghat or bunds across the nullah. Through this medium, a Gram Panchayat can get a fund up to Rs 2 crore for these developmental works. The state has recently taken up the campaign called ‘Paani Sathva-Gao Wachva’ (Store water-Save village). Under this campaign, a yearly water budget of the village will be made and every drop of rain water will be accounted for. With a view to ensure quality construction of the civic amenities, Rural Development Department has prepared a guidance manual to ensure sturdiness of the construction of gutters, interior roads, village school, aanganwadi, primary health sub-centre, community hall, Gram Panchayat office, lavatories, crematorium and graveyard. This manual guides about the quality of road, what factors should taken into account while constructing buildings, what method to adopt if the Gram Panchayat were to carry out some work on its own, which tests are needed while undertaking work directly, and other technical and administrative guidelines . To conclude, if the gap between the development of rural and urban areas is to be bridged, then quality of the facilities made available to the ruralites must be of top quality, I think.