ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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States Not Serious "WE are not yet ready to hold elections to panchayats and the centre cannot compel us to hold them earlier than the date we are committed to." This was reportedly the immediate reaction of Kerala's chief minister, K Karunakaran, to the report from Delhi that the centre would withhold release of funds under various centrally-sponsored or assisted anti-poverty and rural development programmes to those states which do not complete panchayat elections by the end of December, the deadline which was agreed to at the recent meeting of local government ministers. When pressed in regard to the difficulties the state would face in the event of the centre withholding funds for poverty alleviation, Karunakaran's response was: "Don't worry. I shall get all the money we are entitled to." As it happens, Kerala is the first state to be invited for the usual discussions to finalise the state's annual plan for 1995-96 and the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission must have had occasion to discuss the matter of poverty alleviation and rural development programmes with the chief minister. The question does arise whether the matter of the state reneging on panchayat elections was also raised, and how it was sorted out with the recalcitrant chief minister from Kerala. Did the Planning Commission relent on the release of funds? Or did the chief minister give a firm commitment with regard to panchayat elections? These questions are extremely important because if Kerala can get away without a firm commitment let us not forget that Kerala had done away with the elected bodies at the local levels on the plea that newly-elected bodies were to replace them under the legislation passed in pursuance of the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments other states cannot be penalised if they are disposed to do the same. And the number of states which have failed to hold panchayat elections and are continuing with unelected local administrations, as in Kerala, is not small. The Kerala government says that it plans to hold the panchayat elections before the end of April. This is the government's latest public posture. But, going by past experience, there is no guarantee that this posture will not change. Target dates for panchayat elections have already been changed twice in the past six to nine months since the passage of the two state legislations dealing with local bodies. The point is whether the centre, given the realisation that the constitutional amendments referred to above had failed to anticipate that the very first elections to the local bodies might be withheld on one pretext or another and that quite a large number of states would take advantage of this loophole, seriously means to make such states see reason. If so, an effective strategy in this regard will have to be worked out and made known. To say that funds would not be released for local level development unless panchayat elections are held by a specified deadline is obviously not enough. Even a state like Kerala, perennially faced with various financial difficulties and living from one overdraft to another does not take the central threat seriously; what, then, about relatively better placed states?

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