Van Panchayats : Good, Now go the whole hog !

( In response to a news Item in Garhwal Post )

Announcement by Chief Minister Bahuguna of 50% reservation for women as Van Panchayats Heads came as a breath of fresh air in this State as for for past few years the state seems to have gone into a State of Somnolence in so far as building up of a development climate was concerned.

Without narrating a long list of retrograde steps  which had been taken during the past few years in horticulture, floriculture, tea cultivation, aromatic plants cultivation, organic farming etc ( the list is too long to merit full   mention ), this announcement has again re-kindled some hopes  in the hearts of those who wish to see no further time being lost in taking this new state forward on the road to development and becoming the most progressive state in the country.

Let me suggest  a few steps that could be taken straight away and some which must be taken to consolidate what Chief Minister Bahuguna announced the other day.

1. Now that we have a full time PCCF for development of Van Panchayats it should be ensured that it is headed by some one who believes in Van Panchayats and is perceived as its well-wisher. His colleagues should also be chosen well and no one should be posted in this section who had had some doubtful past records ( there are rumours to this effect, which must be checked immediately ). This PCCF must be made accountable for implementation of what is being suggested here.

2.  Forest is a concurrent subject in the Constitution and therefore nothing prevents this state to have a full fledged Uttarakhand Van Panchayat Act, which will make this state as the first state to accord the kind of importance this state has give to the community managed forests,

3. The Rules which should be made under this State Act should cover aspects like ( i ) constitution of New Van Panchayats, ( ii ) Increasing the area under existing Van Panchayats which have an area less than 6 ha/household, ( iii ) Rules relating to timely holding of elections in the Van Panchayats, ( iv ) demarcation of land under Van Panchayats and resolution of conflicts etc, and ( v ) Rules and Guidelines for development of Van Panchayats as the main source of rural livelihoofds and other related Rules which may be needed from time to time,

4. Existing architecture of development of Van Panchayats should be strengthened through, ( a ) posting of ADO ( Forest ) in each of the 95 Development Blocks and these ADO( Forest ) should be responsbile for ensuring utilization of all development funds, preparation of micro-plans, convergenec of funds from NREGA, NRLM and so on, and ( b) Posting of Van Panchayat Inspectors , one each in each Tehsil. The latter should be responsible for co-ordination with revenue authority, election authorities, removal of encroachments etc etc. Thus strengthened the Van Panchayats would be suitably manned by requisite staff it does require for its forward march.

5. The ADO ( Forest ) and BVan Panchayat Inspectors must be sent on depuration from rhe Forest department and the Revenue departments , respectively. Tese posts should remain ex-cadre posts so that posting into these posts from Forest and Revenue department respectively is seen an advance opportunity to the next lower grades in these deprtanets i.e. Forest Gurads for ADO(Forest ) post and Supervisor Kanungos or senior Patwaris, for Van Panchayat Inspectors post. Thus, these would provide additional promotional opportunities for the lower grade functionaries of these two departments, who remain stagnated for long time. PCCF and the Chief revenue Commissioner must take personal interest in these ex-cadre opportunities. Let me also add, this is not a new suggestion at all. This is ahow these posts were filled in the past.

6. The existing Forest Academy at Haldwani was renamed as the Forestry and Van Panchayat Traing Academy which again has been destroyed by the subsequent forest officials who never took kindly to Van Panchayats growing. Considering the past history now a separate Training College dedicated to Van Panchayat training alone be opened under the existing Forest Academy at Haldwani, with an independent Principal for Van Panchayat School or Institute. It should be headed by a forest official who has a track record of supporting community forestry.

7. CAMPA funds meant for Van Panchayats should be strictly monitored and in future a far higher allocation for Van Pancahayats should be made both under CAMPA and normal budgetary funds. In fact, CAMPA must be additionality of funds flowing to Van Panchayats and must not be set off against what is due to them under normal budgtary support.

8. Block level, District level and State level Federations of Van Panchayats should be encouraged by activating them and making them a strong set of organization who will take the states' rural livelihood development agenda through the medium of our Van Panchayats.

Chief Minister Bahuguna must be complimented for having decided to reserve at least 50% of Van Panchayats Heads in favour of women. Why not 100% as it is the women who are first and most comprehensively affected by deterioration in our natural resources. I would strongly appeal to our male office bearers that they should voluntarily abdicate the remaining 50% by not contesting them and ensuring that 100& Van Panchayaats are headede and even 100 % "manned" by women only.

Let me point out in passing that even before 2000 there were several Van Panchayats constituted in Champawat and Bageshwar where 100 % office beareres and head were only women ! In Uttar Kashi many Van Panchayat male heads set good example by abdicating their post in favour of women.

Hope the lead shown by Chief Minsiter Bahuguna will be followed by the male VP heads and they would  ( i ) voluntary not contests and ( ii ) abdicate all the posts in Van Panchayats in favour of their women folk.

R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

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