Monday, February 06, 2006

Direct Funding to the Village Councils

A special call was made to the Government of Meghalaya by the Dorbar Shnongs (Village Councils) to recognize their traditional system of grassroots governance and to give them the full responsibility of implementing the "Direct Funding" for the development of their villages. The Dorbar Shnongs wanted the government to start with an allocation of Rs. 2 lakhs for small villages and Rs. 5 lakhs for big villages in the entire state of Meghalaya, which will be audited by government authorities. They understood that if such a funding came straight to the villages, it would really speed up their growth and development process. It would also lighten the responsibility of the concerned MLAs & MDCs with regard to building footpaths and other small infrastructure related work that the villages themselves can take action upon.

On 21st August 2004, the Government of India published in many national newspapers the words of Rajiv Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India who said "the system of governance that is planned from the top-down does no reflect the true realities of the people on the ground and must be stopped…if we want strong and meaningful governance we need everyone to be included in the decision making processes from the bottom-up right from the village level." The newspapers also published the words of Dr. Monmohan Singh, the current Prime Minister of India who said, "the most important responsibility of this government is how to shape the traditional institutions of self-government, so they are included in big projects for their own development and growth."

In his letter to the political leaders on 6th March 1989 and to the Governor on 24th February 1989, Bah B. B. Lyngdoh, our former Chief Minister stated that he had spoken in the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly saying that the Government of Meghalaya has decided to preserve and strengthen the traditional governance system of the Syiems, the Dolois and the Nokmas. He also stated that the government will open different ways to lift the honour and rank of these traditional leaders. The Governor also stated that the Government of Meghalaya, through the government notification of 22nd February 1989 has appointed a "High Powered Committee" consisting of – Chairman – B. B. Lyngdoh, Members – O. L. Nongtdu, P. R. Kyndiah, P. A. Sangma, and Member Secretary J. M. Phira, IAS. But nothing is known what became of this High Powered Committee, which just ended only in publicity and promises that were made from time to time by the political leaders.

Rajiv Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India spoke in Parliament on 18th May 1989 and said, "The Panchayati Raj Act was (released) for Meghalaya because they already have the Dorbar Shnongs as existing traditional institutions of self-government which we must preserved and strengthen." But what is really surprising is that since 1992 the Gram Panchayat (Shnong) in other states in India got direct funding from their respective state governments. However, in our own state of Meghalaya where the approval was already granted because of the existence of the Dorbar Shnongs, no support of any kind has come through from the government so far. I really wonder what is holding them back. I have observed in my travels across India that while other states in our country are moving forward and developing rapidly, we in Meghalaya are shamefully moving backwards.

In 2004 about 3100 Gram Panchayat (Shnong) in the state of Karnataka got direct funding from their government for projects amounting to about 60 lakhs per village, supporting an array of developmental initiatives that benefited them. I spent a night in the village of Umniangriang, which is about 49 kms from Mairang, as part of my own Ph.D. fieldwork meeting with their Natural Resource Management Group and 4 Women Self Help Groups. After a long conversation with Mr. Boxstar Nongnang, the young and dynamic Sordar of the village, I was told that he and Mr. John F. Kharshiing, Chairman of Ka Dorbar Ki Nongsynshar ka Ri Hynniewtrep have been working very hard to push for this direct funding mechanism to work in our state. I want to salute their tireless efforts to help our poor villages and I call upon all other concerned stakeholders to join forces with them in this noble cause.

The Sordar also told me that the Government of Meghalaya has rejected the central government’s approval for direct funding to the Dorbar Shnongs because our political leaders will not have control of the money that will flow directly to the villages. I would argue that if this great system can work and benefit the villages in many other states in our country, what is the real problem of making it work in our own state. I think our leaders really lack the political will to make it work. I really believe that if there is a strong will to make it work, there will always be a way. It is now up to you the people of the state to put tremendous pressure on our political machinery to jump start the direct funding engine in Meghalaya before the villages run out of gas.

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