(i) It was to take into account the very real danger of PRIs and even municipalities being misused to institutionalize discrimination and empower the elite at the expense of the ordinary citizen that, when the Constitution was amended to incorporate Parts IX and IXA on the Panchayats and the Municipalities, apart from reservations for the weaker sections, “social justice” was explicitly integrated with economic development as integral to the planning and implementation functions of elected local bodies as “institutions of local self-government.”
(ii) State governments need to recognize, as most in any case do, that constitutional and legal measures for social justice might set the stage but it is at the grassroots that the closest vigilance has to be maintained.
Therefore, in addition to concurrent social audit by gram/ward sabhas, which is the most effective way of checking prejudice and discrimination, DPCs may exercise due diligence to ensure that the social justice component is integrated into all development plans and social welfare schemes; that social justice committees are established at all three levels in the PRIs as well as in the municipalities; that a grievance redressal machinery is built into the framework of the Panchayati Raj system: and that encouragement is given to the weaker sections to articulate their grievances in gram/ward sabha meetings.
(iii) With regard to ST communities, implementation of conservation and forest laws calls for a thorough time- bound review by all states of the adverse, if unintended, consequences of the way in which forest conservation – in itself an important goal – is being implemented on the ground. It is equally necessary that forest development agencies function under the aegis of the panchayats in tribal areas in strict accord with the provisions of PESA – The Provisions of Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (see the next point below).
(iv) For Fifth Schedule areas, Article 243M (3) (b) provides that it is not state legislatures but Parliament which will enact the Panchayati Raj legislation. To this end, Parliament has passed the Provisions of Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 [PESA], based on the Bhuria committee recommendations. PESA is an excellent Act, but is hardly being implemented, uniformly or strictly, in any Fifth Schedule area. A road-map for the time-bound implementation of the Act is essential on the part of all states incorporating Fifth Schedule areas.
(v) Even if it is in accordance with the law and constitution for Fifth Schedule states to enact their own legislation, such states are urged to incorporate in their legislation the PESA provisions in respect of the empowerment and functions of the gram sabhas, as also tribal community rights over natural, mineral and forest resources specified in the central Act. With this in mind, states concerned may undertake a time-bound review of their extant legislation.
(i) Although the Constitution provides for elections before the expiry of five years of the first meeting of the elected local bodies, there have been serious delays in many states in the conduct of timely elections. The Supreme Court has laid down the exceptional circumstances in which a slight delay may be condoned as unavoidable, but the practice of delaying elections on other grounds has become regrettably widespread. This is as true of elections as of bye-elections.
(ii) The Constitution stipulates in Article 243E (4) and 243U (4) respectively that if a panchayat is dissolved for any reason, elections must be held within six months to reconstitute that particular panchayat. This provision has been so interpreted as to dissolve all panchayats and then avail of the six-month provision to not hold elections at all.
(iii) States must commit themselves to holding elections within the time-period stipulated subject only exceptional conditions set out in the Supreme Court order.
(iv) Complaints of electoral malpractice are widespread. State election commissions, in consultation with Central Election Commission, may consider ways and means of ridding local bodies’ elections of el malpractice.
(i) The audit of the accounts of elected local bodies has generally been so tardy and haphazard as to virtually ceased to have practical effect in ensuring the integrity of PRIs.
(ii) State Auditors-General, in consultation with the Comptroller & Auditor General of India, may be a to urgently identify and correct deficiencies in this regard.