ZP-elects plan to apporach court for powers

SANDESH PRABHUDESAI, PANAJI | 17 February 2000 23:09 IST

It appears that judiciary is the only hope for Goa to implement the concept of decentralisation of powers through the panchayati raj system, mooted by the then Congress government in 1993 through 73rd constitutional amendment.

Newly elected members of the zilla panchayats, for which the first ever election was held on 6 February, are now planning to approach the high court for devolution of powers. Making mockery of the constitutional provision, the 50 elected members from both the ZPs are not even provided with a place to sit.

Though Goa had adopted the 73rd amendment in 1994 by passing a new Goa Panchayati Raj Act and adopting a two-tier system, ZP elections could be held only after the All Goa Panchayat Parishad got a directive issued by the high court to hold long-pending elections.

"We have decided to refer the matter of demarcating ZP functions and financial powers to the advocate general and the law department, only after which we would decide what to do", chief minister Francisco Sardinha told the journalists after the cabinet meeting on Monday.

"It is a clear indication that they are not interested in giving up the powers they hold and all the 40 legislators keep quite on this issue", quips Milton Marques, the newly elected ZP member, who is also the sarpanch for the last 16 years.

What has prompted around 23 ZP members including Marques to approach the court however is the 15-day deadline served by the government to chose one of their post either in the panchayat or the ZP. Many panchas and sarpanchas are elected as the ZP members but have to quit one of the position as per the provisions of the act.

The petition they are filing by Monday would be thus to request the court to exempt them from quitting till fresh village panchayat elections are held next year, as it would make them totally powerless with ZPs having no powers while also losing their existing position in the village panchayats.

Chief minister Sardinha has already dismissed their plea in this regard, claiming that he cannot go against the legal provision. In fact he is also planning to amend the panchayat act as well as the municipalities act in order to debar the elected members from continuing in the self-governing bodies once they are elected MLAs.

At least three such legislators, including the municipalities minister who is also mayor of Mapusa, still continue as the councillors. Panchayat minister Venkatesh Desai, on the other hand, still continues to be the panchayat member.

The key issue however is that the government continues sitting on deciding ZP functions, notifying rules for its functioning and implementing recommendations made by Delhi-based Dr V A Pai Panandikar, appointed here as chairman of the state finance commission, to transfer 27 per cent of its budgetary allocation to the ZPs.

Though the actual functioning of the ZPs cannot begin without the SFC gets back to its work, the government appears to have no intention in either getting Panandikar down from Delhi or appoint a local non-official as the new chairman.

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