A bill giving broad powers to village community meetings has been adopted in Karnataka

BENGALURU: A landmark bill that challenges lawmakers and empowers the village community meeting (gram sabha) as a basic unit of local self-government, passed without debate in both houses of the Legislative Assembly Karnataka Thursday and Friday. Now all the bill needs is the signature of Governor Vajubhai Rudabhai Vala to become law.

The Karnataka Gram Swaraj and Panchayat Raj Bill guarantees the direct participation of the villagers in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all economic, social, cultural and environmental programs at the level of the district, the State and central. With this, members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and Legislative Council (MLC) have a minimal role to play, as the gram sabha makes all decisions on local needs, ranging from priority areas on which funds should be spent where to install the bulb and who should be the beneficiary of which plan.

While there has been resistance even from ruling congressional lawmakers to such aspects of the bill, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Rural Development Minister HK Patil have assured that it is quietly being spearheaded by the two Chambers, in the midst of a dharna of the BJP, which demanded the resignation of Minister of Social Welfare H Anjaneya on charges of corruption. “This is wrong, such an important bill should not have been passed like this without discussion,” Opposition Leader in the Legislative Assembly and former Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar told ET.

Shettar said he asked the government to convene an extraordinary session to discuss the Gram Swaraj bill, which contains 110 amendments to the Karnataka Panchayat Raj law of 1993. “We would not have opposed the bill, we We are also in favor of strengthening the panchayat raj system.

One of the main contentious articles of this bill is the right to dismiss an elected member of the gram panchayat for corruption. The Ramesh Kumar committee which made the recommendations on which this bill is based, had said that the gram sabha had the right to remove incompetent and corrupt members, with sufficient evidence submitted to the state election commission. In the Gram Swaraj Bill that was passed, the right of revocation was granted to the state government.

“I am sad and upset that discussion and correction of such clauses could not take place in the legislature,” Nandana Reddy, activist and committee member Ramesh Kumar told ET. However, she held the BJP responsible for not continuing the discussion. “The bill was introduced a week ago in the Legislative Assembly and notice was given that it would be discussed. I have a feeling the BJP wanted to sit on the fence about these sweeping amendments, so they didn’t participate in the debate, ”she added.

Janata Dal (S) did not oppose the bill in either chamber, although members wanted a debate on the bill. Several members of Congress also called for discussion and amendments to the broad powers granted to gram sabha. “It was just strong through the legislature and we have no choice but to remain silent because our party vice president Rahul Gandhi backed it,” said a disgruntled congressional lawmaker.

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