Capacity building for Union Parishad: Looking beyond politics
Union Parishad is the smallest but most important unit of local government which is formed in the village level of the country where more than 70 per cent of the populace live. Good governance and empowerment of the people is not possible without implementation of the concept of local government. Union parishad is that unit of local government which paves the way for good governance in every levels of a democratic society.
Local government is widely accepted form of administrative unit practiced almost every countries of the world. The foundation of local government is very well-built in the US and India. The importance of empowering the grassroots and ensuring true and effective representation of the people-the basis of democracy-is well-established in their state practice.
The UN defined it as a political subdivision of a nation or state which is constituted by law and has powers for prescribed purposes. This is the basic principle of local government established by international legal documents.
However, in 1870, a form of local government like union parishad was formed in this subcontinent consisting of some villages where the members of the parishad were selected for a period of three years. The British admired it to reinforce their rule over this subcontinent, though it prevailed prior to the British rule as well.
The Act of 1870 did not reflect peoples' presentation for that the members were not elected by this Act, they were selected by the ruler to represent the king to the citizenry, not vice versa. We observe a further development in the Bengal self-government Act 1885. And today's 'Union Parishad' is the legacy of the Act of 1885.
Later in 1919, Bengal Village self-governance Act was promulgated keeping the provision for at least two types of local government viz District Board for district level and Union Board for union level. More empowerment of local government is implied in the Act especially by enunciating the proviso of election of the representatives, in preference to selection or nomination. Yet, one third members were still being nominated in the union parishad.
Panchayat was another unique feature in the episode of local government of the rural areas. It was a representation of five or more persons in the rural areas. A sort of Panchayat is still being practiced in India.
The scope of union parishad was extended widely in 1959 with substantial modification in the formation, functions and deliverables of the parishad. Local government was introduced from union Parishad to divisional level by the Order of 1959. Some of the functions those were introduced in that Act also espoused by the subsequent enactments.
Local government in our country has got its guts from article 9 of the constitution of 1972. Under this article the state will encourage local Government institutions composed of representatives of the area concerned. The local government will include peasants, workers, women and so on. The subsequent amendments of the constitution also carried the same provision. In line with the spirit of article 9, constitution goes further to elaborate the role and purpose of the local government institutions in article 59 and 60. Article 9 refers to article 59(1) for formation and scope of the local government. Though the provision of article 9 is directive in nature, but as per article 59 (1), local government is formed in accordance with the law enacted for this purpose. Following the constitutional directive, special law has been formulated for every level of local government institutions.
Formation of Union Parishad by the elected representatives in every administrative unit of the county is the spirit of the constitution. Any deviation from it is the violation of this spirit. To promote that spirit, the constitution has wider scope for further enactment of laws not in contravention with the spirit of the constitution.
Since independence, plethora of laws passed for local government, but little has been done to turn the words into deeds. And to a certain extent, the institution was politicized without considering its necessity for the country.
Union Parishad Ordinance has undergone several amendments after 1983 and a major change has been done in 1992, 1993 and 1997 with regard to composition and function of the union parishad.
Presently, the union parishad is divided into nine wards. Nine members are elected from those nine wards and three women members are now directly elected by the people of respective wards. Three wards constitute one constituency ward for electing one women member.
The union parishad election is being held all over the country after a long eight years, though by law, the election is to be held after every five years beginning from the first meeting of the parishad. The election could not be held in due course due to political apathy for the issue. However, the government has, at last, decided to hold the UP election beginning from March. We look forward to see that the next first meeting of the union parishads will be held in scheduled time without further extension of tenure.
The 1983 Union Parishad (Election) Rules empowers the parishad with five types of responsibilities viz civil, law and order, revenue and administration, development and judicial matters. The union parishad is endowed with scores of tasks relating to the above which are almost difficult for the institution to serve with its present form and capacity.
Capacity building for the union parishad is the pressing need of the hour which should not be rebuffed at all. The purpose for which the union parishad was formed is frustrated for lack of required resources and capacity to satisfy the people. The interrelation between the union parishad and the people is in a susceptible state which should be refurbished any way.
The necessity of peoples' participation in the union parishad has been overlooked by all the successive governments since independence. People were kept aloof from what's going on inside the union parishad. It was a one-man show which resulted indifference within the people in the affairs of the union parishad. The government should act to do away with this state of affairs.
Ample schemes should be undertaken to boost up transparency and accountability in the activities of the union parishad which is not discernible in the administration of the union parishad.
It is not financially independent enough to deliver the services it supposed to render. It has to depend on the central government or to the local administration for implementation of its projects. An arrangement of proper check and balance may reduce its dependency and bureaucracy.
Too many standing committees create complications in the activities of the union Parishad. The number and activities of the standing committees need to be reviewed. A coordinated approach may be invoked to overcome this situation.
And last but not the least, the objective of the local government-to govern the local areas by the local representatives, as observed in the case of Kudrat-E-Elahi Panir Vs. Bangladesh-should be upheld in the policy making level in relation to local government especially union parishad. The court observed that “if government officers or their henchmen are brought to run the local bodies, there is no sense in retaining them as Local Government Bodies."
The writer is a lawyer and researcher.