3 Mar :The Constitution(73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 that came into force on 24 April 1993 provided that of the seats to be filled by direct election in every Panchayat there would not be less than one third reservation of seats in Panchayats including the seats reserved for SC/ST women.
Such seats are to be adopted by rotation to different constituencies in a Panchayat. Similarly, one third of the offices of Chairpersons of Panchayats at all the three tiers are reserved for women. As per the latest figures there are 2.4 lakh Panchayats in the country that account for around 28 lakh elected representatives. Over 10 lakh of these elected representatives are women. As such, although the 73rd Amendment mandates reservation of 1/3rd seats in actual facts women hold over 37% of the seats.
When the Bill relating to the 73rd Amendment was being debated in Parliament sceptics were of the view that women would not come into the political arena, if at all they got elected their male family members would be their proxies and their representation would only be in name. In the first round of elections, although women did participate in the requisite numbers so that the reserved seats per filled, anecdotal reports continued to appear particularly in the newspapers and magazines that the institution of Sarpanchpati had come into being. Women were not attending Panchayat meetings, their husbands or other family members were attending the meetings on their behalf and the records and proceedings of the meetings were being sent to the homes of the women members for recording their attendance and approval to the minutes of discussions. Even where women did attend the meetings they chose to remain silent or were not allowed to speak by the male members and officials.
However, the situation has changed greatly over the last 15 years. Now, most States have held three rounds of elections and women’s participation continues to improve. In order to document the progress made in qualitative and quantitative terms the Ministry of Panchayati Raj commissioned AC Nielsen ORG-MARG to carry out a nation-wide survey in the States where Part-IX of the Constitution is applicable (the Survey did not include Jharkhand where elections have not been held in recent years).
The Study analysed various issues related to elected women representatives vis-à-vis their male counterparts. It investigated their socio economic characteristics, tracked their political careers over the past three rounds of election, and, specifically examined the quality of their post-election participation in terms of performance of their roles, their synergy with the parallel bodies and community-based organizations. The study constructed a “Performance Index” which has scores for individual elected representatives. The individual scores are correlated with a set of independent variables to identify the critical determinants of performance.
A multi stage stratified random sampling design was adopted for the survey. Hence, states followed by districts, blocks and finally Gram Panchayats were selected.
Twenty three States across India were covered for this Survey on the basis of the position of Panchayats in them. Only those States where Panchayats are not in existence or where elections have not yet taken place, were excluded from the study – Jharkhand, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Nagaland. Likewise, Jammu and Kashmir was excluded from the survey because the election of Panchayats under its own Act has not yet taken place. 114 districts, 228 blocks and 1,368 Gram Panchayats were covered by the Survey. 1,368 Pradhans were covered across India of which 907 were female. A total of 5,350 Ward Members were also interviewed during the field survey of which 3,973 were EWRs. 1302 former women representatives were interviewed during the field survey and 20,154 community members were interviewed. In depth interviews and focus group discussions were conducted at the community level. Minutes of meetings of Panchayats were also examined at the block and Gram Panchayats levels.
The conclusions of the Study are as follows:
· A large proportion of the EWRs are from the more disadvantaged section of society (SC-26%, ST-13%). About 28% belong to the general category.
· Education attainment of middle school and above is 48%. Almost 1/5th are illiterate.
· As many as four-fifths of the elected representatives did not have anyone in their family affiliated with politics.
· Around 86% of EWRs were first timers in politics. Around 14% were elected more than once at the Gram Panchayat level.
· Reservation played a significant role in first entry into politics.
· After getting elected, acclimatization to the Panchayati Raj system for effective performance is facilitated by first undergoing a well-structured training programme. However, only around 47% managed to access the training.
· Gram Sabhas are regularly convened and selection of beneficiaries usually done there or pre selection by Panchayat approval.
· Good performance of an elected representative depended on duration of being elected, training, education up to middle school and above and active engagement in Panchayat work.
· High performer EWRs were from Kerala, Karnataka, Tripura, Maharashtra, Sikkim and West Bengal. Performance on the lower side was reflected in Orissa, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat and MP.
· Sizeable proportion of women representatives perceive enhancement in their self-esteem (79%), confidence (81%) and decision making ability (74%).
· A large proportion(72%) reported having been actively involved in providing civic amenities, while 62% said they made efforts in increasing enrolment and mitigating domestic violence.
The recommendations of the Study are:
(1) Level of educational attainment needs improvement.
(2) Training is a critical determinant of the performance of EWRs.
(3) Honoraria should be given so that the ERs devote more time to their Panchayat work.
(4) The rotation of seats should be discontinued for women headed Panchayats and wards as regular rotation results in ability to get elected while quality of performance does depend on longer duration in office.
The Study Report was released at the National Conference of Chairpersons of District and Intermediate Panchayats in presence of Dr. Manmohan Singh, Hon’ble Prime Minister of India and Smt. Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson, UPA. The Report was thereafter circulated to all State Governments and universities/ institutions involved with women’s studies. A Seminar was organized in partnership with the Department of Women Studies & Development Centre, Delhi University headed by Prof. Vibha Chaturvedi, on 2-3 March, 2009 at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi to discuss the findings of the Study Report.
The Seminar attended by over 150 persons included well-known academics and researchers, representatives of State Governments and training institutions. Around 50 elected women representatives also participated in the Seminar. The deliberations of the Seminar covered two days when the conclusions of the Study Report, situation of Panchayati Raj and elected women representatives in the States and general issues relating to devolution of 3Fs, Capacity Building, etc., were discussed in great detail.
At the Concluding Session of the Seminar, it was agreed that research studies on elected women representatives should be taken up every two years. This forum of academics, researchers, NGOs, State Government representatives and elected women representatives should meet regularly in March every year to deliberate on issues relating to local governance in rural areas. The Ministry of Panchayati Raj should introduce a scheme to support the state and national level Federations of the EWRs. The Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Yojana Scheme of Ministry of Panchayati Raj should also be strengthened with much larger financial allocations so that the Panchayats can be adequately equipped with infrastructure facilities and staff to enable them to carry out their tasks efficiently. The e-PRI programme should be funded adequately by the Central Government so that cyber connectivity is available to all Panchayats as this can really help to improve their management systems. The Ministry of Panchayati Raj and this forum would continue to work towards persuading States’ to lengthen the cycle of rotation of reservation of vacancies for women representatives.