The joke

A parliamentary committee has pointed out that the process of devolution of powers to Panchayati Raj institutions (PRIs) and urban local bodies has not been completed even 10 years after the enforcement of the 73rd Constitution (Amendment) Act, 1993. The report by the committee on empowerment of women, tabled in the winter session of parliament, blames the departments of rural and urban development. "We have asked for an action taken report from the two departments,' said Mabel Rebello, member of the committee. The panel, chaired by Congress leader Margaret Alva, regrets that most states have not given any powers or financial autonomy and not transferred funds to the local bodies.

One of the most important reasons for the poor performance of PRIs is the mismatch between functions assigned to them and the financial provisions made to carry them out. "In Madhya Pradesh, funds available to the panchayats are so little that they can't do any work. The situation is the same in the entire Hindi belt,' revealed Rebello. She suggested that besides assistance from the government, the local bodies be given authority to impose optional taxes.

The committee has lauded Kerala, where one-third of the state's total budget is earmarked for local bodies. Out of this, 10 per cent is allocated for women's projects. In other states, elected women representatives in PRIs are not provided adequate training.