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Panchayati Raj in West Bengal: A Synthesis of Existing Research

Debraj Bhattacharya
Institute of Social Sciences Kolkata

The Panchayati Raj system of West Bengal has quite justifiably attracted a significant number of scholars. As almost all of them are administrators, economists, political scientists, sociologists or anthropologists, and not historians, most of the studies are therefore snapshots of a particular point in time rather than studies of changes over time. Thus we have a large number of micro studies on specific issues mostly capturing a particular aspect of the system at a particular point in time. It is perhaps now necessary to bring them together to create the big picture. This essay shall try on the basis of existing research, published and unpublished, completed till end of 2009, to develop a historical narrative and also point out some of the gaps in the literature. I. Colonial Period: 1885-1947 In spite of a vast literature on colonial Bengal, the history of Local Self-Government in colonial Bengal is still waiting for a full-length study by a historian. We may point out here some of the major landmarks. The Bengali Chowkidari Act of 1870 for the first time established statutorily constituted Panchayats in Bengal. These panchayats were not democratic in nature and the members were nominated by the district Collector or any subordinate officer chosen by him. Their functions were limited to collection of chowkidari tax for the maintenance of the village watchman or the chowkidar. The viceroyalty of Lord Ripon resulted in a new enthusiasm for local selfgovernment in India, which was partly inspired by ideological/intellectual motivations and partly because of the realizations of the problems of governance caused by the revolt of

1857. Ripon issued a resolution in 1882 encouraging the setting up of local selfgovernment in India. Designed to make use of intelligent class of public-spirited men whom it is not only bad policy but sheer waste of power to fail to utilize, the Resolution proposed for the formation of local rural boards, two-thirds of whose membership would be composed of non-official representatives, elected where possible. This was however not liked by the existing colonial bureaucracy who wanted to ensure that their firm grip on rural governance did not slip away. As a result, the Bengal Local Self-Government Act of 1885 (the same year in which Indian National Congress was formed) was a diluted version of the original intentions of Lord Ripons Resolution. This Act envisioned a three-tier structure for colonial rural Bengal at the district level there shall be a District Board, at the sub-division level a local board and a union committee for a group of villages. A limited electorate, selected on the basis of age, place of residence, taxation and education were to elect 9 or 10 members to the district board which would look after primary education, water supply and a number of similar public services through standing committees. These local boards had no fixed roles as such and they soon became redundant because of their limited powers and finances. The District Boards lost their powers to increasingly more specific boards such as the District School Board. Neil Webster has rightly pointed out that While the idea might have been to establish self-governing bodies with an element of democracy in their constitution, in reality they were little more than minor appendages to the administration, a limited extension of the colonial state into the district with an aim of appeasing the nascent nationalism of an elite capable of mobilizing local political power.1 The real power at the district level was retained by the District Collector and the officials who were members of the district and local boards.2 The institutions were not democratic in nature as the District Board members were indirectly elected by the local boards. Members of the local boards and union committees were elected by a restricted electorate. Moreover the District Boards were made units of local governance and the local boards and union committees were made agents of the District
1

Neil Webster, Panchayati Raj and the Decentralisation of Development Planning in West Bengal: A Case Study, CDR Project Paper 90.7. Copenhagen, 1990, p.22. 2 The other important source of power was of course the zamindars, the rentier class created by the colonial government through the Permanent Settlement of 1793. There is a vast literature on the zamindars of Bengal; for a convenient short introduction and extensive bibliography see Sugata Bose, Peasant Labour and Colonial Capital: Rural Bengal Since 1770, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993.

Boards with no autonomy of their own. What made matters even more complicated was the fact that the union committees and the chowkidari panchayats continued to co-exist for a long time. The villages were thus, as Ghosh has commented, denied any kind of selfgovernment and, as a result, some of the basic needs of the people like sanitation, roads or drinking water remained unattended.3 In 1919, as part of the larger attempt of the colonial state to reorganize the colonial administration in the face of the growing demands of the nationalist movement, the Bengal Village Self-Government Act was passed. This act was passed on the basis of the report of the Royal Commission on Decentralisation in 1909. It is not possible to know on the basis of existing research as to why it took ten years for the colonial state to act on the recommendations of the report and how far the recommendations were carried out. Another influence was the report of the District Administration Committee. The Act set up the Union Board covering on average 8 to 10 villages with a total population of 10,000 to function under the District Board. This brought the traditional panchayats directly under the control of the colonial administration. According to Webster, the legislation was aimed at incorporating the rural middle-class who were utilizing the rural poverty as an issue to generate political support for their own nationalist aspirations. By giving them access to institutional power within the lower echelons of the state, with small doses of money and power, it was hoped that their political aspirations would be controlled. 4 The electorate was composed of all adult males, having residence within the union and paying local tax. Hence the electorate was a restricted one, consisting of tax payers only. Each Union Board had a President and a Vice-President elected by its members. Women and the poor were not allowed to vote. The Union Boards were given several responsibilities. These were mostly normal municipal functions such as sanitation, conservancy, water supply, maintenance of roads or drains or regulatory functions such as control on construction of buildings. There were a few development functions as well, such as promotion of cottage industry, establishment of primary schools and libraries. The Boards could also exercise control over the rural police
3

Budhadeb Ghosh, West Bengal in Status of Panchayati Raj in the States and Union Territories of India 2000, Institute of Social Sciences, Concept, New Delhi, 2000, p. 306. 4 Neil Webster, Panchayati Raj and the Decentralisation of Development Planning in West Bengal: A Case Study, CDR Project Paper 90.7. Copenhagen, 1990, p.22.

(chowkidars and dafadars). The Union Boards could exercise a certain amount of autonomy within the overall administrative structure but the government retained the power of auditing of accounts, power of annulling proceedings and suppression in case of default. Financially the Boards could levy a rate on the owners or occupiers of buildings within its territorial jurisdiction. By 1936-37, the number of elected Boards stood at nearly five thousand. A new post was created in the administration, known as the Circle Officer, to supervise the functioning of a group of boards and to act as a link between the Government and the Boards. The Union Boards lasted for about four decades. There is as yet no detailed treatment of the impact of the Union Boards. However Ghosh has said that the Union Boards created such lasting influence that even later developments introducing democratic decentralisation could not alter some of the traditions created by them.5 Ghosh is in general agreement with Webster regarding the limitations of the Union Board. According to him, firstly, social and economic power in the villages was concentrated in the hands of a small group consisting of the landed gentry, zamindars and intermediaries and the professional classes. Union or District Boards were dominated by this rural elite which wanted to preserve the status quo of the rural society. Secondly, official control over the institutions was too strong for them to work freely as institutions of local governance. Finally, all these bodies, Ghosh says, suffered from acute shortage of funds. The British had followed a policy of local taxation for local purposes and therefore disowned any responsibility for providing funds for development work in the rural areas. The Act of 1919 in fact specified that the payment of salaries and equipment of the chowkidars and dafadars would be the first responsibility of the colonial government. This meant that there would be hardly any more fund left with the Union Boards for development purposes. According to Ghoshs estimate, at least 50 per cent of the income of union boards used to be spent on salaries or chowkidars and dafadars. Thus in spite of some efforts towards decentralisation, the achievements during the colonial period remained limited and the Union Boards had very little impact in terms of
5

Budhadeb Ghosh, West Bengal in Status of Panchayati Raj in the States and Union Territories of India 2000, Institute of Social Sciences, Concept, New Delhi, 2000, p. 308.

reducing the poverty of the countryside. The catastrophic famine that engulfed rural Bengal in 1942-43 probably revealed more than anything else the absence of decentralised governance in Bengal and the ineffectiveness of the institutions of decentralisation that were created during colonial rule. II. The Congress Era: 1947-67 Before initiating a discussion on the literature on the Panchayati Raj during the Congress era it may be worthwhile to take note of some of the important changes that were brought about by the end of the colonial rule in 1947. For Bengal, freedom from colonial rule came as a mixed blessing. Joya Chatterji in her study of partition of Bengal has argued that the partition was welcome to the Hindu bhadralok elite as they feared losing their power to the Muslims who were in the majority6 but there cannot be any doubt, as Chatterji herself has admitted in her subsequent book7, that it proved to be disastrous for both the bhadralok elite as well as for Bengal. The new state of West Bengal became one of the many states of India controlled by Delhi. The loss of East Bengal meant a shock to the Jute industry as most of the fertile jute growing areas were in the eastern part of Bengal. The tea industry suffered as a result of the loss of waterways and the influx of refugees from what now became East Pakistan led to massive increase in population pressure on the state as a whole and Calcutta in particular leading to a humanitarian crisis of gigantic proportions8 and the communal riots of 1946-47 left a deep scar on the collective psyche and created a sense of political instability9. Moreover as the new state of India developed a largely centralized system of development (although formally it was a federal republic) West Bengal became dependent on the permission from the Centre at every step and was to lose out heavily because of the Centres decision regarding freight equalization and the bhadralok elite also lost eminence in the corridors of power at the Centre. Within the parliament also the
6

Joya Chatterji, Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition 1932 1947, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994. 7 Joya Chatterji, The Spoils of Partition: Bengal and India, 1947-67, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007. 8 For a discussion see Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Studies on the Economy of West Bengal since Independence in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XXXIII Nos. 47 and 48, Nov 21-27/28-Dec-4, 1998, p. 2974. 9 For a discussion of communal riots in Bengal see Suranjan Das, Communal Riots in Bengal: 1905-1947, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1993.

members from West Bengal were far outnumbered by states of north India such as UP and Bihar. Within the Congress, which was the most important political party in 1947, there was a period of faction fighting immediately after independence. The loss of eastern Bengal meant that the leaders who had their base in eastern Bengal became less influential and were superseded by what is known as the Hoogly group whose most important leader were Prafulla Chandra Sen and his protg Atulya Ghosh.10 The Hoogly faction managed to dislodge the first Chief Minister P.C. Ghosh in December 1947 and back the bid of Bidhan Chandra Roy, who did not belong to any faction as such and had good relations with the Congress High command apart from being a charismatic and successful doctor in Calcutta. Dr. Roy became the Chief Minister in January 1948 and till his death in 1962 remained the undisputed Chief Minster of the state while Atulya Ghosh became the President of the Provincial Congress Committee from September 1950 onwards. The RoyGhosh combine ruled West Bengal for nearly two decades. Together they managed to ensure that Congress won three successive elections and retained power for the first two decades after independence. The success of Congress during the first two decades was partly because of the weakness of the opposition. The most important opposition party, now that Muslim League had declined, was the Communist Party of India. CPI had managed to increase its vote share in all three elections but was still largely restricted to the urban industrial areas. Congress on the other hand was able to spread its organisations all over the state and was able to project a stable leadership. The image acquired during the nationalist movement also helped. The rank and file of the party at the district level also worked as a link between the rural people and the bureaucracy in charge of implementing development programmes. According to Marcus Franda, the party also provided an opportunity for social mobility in a society where social mobiles are frequently frustrated.11

10

For a political history of Congress during 1947-67 see Joya Chatterji, The Spoils of Partition: Bengal and India, 1947-67, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 211-259 and Budhadeb Ghosh, Empowering People or the Party?: Panchayati Raj in West Bengal in Budhadeb Ghosh and Girish Kumar (ed.) State Politics and Panchayats in India, Manohar, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 147-189.
11

Marcus F. Franda, Political Development and Political Decay in Bengal, Firma KLM, Calcutta, 1971, p. 90.

Although Congress during this time had to accommodate the interests of the lower sections of the society, Chatterji has clearly demonstrated that it remained a party of the rural elite without any definite ideological stance. Dr. Roy invited Kiran Sankar Roy, a Zamindar from eastern Bengal, to become the Home Minister who promptly banned the Communist Party in West Bengal and passed the draconian West Bengal Security Act which allowed the police to search without warrant. In 1951 the Government passed the Eviction Bill aimed at securing the interest of the property owners against the tenants, mostly refugees. In the same year it passed the Calcutta Municipal Act which restricted the vote in municipal elections to the wealthiest 10 per cent of the city.12 The government also dragged its feet whenever there was pressure to enact land reforms and systematically blunted the effect of the reform of the Bengals zamindari system when it became law in 1953.They also turned a blind eye to the many devices by which landed interests illegally held on to their property. The government of Dr. Roy, according to Chatterji, was as conservative in the countryside as it was in the towns: it had no intension of backing the forces of change. Its remit was to preserve, and whenever possible to reinstate, the privileges and powers of Bengals traditional ruling elite. 13 It is not difficult therefore to understand that the Congress government under Dr. Roy was not particularly enthusiastic about the introduction of a vibrant local selfgovernment. However more research on this is perhaps required to understand the story in detail. There were certain developments during this period but the Congress government was always hesitant to carry forward a full-fledged reform of the system or make panchayats a thrust area of state policy. Whether this was because of the class character of the regime or for some other reason is something that requires detailed investigation. Let us however take note of the changes that took place during this time. In 1954, the West Bengal Legislative Assembly had passed a non-official resolution seeking the government to take steps to establish village panchayats and endow them with judicial, administrative and other powers. In 1956 a draft bill was introduced in the Assembly which after being scrutinized by a Select Committee, was enacted in 1957 as the West Bengal Panchayat Act. The Act of 1957 replaced the earlier Act of 1919 and
12

Myron Weiner, Party Building in a New Nation: The Indian National Congress, Chicago University Press Chicago, 1967, p.352. 13 Joya Chatterji, The Spoils of Partition: Bengal and India, 1947-67, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, p. 226.

introduced certain structural changes. It introduced two tiers gram panchayats and anchal panchayats in place of the union board. Besides, the gram sabha was introduced for the first time. The Gram Sabha consisted of all persons who were in the electoral rolls and usually covered a population of 7000 to 1200 persons. The Gram Panchayat was the executive arm of the Gram Sabha which consisted of nine to fifteen members elected by the members of the gram sabha. There was also a provision for the state government to nominate persons possessing special qualifications as members of the gram panchayats. However such a member did not have any right to vote or become the chairperson or the vice-chairperson who were elected by the members of the gram panchayats. The gram panchayats were provided three kinds of functions obligatory, discretionary and delegated. The first consisted of municipal functions which were not very different from the functions of the union board and were mostly municipal in nature. The other two categories consisted of several rural development activities. The gram panchayats were however not given much autonomy to raise funds. Power to levy rates and fees was given to the higher tier, the anchal panchayats. The anchal panchayats were to collect rates and fees, to maintain the chowkidars and dafadars and to distribute the surplus revenue to the various gram panchayats under its jurisdiction. The source of the internal revenue was the same as that of the union boards. Thus, according to Budhadeb Ghosh, through the Act of 1957 West Bengal tried to implement the directive contained in Article 40 of the Constitution of India for establishing village panchayats without disturbing radically the traditions of union boards.14 What was even more disappointing was the fact that in the same year the Balawantrai Mehta Committee Report was submitted to the Union Government but West Bengal was far less enthusiastic than many of the other states.15 The report had called for development of participatory democracy through local institutions to bring about improvement in the life of Indian villages. The report called for the establishment of a three-tier system of panchayats consisting of the Gram Panchayats, the Panchayat Samiti at the Block level and the Zilla Parishad at the district level and called for development programmes to be channeled through these institutions. The recommendations found
14

Budhadeb Ghosh West Bengal in Status of Panchayati Raj in the States and Union Territories of India 2000, Institute of Social Sciences, Concept, New Delhi, 2000, p. 309. 15 The report was formally known as The Report for the Study of Community Projects and National Extension Service.

enthusiastic support among the planners and in January 1958 the National Development Council gave its approval to the recommendations of the report. The Union Government transferred the issues related to the Panchayat from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Community Development, which was subsequently renamed the Ministry of Community Development, Panchayati Raj and Co-Operation. However there was no serious effort in West Bengal to implement the recommendations of the Committee. The old model was allowed to continue while the new institutions were being slowly set up without any serious energy behind it. Nonetheless, between 1957 and 1962, 19662 gram panchayats and 2926 anchal panchayats were created.16 The next important landmark was the West Bengal Zilla Parishad act of 1963. Under this Act two new bodies were created the anchalik Parishads at the block level and Zilla Parishads at the district level. However there was no provision for direct elections to these bodies. The anchalik Parishad consisted of all the Pradhans of the anchal panchayat within the area. One Adhyaksha from each of the anchal panchayats was to be elected by the adhyakshas of the respective areas, while the local MPs and MLAs as well as two women were to be nominated by the state government. There was also provision for local cooption of two local persons with specialized knowledge. The Block Development Officer was made the associate member of the parishad. The associate member had no right to vote. For every anchalik Parishad there was a president and a vice-president elected by the members from among themselves. The presidents of the anchalik Parishads were also members of the anchalik parishads. Two adhyakshas from each sub-division within the district, elected by adhyakshas of respective constituencies were also included in the Zilla Parishad. Apart from this MPs and MLAs of the district, one municipal chairperson nominated by the state government, the president of the district school board and two women nominated by the government were also included. Thus with the 1957 Act forming the Gram and Anchal panchayats and the 1963 Act establishing the anchalik and Zilla Parishads the four-tier Panchayat structure was created for the state. This was different from the recommendations of the Balawantrai Mehta Committees recommendations. It is important to note here that that structure that was
16

Neil Webster, Panchayati Raj and the Decentralisation of Development Planning in West Bengal: A Case Study, CDR Project Paper 90.7. Copenhagen, 1990, p.29.

created was largely non-representative as only at the Gram Panchayat level there was provision for direct election. Nonetheless, two years after Dr. B.C. Roys death, West Bengal had a full-fledged Panchayat structure. B.C. Roy, according to Ghosh, did not share Nehrus enthusiasm for panchayats and community development and had little respect for Gandhian model of rural development. For him rural development meant modernization of the social and economic infrastructure in terms of more schools, colleges, hospitals and large irrigation projects.17 The next Chief Minister, P.C. Sen, was more enthusiastic and it was because of his enthusiasm that a four-tier Panchayati Raj was finally established in West Bengal. Being closer to Gandhian ideals he proposed a panchayat system where political parties would not have any role. The performance of the Panchayats during this period is yet to be studied in detail. Websters assessment is wholly negative. According to him:
While the two local government acts might have created the institutions of decentralised government, in practice these were little more than a faade with the state government merely playing lip service to the ideas of popular participation and decentralisation embodied in the proposals of the Mehta Report. Participation was minimal, the powers and responsibilities devolved were few, financial support was lacking, departmental and administrative officials continued to function as before, and Panchayati Raj remained little more than a distant idea given the absence of political will on the part of the state government.18

Budhadeb Ghosh has presented a somewhat more charitable view. He argues that in the years after 1964, the state government did assign to the Zilla Parishads and Anchalik parishads some funds and some schemes for execution. Government also, for the first time took the responsibility of some of the administrative costs of the panchayats. Thus by 1965-66 half of the total income of the anchal panchayats was in the form of state assistance. In the same year the percentage of state assistance for the Zilla Parishads and Anchalik Parishads were respectively 77 per cent and 94 per cent. However, according to him even such funding was not enough for them and also the schemes that were given to them for implementation were of a minor nature. In spite of these shortcomings, Ghoshs assessment is that the assignment of schemes and transfer of state funds at least indicate

17

Budhadeb Ghosh, Empowering People or the Party?: Panchayati Raj in West Bengal in Budhadeb Ghosh and Girish Kumar (ed.) State Politics and Panchayats in India, Manohar, New Delhi, 2003, p. 17475. 18 Neil Webster, Panchayati Raj and the Decentralisation of Development Planning in West Bengal: A Case Study, CDR Project Paper 90.7. Copenhagen, 1990, p.29.

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the good intention of the state government to support these nascent institutions.19 He on the other hand says that the timing of the introduction of the Panchayati Raj institutions was rather bad. All over India in fact the period 1965-69 has been considered a period of stagnation of the Panchayats. The Congress Government in West Bengal, after nearly two decades of stable rule, entered into a phase of crisis from 1965 onwards. There was acute shortage of food in 1965, and solving this crisis through the public distribution system had become the most important concern for the government. The next year saw widespread protests, strikes and bandhs, against the inability of the government to solve the food crisis. Moreover, the state unit of Congress was divided into two. In such a situation, according to Ghosh, there was hardly any time for the government to nurse these institutions. 20 What can be perhaps said even in the absence of any detailed data on the panchayats during this period is that Congress was not sure whether it wanted the panchayats to become a priority area in their political agenda. As a result Congress neither said that they do not want to have Panchayats nor did they go ahead with the institution at full steam. By 1965-66, the nearly two decades of Congress rule was beginning to look shaky. On the other hand the prospects of the left parties were beginning to look better and better as they exploited the food crisis to increase their chances in the election that was coming in 1967. Before we conclude this section let us quickly take note of the rise of the left parties in the post-independence period. In the aftermath of the independence the left parties of Bengal, which were marginal in the 1930s and 40s, joined the political mainstream of the state. In course of time the Communist Party of India, The Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party emerged as the main opposition to the Congress as other political parties such as the Hindu Mahasabha lost their eminence. According to a calculation made by Marcus Franda, in the Assembly elections of 1952 all the left parties together got 18.69% of the votes. In 1957, it rose to 24.29% and five years later it rose to 33.88%.21 Thus between 1952 and 1962 the share of left vote in the elections almost doubled. Of them the Communist Party
19

Budhadeb Ghosh West Bengal in Status of Panchayati Raj in the States and Union Territories of India 2000, Institute of Social Sciences, Concept, New Delhi, 2000, p. 310. 20 Budhadeb Ghosh West Bengal in Status of Panchayati Raj in the States and Union Territories of India 2000, Institute of Social Sciences, Concept, New Delhi, 2000, p. 310. 21 Marcus F. Franda, Political Development and Political Decay in Bengal, Firma KLM, Calcutta, 1971, p. 116.

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of India, formed in 1921, was the most important. CPI won 28 seats in the 1952 polls and was already the leading opposition party to the Congress. Within a decade their tally went up to more than 50. This was quite remarkable given the fact that before partition the left parties had only two seats in the Bengal Assembly. In 1947, CPI had roughly the same influence in eastern and western part of Bengal and therefore had the risk of losing their influence because of the partition. P.K. Chakrabarti has shown that the party at this stage took a significant decision of challenging the logic of partition and to continue to operate as one party for both countries. The party directed its members to stay where they were and face expulsion if they disobeyed. This was CPIs official line till 1951. In an unexpected way this saved some of the elite cadres of the party from imprisonment when the party was banned. However many of them slowly began to come over along with the refugees from east Bengal in a clandestine manner. This kept them out of jail during the mass arrests of 1948 and 49. This also gave them a first hand experience of the life of the refugees and their suffering. While the official party line had nothing to do with refugees these leaders started to organize them without disclosing their own communist identity. This mobilization along unofficial channels later paid rich dividends in electoral terms when the time came for it. In August 1950 for example the refugee communists from east Bengal formed the United Central Refugee Council, which brought within one platform various Marxist parties into one block The Marxist Forward Bloc, The Socialist Unity Centre, the Revolutionary Communist Party of India, the Democratic Vanguard, the Bolshevik Party and the Socialist Republican Party. This was followed by many such united movements against hike in tram fare (1953), for cheaper food in ration shops, for better pay of teachers etc. These movements ensured not only that the different groups remained united and managed to tide over the crisis of the partition but actually improve their mass base with every new election. The refugees in Bengal unlike in Punjab swayed towards the left as they saw that the Congress leadership at the centre was not receptive to their woes and the Congress leadership in the state, especially under Atulya Ghosh, had a clear anti-east Bengal stance (a legacy of the Hoogly groups fight with the Congress leaders of eastern Bengal). Similarly the coming of the universal adult franchise meant that now the working class of the tea estates, where CPI had a presence, could be mobilized.

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In a different manner the left parties managed to woe the Muslim voters as well, a new phenomenon which didnt exist in the pre-independence period. The left parties managed to maintain a fine balance between supporting the Muslim cause and at the same time projecting a secular image. The left insisted that the displaced Hindus as well as the Muslims should be rehabilitated, campaign for backward Muslims such as the momins, war on Algeria and Government policy in Kashmir and Hyderabad, and the rights of the minorities. This effort led to a swing of the Muslim intelligentsia, increasingly disenchanted with the Congress, towards the left by 1957. This does not mean that all Muslim votes went to the left but there cannot be any doubt that the left was able to win over a significant number of the Muslim electorate.22 This steady rise of the left influence was not hampered by the split within the Communist Party of India through which the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI (M) was born in 1964. This rise of the left parties, as is evident from the brief narrative above, had nothing to do with the panchayats or the issues related to rural development during this period. In left intellectual thinking also the Panchayats did not figure. The burning issues were the plight of the refugees, low wages, unemployment and the food crisis. But at this stage the left parties were yet to understand the significance of the panchayats for their expansion in the rural West Bengal. III. A Decade of Chaos: 1967-77 The 1967 Legislative Assembly election ushered in, what Atul Kohli has called the decade of chaos23. Congress won the maximum number of seats (127out of 280) but the other parties including the Communist Parties and the break-away group Bangla Congress, succeeded in forming a coalition government. This government however lasted less than a year. A Congress-led coalition replaced it, but only for two months. This was followed by imposition of Presidents rule by the Centre. The UF coalition government came to power in 1969 but was again replaced by Presidential rule in 1970. After the Bangladesh war in 1971, Congress once again came to power but there were considerable allegations of
22

Joya Chatterji, The Spoils of Partition: Bengal and India, 1947-67, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, pp 297-302. 23 Atul Kohli, Democracy and Discontent: Indias Growing Crisis of Governability, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991, p.274.

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electoral fraud. The Congress Government last till 1975 when a National Emergency was declared which lasted till 1977 when the democratic process was once again resumed. This was also the period during which West Bengal experienced the ultra-left Naxalite movement and its brutal suppression by the Congress government after it came to power in 197124. Although both CPI(M) and the Naxalites at this time had taken up the cause of land grabbing from the rich peasants and distributing them to the poor peasants (but differing in terms of method) neither saw in the panchayats anything worthy of intellectual or political attention. Within the United Front government, for example, CPI (M) took the ministries of labour, land and land revenue and police but not the ministry for panchayats. The Minster for Panchayats within the UF government was Bibhuti Dasgupta, who came from a little known Gandhian Party in Purulia district known as Lok Sebak Sangha. Dasgupta prepared in 1969 a significant white paper known as Basic Ideas about the Re-organisation of Panchayats in West Bengal.25 The white paper envisaged a radical departure from the way Panchayats were conceived so far. It called for a complete transformation of administration through which the pattern of district administration is to be modeled on the state pattern and called for further strengthening of the district as an autonomous unit with almost as much power as the state government. Regarding the structure of the Panchayats it envisaged a three-tier structure instead of the prevailing four The Zilla Parishad/Panchayat, the Anchal Parishad/Panchayat and the Gram Parishad/Panchayat. Each tier was to have a Parishad (similar to a Legislative Assembly) and a Panchayat (like a cabinet). The document also called for setting up of a Nyaya Panchayat, where village level disputes would be settled. In practice the new ideas could not implemented because of turmoil in which the new government found itself in. The United Front government took the controversial decision of disbanding the Zilla Parishads and the Anchalik Parishads and introduced a new Panchayat Bill when it came back to power in 1969 but that bill could not be enacted
24

For histories of the Naxalite Movement in West Bengal and its suppression see Shankar Ghosh, The Naxalite Movement, K.L. Mukhopadhyay, Calcutta, 1974; Biplab Dasgupta, The Naxalite Movement, Allied Publishers, Bombay, 1975, Marcus Franda, Radical Politics in West Bengal, MIT Press, Cambridge Mass., 1972; Sajal Basu, West Bengal: The Violent Years, Prachi Publication, Calcutta, 1979. 25 For a detailed analysis of Basic Ideas and the Panchayat Act of 1973 see Dilip Chakrabarti, Dilip Ghosh, Nivedita Ray and Debraj Bhattacharya, Dilemmas of Decentralisation: Making of the West Bengal Panchayat Act, 1973, unpublished paper, P&RD Department, 2009.

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as the government once again fell and Presidents rule was imposed on the state. When Congress came back to power it promised a new Panchayat legislation. In all probability the Local Self Government department on its own was pushing the agenda of another Panchayat Bill during this time. A report in leading Bengali daily, Anandabazar Patrika, dated 5 April 1973, says that the department had prepared a draft Bill but that was rejected by the Government as they do not want to give so much power to the panchayats. The report says that the Bill wanted to introduce election in all three tiers of the government and wanted the BDO and other government officials to be under the jurisdiction of the Panchayat. This was not acceptable to the Government. On 30 August, 1973 the same newspaper carried a report saying that the Chief Minister Mr. Sidharta Sankar Ray, had said in an interview that the chief aim of the government was take the government to the doorstep of the rural people. There was possibly a connection between such statements and the agrarian unrest that was growing in the countryside thanks to the left-extremist upsurge. In any case, a Bill was prepared and sent to Select Committee. After the recommendation of the Select Committee was tabled, it became clear that the Government wanted to do away with the radical ideas on decentralisation that was presented in Basic Ideas. The power of the state government over the Panchayats was firmly established in the recommendations. The Panchayats were given minor powers within their jurisdictional areas. When the Bill was introduced in the Legislative Assembly, The Minister for Panchayats, Mr. Subrata Mukherjee said that there were six major differences between this Bill and the previous Acts. They were (a) the Bill had proposed a three-tier system, (b) the Bill was proposing election in all three tiers, (c) there is provision for reservation for SC, ST and women in all three tiers, (d) in the new Bill the members of the Legislative Assembly and the Parliament would not be able to hold offices although they would be able to remain members, (e) in the new Bill the power to tax and the power to impose cess has increased, and (e) the new Bill envisaged a Rajya Unnayan Parishad and Zilla Unnayan Parishad which would be responsible for the monitoring the three tiers of the Panchayats. CPI (M) had boycotted the Assembly during this time and therefore its views could not be recorded during this time. In spite of several criticisms from the opposition, the Bill was ultimately passed and the Panchayat Act of 1973 came into being. Subrata Mukherjee promised the house that elections to the Panchayats would be held immediately. However

15

Congress failed to carry this forward. One reason behind it of course was that the government was facing turmoil all around but according to an interview with Subrata Mukherjee carried out by the research team of P&RD department, The Chief Minister, Mr. Sidharta Sankar Ray failed to take the right decision and because of this Congress has suffered heavily since then. Thus in spite of some interesting ideas developed by the Union Front Government and the enactment of the Panchayat Bill in 1973 by the Congress government, the condition of the panchayats in West Bengal was quite dismal in 1977 when the National emergency was lifted and West Bengal along with the rest of the country went to the polls. In West Bengal both Parliamentary as well as Assembly elections were held. Because of the Emergency, Congress had become unpopular all over India, including West Bengal. Thus in the election to the Legislative Assembly Congress could get only 20 seats as against 216 in the previous election. CPI (M) on the other hand, increased its tally from 14 to 177. The Left parties together won 204 seats in the Assembly, an overwhelming majority. Jyoti Basu was sworn in as the new Chief Minister of West Bengal on 21 June, 1977.

IV. The Left Front Era: 1977- 2011 Unlike the Colonial period and the Congress period, the Panchayati Raj of West Bengal under the Left has been extensively studied by scholars. However there are still some gaps in our knowledge, which may be briefly mentioned here. Firstly, there is no blow by blow political history of the Panchayats. Nor is there any systematic study of the more than thirty amendments brought about by the Left Front Government (henceforth LFG) to the West Bengal Panchayat Act, 1973. Similarly, except for a couple of recent unpublished reports, there is very little on the institutional dynamics of the Panchayats. Finally, the upper two tiers have received less attention from the scholars than the Gram Panchayats and their impact. Having said this, we shall divide the existing research into certain thematic areas (i) changing patterns of the institutional structure, (ii) dynamics between the administration and the Panchayats, (iii) interface between the party and the panchayats, (iv) peoples

16

participation and planning from below, (v) impact on poverty, and (vi) changing patterns of rural class structure. Before we being the thematic discussion let us take note of an important shift within CPI(M) which to some extent helps to explain their growing interest in the Panchayats after coming to power. Kohli has noted that CPI(M) underwent an ideological shift by 1977. It had moved away from revolutionary inclinations to a reformist orientation.26 The experience of the National Emergency had taught the party the value of democratic institutions and CPI(M)s power seemed heavily dependent on the openness of the political process. Thus the Party increasingly talked less of dictatorship of the proletariat and more of strengthening democratic institutions. Secondly, during the United Front rule, the partys inability to control its mobilized forces led to a change in the strategy of struggle. Labour militancy, strikes in the factories and land grabbing was replaced by legal and constitutional struggles. Finally, related to the first two, was the shift in the definition of class-enemy. A purist classification of class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie was replaced by a broadly pro-poor stance where almost all those except the rich were welcome to the party and struggles were defined as and when political contingency arose rather than along a pre-determined ideological line. This, as Kohli has rightly observed, made the party a social democrat one rather than a communist party. There is some confusion as to precisely when and how CPI(M) began to get interested in the Panchayats. In the election of 1977, panchayats, unlike land reform, were certainly not a very important rallying cry for the CPI(M). Subrata Mukherjee27 and former civil servant Debabrata Bandyopadhyay28 in two separate interviews to a research team working on the history of the 1973 Act mentioned above, opined that it was Jyoti Basus master stroke after coming to power. He realized the significance of the institutions in gaining greater control of the rural society. This was important for CPI(M) which was still

26

Atul Kohli, Democracy and Discontent: Indias Growing Crisis of Governability, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991, pp.287-88. See also Atul Kohli, The state and poverty in India: The Politics of Reform, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1987, chapter 3. 27 Veteran Congress leader and Panchayat Minster during the 1973 Act. 28 Bandyopadhyay played a key role in land reform programme of the Left Front and has also written widely on rural West Bengal.

17

a largely urban based party. Jyoti Basu, in his autobiography29, has given credit to Satyabrata Sen, a professor of Indian Statistical Institute and who also played a key role in Keralas experiment with Panchayats, for providing the ideological guidance to the Party during this time. According to Subrata Mukherjee, Basu went ahead with the agenda that Sidharta Sankar Ray failed to take up and this success has had a lot to do with CPI(M)s uninterrupted rule for more than three decades. What exactly Satyabrata Sen said is not known. However in an interview to Neil Webster, veteran CPI(M) leader, Binay Chowdhury has said that there was a crucial difference between the ideological position of other political parties of India and CPI(M) on panchayats. Left Front, according to Chowdhury, believed that without parallel initiatives that would also challenge the vested class-interests of the ruling elite in the rural society, genuine Panchayati Raj cannot be established. Hence land reform and other measures have to be taken in this regard simultaneously with the reform of the panchayats.30 IV.I. Changing patterns of the Institutional Structure After coming to power in 1977, CPI (M) retained the West Bengal Panchayat Act of 1973 but with some amendments, thus reflecting a new kind of political pragmatism. The most important innovation in the context of India that they introduced was that all tiers of the panchayats would have party based elections and secondly, there would be direct elections to all three tiers. As a result in 1978 elections were held in all three tiers of the Panchayat, a first in case of India. The gram panchayat, the tier closest to the rural people, consisted of anything between five to twenty five members elected by the adult voters. For every 500 voters there was one member. The Pradhan (or the Chairperson) and the Upa-Pradhan (or the ViceChairperson) of the Gram Panchayat was not elected directly but by the elected members of the GP. Every development block had one Panchayat Samiti which usually had the same name as the development block. It also consisted of members who were directly elected by the electorate but in addition the Pradhans of all the GPs under the Panchayat Samiti and
29

Jyoti Basu, Jatadur Mone Pore (As far as I can Remember), National Book Agency, Kolkata, 1998, pp. 237-51. Basu has however not elaborated much on this crucial transformation of the party. 30 Neil Webster, Panchayati Raj and the Decentralisation of Development Planning in West Bengal: A Case Study, CDR Project Paper 90.7. Copenhagen, 1990, p.30.

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the local MLA and MP were also made members of the Samiti as long as they were not Ministers. As in the case of the Gram Panchayat, the members among themselves selected a Sabhapati and a Sahkari-Sabhapati as the heads of the Samiti. At the level of the Zilla Parishad also the members were elected, each Block electing two members. Sabhapatis of all Panchayat Samities of the district as also the MLA and MPs of the district were ex-officio members of the Zilla Parishad. Members of the Zilla Parishad chose among themselves who would be Sabhadhipati and Sahakari Sabhadhipati. Neither in case of the Panchayat Samiti nor in case of the Zilla Parishad, the MPs and the MLAs could also become heads of the institutions. The term for all elected members was five years and a new GP, Panchayat Samiti or Zilla Parishad were to be constituted. Each Panchayat Samiti and Zilla Parishad also had several standing committees called Sthayee Samities which carried out different development functions. The head of the Sthayee Samities were known as Karmadhyakshas. In 1985-86, in order to facilitate decentralised planning, two new structures were added. The first was the Block Planning Committee and the second was the District Planning Committee. They were to be headed by the Sabhapati and the Sabhadhipati respectively. The Pradhans and the Karmadhyakshas of Panchayat Samities and the Block level officials of different departments were made members of the Block Planning Committees. Similarly the Sabhapatis of the Panchayat Samities, the Karmadhyakshas of the Zilla Parishads, the Chairpersons of Municipalities, and district level officials were made members of the district planning committees. Provisions for budgets of different departments for district level items were made for these planning bodies. The District Planning Committees were also given a certain amount of untied funds under a new head of the state budget, the district plan scheme fund, to meet critical gaps between the requirements and availability of funds out of the departmental allocations. In the nineties three major amendments were made in 1992, 1994 and 1997. These amendments coincided with the 73rd amendment to the Constitution of India, which was initiated during the Rajiv Gandhi period but finally enacted only during the regime of Narsimha Rao. The aims of the reforms introduced during this time were two fold: (a) to

19

increase the responsibilities of the elected representatives, and (b) to make the system more accountable to the people. One of the problems which had emerged by this time was the fact that the Pradhans and the heads of the upper two tiers were becoming all powerful. Hence the amendments of 1992 strengthened the roles of the Karmadhyakshas. They were made responsible for financial and executive administration of the programmes or schemes under the control of the Sthayee Samities. They were also given a certain amount of administrative power. Similarly although at this stage there was no standing committee at the level of the Gram Panchayat, efforts were made to strengthen the powers of the ward members. This indicated a shift towards a cabinet type of executive structure the chairperson and his colleagues forming a team for all three tiers of the panchayat bodies. The 1992 amendment also made it mandatory for all Chairpersons and Karmadhyakshas to be full-time functionaries. By the 1997 Act, the offices of the Pradhan and the Upa Pradhan were also made full-time. In anticipation of the 73rd amendment, the 1992 amendment also ensured that onethird of the seats of all three tiers were reserved for women. Similarly seats were reserved for SCs and STs in all three-tiers. The number of such seats to be reserved was proportional to the percentage of SC and ST population in that area. The amendment made in 1994 also provided for reservation in the offices of both chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of all the tiers for women as well as for the SC/ST population as per the 73rd amendment. The 1994 amendment, in order to increase accountability of the Panchayats, a Gram Sansad was introduced in addition to the Gram Sabha, which is mandated by the Constitution. The purpose of the Gram Sansad was the fact that in West Bengal the Gram Panchayats typically have a jurisdiction over a fairly large population, and hence the Gram Sabha is quite ineffective. It was felt that a ward level structure would help to make the panchayats more accountable. At least two meetings of the Gram Sansad were to be organized by the Panchayat as per this amendment, one in November and another in May. One-tenth of the total adult population of the Sansad has to attend in order to fulfill the quorum. The Gram Sabha on the other hand was scheduled to be held once in a year during the month of December. For this the quorum was fixed at one-twentieth.

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How did the Gram Sabha and the Gram Sansad interact? The Gram Sansad was to formulate certain resolutions which would be placed before the Gram Sabha by the Gram Panchayat along with its own views and action taken/proposed to be taken reports on such resolutions. Based on this the Gram Sabha shall take the final resolutions, except for the fact that it cannot change the list of beneficiaries selected by the Gram Sansad. The 1994 amendment created a new institution known as the District Council. The Act provided that in each district of the state there shall be such a District Council. The Chairman of the Council would be, interestingly enough, the leader of the opposition. The Vice-Chairperson shall be one of the members of the Zilla Parishad. Apart from these two the Council was to have another nine members, five of whom would be members of the Zilla Parishad while the other four shall be officials, three of whom will be nominated by the state government. The fourth person shall be the additional executive officer of the Zilla Parishad who would be the ex-officio member secretary of the council. The main functions of the council, as designated by the Act, are (a) to scrutinise the accounts/budget of any panchayat body of any the three tiers within the district in order to ensure that the expenditure made by it satisfies the norms of propriety, rules and regulations, (b) to consider the audit reports of panchayats and to examine the replies to such reports furnished by the respective panchayats, (c) to pursue the matters relating to unsettled audit objections and send its observations to the appropriate authorities for corrective action. The State Finance Commission was constituted as per the constitutional mandate in 1994. The Commission submitted its first report in November 1995. The state government is bound by the constitution to set up such a Finance Commission and submit an action taken report to the Legislative Assembly regarding the recommendations of the SFC. So far three such Finance Commissions have been set up by the State Government. Several new features were introduced to the Panchayat Act in 2003 to further reduce concentration of power. Firstly, five Upa-Samitis have been constituted at the Gram Panchayat level; their functions being similar to that of the Sthayee Samitis. Secondly, provisions have been made so that opposition members are represented in each Sthayee Samiti. Thirdly, Block Sansad and Zilla Sansad have been constituted as accountability forums for Panchayat Samiti and Zilla Parishad. Finally, Gram Unnayan Samitis were to be

21

constituted by the Gram Sansad, and which were to be the executive wing of the Gram Sansad and act as an extension arm of the Gram Panchayat but not a different tier. In the Gram Unnayan Samity a provision was made to include members of local civil society organisations, self-help-groups and significant educated members so that the partisan nature of decision-making may be reduced. In addition to these amendments to the provisions of the act, the Gram Panchayat Administration Rules31 has recently been amended in 2004. The Accounts Rules for the Gram Panchayat32 in substitution of the earlier rules framed in 1990, have been re-framed in 2007. The West Bengal Panchayat (Panchayat Samiti Administration) Rules, 2008 has been framed as well. Thus on paper there has been quite a few policy changes aimed at devolution of fund, function and functionaries to the PRIs. This is certainly the result of the good intentions of some people working inside the government who would like to see changes as per the 73rd amendment. This does not mean that that Government of West Bengal has actually devolved power. The latest Finance Commission report33 has, for example, made a substantial critique of the state of affairs as far as decentralization is concerned. Regarding functions, it has observed:
3.11 The Cabinet decision of transferring the subjects to the three-tier Panchayats was to be given effect to by issuing appropriate notifications transferring such powers, functions and duties in the official gazette in terms of Section 207B of West Bengal Panchayat (Amendment) Act, 1994. Notwithstanding such repeated policy declarations, such formal notifications appear to have not been issued as yet. The Cabinet sub-committee also does not appear to have taken the follow up action. While it has been repeatedly announced that the plan budget of each department has been decomposed into State level and District level components, in reality, the same is yet to be undertaken.34

Similarly the conclusion is not charitable regarding devolution of funds either:


3.23 As for West Bengal, the fiscal system is heavily dominated by the State Governmentthe State Government raises 96 per cent of all revenues. Only about 6 per cent of total revenues of GPs is derived from Own Source of Revenue (OSR) and 94 per cent comes from grants and transfers, of which 70 per cent from Central Government and 24 per cent from State Government.35

31 32

The West Bengal Panchayat (Gram Panchayat Administration) Rules, 2004 The West Bengal Panchayat (Gram Panchayat Accounts, Audit and Budget) Rules, 2007 33 Government of West Bengal, Report of the Third Finance Commission of West Bengal, Kolkata, 2008. 34 Government of West Bengal, Report of the Third Finance Commission of West Bengal, 2008, p.23. 35 Government of West Bengal, Report of the Third Finance Commission of West Bengal, 2008.p.27.

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Regarding functionaries, the Report has noted there the number of staffs in all three tiers have gone up but the GPs still continues to have very little power over the staffs.
3.69 It, therefore, appears that even in the new revitalized structure of functionaries to be available to the three-tier Panchayats, powers and authority as required for any selfgoverning unit have not been endowed with the Panchayati Raj institutions. Number of functionaries, particularly with the GPs, is highly inadequate and even those functionaries are not under the control and authority of the GPs so far as their appointment, transfer and disciplinary control are concerned. In respect of PSs and ZPs also, the arrangement of placing the services of the line department officials with suitable ex-officio designation (the arrangement which has, in fact, not been fully given effect to) is not expected to help much since the Panchayat bodies will have hardly any control and authority over such functionaries.36 This last observation clearly reveals that there is still a tension between the PRIs on the one hand and the administration on the other. This tension is explored in greater detail in the next section.

IV.II. Panchayats and Administration As may be understood from the above section, the old colonial structure of administration was continued during the Left Front period as well. Thus West Bengal acquired a highly complicated structure of rural governance. On the one hand there was the colonial style District Magistrate and Sub-divisional Officers and the line departments. The post-colonial state added the structure of the Community Development Block. The threetier panchayats came as an addition to these structures and not as something that replaced the old structure. Thus the task of development work in a district became a highly complicated one with numerous players. There is no detailed study which has looked into these institutional dynamics within the system as it evolved during the eighties. However in 1992, two senior civil servants, Nirmal Mukarji and D.Bandyopadhyay, at the request of the Government of West Bengal, went around the districts to understand how the panchayat system was working. They found many problems. Consider the following comment as an example:
the Panchayats have so far operated mainly in the field of development. There also, they have functioned more as implementing agencies of Union and State schemes than doing things on their own. Even as implementers of such schemes, they have had to depend on departmental staff outside their control. On the face of it they have resigned themselves to the situation, but below the surface there is great deal of dissatisfaction.37
36

Government of West Bengal, Report of the Third Finance Commission of West Bengal, 2008, p.40.

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In such a situation, the report continued, the Panchayats have taken up several extradevelopmental activities like mediating village level disputes. However the idea of the panchayat as an institution of local self-government was not something that the panchayat leaders were familiar with.38 The two civil servants found plenty of examples of conflict between the departmental staff and the Panchayats. In case of Agriculture, for example, they found that the Agriculture Development Officer (ADO)
keeps his distance from the PS, his cooperation being available only by chance. A PS [Panchayat Samiti] Karmadhyakshya is unable to call meetings of the Krishi Sesh o Samabaya Sthayee Samiti [standing committee for agriculture, irrigation and cooperatives] because the Cooperative inspector, who is the secretary, is rarely available. Things are worse at GP level, where officials like the Agriculture Technical Assistant (KPS) and the Health Assistant largely stay away. Except for the vanishing tribe of the old faithfuls, the chowkidars, GPs have no field staff.39

The two civil servants noted that if Panchayats were becoming more and more important as units of self-governance then this should have led to a decrease in the size of the government machinery. The opposite seemed to be true. As per their calculations, in 197778 total revenue expenditure on the government machinery was Rs. 701 crores. By 199192, it had expanded to Rs. 5181 crores. Between 1980 and March 1991 government staff increased by 1, 57,000. They commented:
It seems that the governmental machinery, far from diminishing, has expanded during the very period that the Panchayats have been in existence. The implication is that, whatever the rhetoric about the success of the Panchayats, the State Government has not felt under compulsion to reduce either its functions or its staff, and consequently any claim that the Panchayats have a degree of autonomy is not sustainable.40

A little more than a decade later, in 2005, The Panchayat Department carried out a study on the organizational issues of the Panchayats as part of the Strengthening Rural

37

Nirmal Mukarji and D. Bandyopadhyay, New Horizons for West Bengal Panchayats: A Report for Government of West Bengal, Government of West Bengal, Department of Panchayats, 1993, p. 7. 38 Nirmal Mukarji and D. Bandyopadhyay, New Horizons for West Bengal Panchayats: A Report for Government of West Bengal, Government of West Bengal, Department of Panchayats, 1993, p. 7. 39 Nirmal Mukarji and D. Bandyopadhyay, New Horizons for West Bengal Panchayats: A Report for Government of West Bengal, Government of West Bengal, Department of Panchayats, 1993, p. 8. 40 Nirmal Mukarji and D. Bandyopadhyay, New Horizons for West Bengal Panchayats: A Report for Government of West Bengal, Government of West Bengal, Department of Panchayats, 1993, pp. 21-22.

the the the the

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Decentralisation programme in collaboration with Government of UK.41 The report made the following four significant comments regarding the status of PRIs as its key findings:
1. PRIs in West Bengal are subject to sluggish and unpredictable devolution of funds. 2. Long term policy planning and implementation by PRIs is absent. 3. PRI offices at District and Block levels are understaffed. Existing staff has low skills and capacity, with faulty work distribution leading to a portion of staff being underutilised. Some line departments are understaffed and under funded to the point of being redundant. 4. There are structural flaws in the PRI system due to an incomplete merger of the traditional bureaucratic set up and the Panchayat system of local government.42

The fourth point was elaborated further as follows: a.


The offices of the District Magistrate at district level, the Block Development Officer at block level and the various line departments continue to be the de facto centres of power in local government systems. The Zilla Parishad and the Panchayat Samiti are in comparison poorly staffed and funded and are inadequately equipped to monitor bureaucratic service delivery in rural areas. b. There is role confusion between line departments and PRIs. Moreover, line department staff members are accountable to their parent offices and not to elected PRI representatives as their pay and terms of service lie outside PRI jurisdiction. c. Conversely, elected Standing Committees/Sthayee Samitis lack the power and the capacity to fulfil their mandated roles, particularly the role of monitoring the line departments and bureaucracy. Elected representatives, at all tiers, displayed a lack of skills, procedural knowledge and monitoring capability. Most representatives rubber stamp decisions taken by PRI heads like the Sabhadipati and the Sabhapati. d. There is a multiplicity of parallel bodies through which decisions are taken without consulting the Zilla Parishad/Panchayat Samiti/Gram Panchayat or their respective Standing Committees. e. PRI powers and functions are strongly centralised to the District Magistrate/Sabhadipati at district level, Block Development Officer/Sabhapati at the block level and the Pradhan at the Gram panchayat level.43

The study not only pointed out control by the district bureaucracy, it also pointed out towards bureaucratization of the processes through which the PRI functioned. The report noted that the absence of a formal distribution duties combined with understaffing has left the ZP office prone to duplication of processes.44 One such example is the process through which the ZP engineering section executes a community project by competitive tender bid.
41

Panchayat and Rural Development Department, Report Government of West Bengal, 2005. 42 Panchayat and Rural Development Department, Report Government of West Bengal, 2005, Chapter 2, pp.5-7. 43 Panchayat and Rural Development Department, Report Government of West Bengal, 2005, Chapter 2, pp.5-7. 44 Panchayat and Rural Development Department, Report Government of West Bengal, 2005, Chapter 6, p.49.

on the Pilot Study on Organizational Issues, on the Pilot Study on Organizational Issues, on the Pilot Study on Organizational Issues, on the Pilot Study on Organizational Issues,

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Once a project is approved by a Standing Committee and endorsed by AEO-ZP, the engineering section takes over the project after a contractor is selected through a tender. What follows is a Kafkaesque nightmare involving 20 steps as is evident in the box presented in the report45:
File: Construction of brick road from Patiram to North Raipur [NIT No: 19/03-04 S/L No: 3] Stage Task 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 Resolution on project adopted in Purta SS meeting Resolution note sheet prepared Preparation of estimate by Assistant Engineer-ZP Vetting of estimate by Executive Engineer-ZP Approval of scheduled rate by Karmadhyaksha-Purta SS Signature of AEO-ZP AEO-ZP signs Administrative Order Last date for submitting tender bids Opening of tender box and preparing Comparative Statement Tender Committee formation Work Order issued by Executive Engineer-ZP SAE submits bill on completion of work and on request of contractor Note sheet prepared Signature of Assistant Engineer-ZP Signature of Executive Engineer-ZP File handed to ZP Accountant Note sheet prepared Signature of ZP Secretary Signature of AEO-ZP Cheque issued by AEO-ZP Total number of days Date 23.10.03 5.11.03 ? 5.11.03 5.11.03 6.11.03 6.11.03 9.2.04 11.2.04 26.2.04 27.2.04 29.3.04 30.3.04 30.3.04 30.3.04 30.3.04 31.3.04 31.3.04 31.3.04 31.3.04 160

45

Panchayat and Rural Development Department, Report on the Pilot Study on Organizational Issues, Government of West Bengal, 2005, Chapter 6, p.50.

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Two years later, another study of Gram Panchayats by Utpal Chakraborty, one of the faculty members of the State Institute of Panchayats and Rural Development (SIPRD), made the following ironic comment:
Gram Panchayats are presently over burdened with government orders and circulars. In most of the cases they are not properly maintained. On the other hand very few office bearers are able to decipher the contents of the orders.46

Chakraborty has also pointed out that the government officials who are responsible for monitoring of the Gram Panchayats are either not performing or are not able to perform their duties properly. For example, in course of his field visits, he found that the Panchayat Audit and Accounts Officers (PAAO) are busier with other activities of the Block than looking after Panchayat accounts. Annual audit reports hardly ever lead to corrective measures from the Panchayat Samiti and the Block administration. In course of his field visits he did not find any example of the relevant officers - PDO, PAAO, BDO, SDO and DPRDO - ever visiting the Panchayats and providing valuable guidance and monitoring their activities.47 It is not surprising therefore that there would a significant gap in the capacity of the Panchayat functionaries. A study conducted by Panchayat Department on capacity building issues had this to say regarding the capacity of the functionaries in 2004:
The field studies have revealed that most of the elected representatives, particularly those newly inducted into the system and most of the PRI employees as well as the Govt. employees functioning as members of Sthayee Samitis of ZPs & PSs and members of Upa-Samitis of GPs are not fully aware of the full structure, powers, functions, roles & responsibilities and inter-relationship of the 3-tier Panchayat system and of the accountability structure of the Panchayat system namely Gram Sansad, Gram Sabha, Block Sansad, Zilla Sansad and the District Council. Most of the elected members of the Sthayee Samitis of ZPs & PSs and Upa-Samitis of GPs are also not aware of their roles and responsibilities and as such cannot discharge their responsibilities satisfactorily.48

Thus, even though we do not have detailed study of three decades of relationship between the Panchayats and the administration, the existing research clearly points towards the fact that the Panchayats have had an uneasy relationship with the older bureaucracy and
46

Utpal Chakraborty, Gram Panchayats in Action: A study of Some Critical Issues, Panchayats & Rural Development Department, Government of West Bengal, 2007, p. 7. 47 Utpal Chakraborty, Gram Panchayats in Action: A study of Some Critical Issues, Panchayats & Rural Development Department, Government of West Bengal, 2007, p.9. 48 Panchayat & Rural Development Department, Report on the Post-Design Study on Capacity Building of SRD, Government of West Bengal, 2004, p. 36.

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have been to a large extent been dependent on them for funds as well as guidance. The Panchayats have also increasingly become vulnerable to bureaucratization of their own processes. While significant policy changes have been made and new institutions have been created to improve the participation and transparency aspects of the Panchayats, there has been a gap in development of the capacity of the functionaries to perform their task adequately.

IV.III. Interface between the Party and the Panchayats It has been mentioned earlier that around the time the Left Front Government came to power, there was historic shift in its perceptions regarding the usefulness of the Panchayats for fulfilling the agenda of the Front. West Bengal under LFG was also the first state in India to introduce party based panchayats in all three-tiers. It is not surprising therefore that the Party would continue to play a significant role from behind in guiding and controlling the elected representatives. This aspect of the Panchayats of West Bengal has been fairly well-documented, although perhaps a comparison between Left ruled Panchayats and those which have been traditionally ruled by Congress would have explained better the peculiarities of Left intervention in the panchayats. Harihar Bhattacharyya has noted a certain ambivalence in the stance on the Panchayats taken in the Party documents of CPI(M).49 The CPI(M)s West Bengal State Committee in a document said in 1994 that the role of the Party shall be to provide direction and guidance and direction (parichalona in Bengali). The document then goes on to explain that this does not mean acting at will. It means activation of Panchayats in accordance with the principles and ideals of the party.50 In course of time at each level of the Panchayats, CPI(M) formed a Panchayat Sub-Committee which is the Partys Parichalan Committee. Its activities have been defined as follows:
All elected party members of Panchayat Samiti and Zilla Parishad will act under the respective committees. Generally, the local and zonal committees of the party will look after the Gram Panchayat [and Panchayat] Samities respectively. The final decision at

49 50

Harihar Bhattacharyya, Micro-foundations of Bengal Communism, Ajanta, New Delhi, 1998, pp.110-134. Harihar Bhattacharyya, Micro-foundations of Bengal Communism, Ajanta, New Delhi, 1998, p.110.

28

each level will be taken by the Parichalan Committee of the Party, although the elected members may offer recommendations.51

This is however followed by certain cautionary notes which reflect the ambivalence in Partys thinking. For example:
We must involve the people irrespective of all classes and creed in the activities of the Panchayat. The people of the area must be made aware of the fact that it is their money and workIf everything is concentrated in the hands of a few and people are kept in the dark then, even honest operation will also arouse suspicion in the eyes of the peopleWe cannot expect those who do not take part in decisions to carry out decisions. The process of decisions must start from the people.52

Bhattacharyyas empirical investigations in the districts of Bardhaman and Hoogly, led him to conclude that the decision of the Party, not the Panchayat members, is final and this was justified by Party functionaries as a necessary step to win the class-struggle against vested interest in the rural society. That the party has the most important role to play in decision making was observed by Atul Kohli in the late eighties and by Moitree Bhattacharyya in 2002. Kohli observed that decisions at the Gram Panchayat were made in consultation with the Party and the Party machinery supervised the activities of the Panchayats53. A decade later, based on a field work done in 1997, Moitree Bhattacharyya also came to the same conclusion. In the two Gram Panchayats that she studied, in one case 60% and in the other case 90% of the respondents said that the decisions are taken by the Party representatives.54 She has also shown that a provision was made in the 1994 Amendment of the Panchayat Act [Section 213(A)] according to which no member can cast vote against the wishes of the majority members of the Gram Panchayat elected from his party.55 Thus it is not possible for any individual member belonging to a party to vote differently from the other members of the same party, which in reality means that s/he cannot rebel against the party dictat unless all the members from his/her party in the GP stand united for that decision, which of course is almost impossible. A couple of years later, a research team from the Centre for Studies in
51 52

Harihar Bhattacharyya, Micro-foundations of Bengal Communism, Ajanta, New Delhi, 1998, p.111. Harihar Bhattacharyya, Micro-foundations of Bengal Communism, Ajanta, New Delhi, 1998, p.111. 53 Atul Kohli, The state and poverty in India: The Politics of Reform, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1987, chapter 3. 54 Moitree Bhattacharya, Panchayati Raj in West Bengal: Democratic Decentralisation or Democratic Centralism, Manak, New Delhi, 2002, p.176. 55 Moitree Bhattacharya, Panchayati Raj in West Bengal: Democratic Decentralisation or Democratic Centralism, Manak, New Delhi, 2002, p.176.

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Social Sciences, found an interesting term in the field the Pradhan Chalak.56 This literally means the person who makes the Pradhan move, referring to the invisible hand of the Party from behind. In another article published in 2009 based on ethnographic study of two villages in Koch Bihar and Malda, Rajarshi Dasgupta found a well-oiled CPI(M) machinery running the show adept in formulating different strategies for different tiers of the panchayat system, calibrating their rivalries.57 Another micro-study published in the same year, by Manasendu Kundu, has corroborated thesis of control of the Party over the Panchayats and said that the boundary between the Party and the Panchayat is ambiguous.58 There is thus a clear consensus among scholars that the Party has dominated the Panchayats. The more complicated question is what has been the consequence? According to Moitree Bhattacharya, this has led to politicization of rural life and the ordinary people of the villages try to stay away from the affairs of the Panchayats. She has quoted one veteran CPI(M) leader which perhaps deserves to be quoted again:
In the initial years, i.e. late seventies and early eighties, the panchayats were more movement oriented, the tendency was to involve the mass of villagers into whatever activity it undertook. Although the party gave the leadership, common people were also part of it. It was the participation of people that enabled panchayats to deal so successfully with flood relief activities and rehabilitation works in 1978In the later years, the nature of Panchayat politics changed from movement politics to institutionalized politics. Now the panchayat have been reduced to mere institutions for implementing development activities.59

In course of her field work, she found very few respondents interested in the affairs of the Panchayat and most of them felt alienated from the institution. This lack of interest was also evident in the poor attendance in the gram sansads and gram sabhas, which has remained a problem over the next decade as well.

56

Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, SRD Programme: Design of Purpose-level Indicators and Baseline Measurement in West Bengal Districts, Report submitted to Department for International Development, UK, 2006, p.129. 57 Rajarshi Dasgupta, The CPI (M) Machinery in West Bengal: Two Village Narratives from Koch Bihar and Malda Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLIV No 9, February 28-March 6, 2009.p.80. 58 Manasendu Kundu, Panchayati Raj or Party Raj? Understanding the Nature of Local Government in West Bengal in B.S. Baviskar and George Mathew (ed.) Inclusion and Exclusion in Local Governance: Field Studies from Rural India, Sage, New Delhi, 2009, p. 126. 59 Moitree Bhattacharya, Panchayati Raj in West Bengal: Democratic Decentralisation or Democratic Centralism, Manak, New Delhi, 2002, pp. 183-84.

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In a recent essay, Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya has tried to explain the impact of the strong grip of the Party in terms of a theoretical formulation called the party-society.60 Modifying the concept of political society proposed by Partha Chatterjee61, he says that in rural West Bengal political parties tend to displace other competing channels of public transaction which made the rural situation ontologically different from the urban political society.62 Unlike other states in India, political parties transcend caste, religion or ethnicity based organisations. As a result, all disputes, familial, social or cultural, takes very little time to become partisan. This party-society has over the last three decades displaced the older patron-client form of relationships. Bhattacharyya argues:
Land reform legislations and local government bodies (the panchayats) were the tools and the CPI(M) (as well as its peasant wing, the Krishak Sabha) was the primary agent to bring about this change. The new politics set new norms of transaction to which every political outfit the ruling side as well as the opposition had to conform, willingly or unwillingly. In this organizational grid [the] political party was largely accepted as the chief mediator, the central conduit, in the settling of every village matter: private or public, individual or collective, familial or associational.63

Bhattacharyya does not think of the party-society as simply a negative phenomenon. He says that it played a very important role in democratizing rural politics in the early years of LFG. It freed the poor from dependency on the exploitative rich landed families, produced a governmental locality in the form of the village panchayat, and carried out numerous measures that enabled the underprivileged and the marginal to realize host of rights64. Such positive impact of the early part of Left Front rule however did not last and was replaced by concern for electoral victory only. This meant that social stasis proved to be more alluring for CPI(M) than the uncertainties of expanding the democratic space.65 One significant impact of the party-society of course has been the remarkable stability of Left Front over more than three decades. In a recent study of the reasons behind
60

Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya, Of Control and Factions: The Changing Party-Society in Rural West Bengal, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLIV No 9, February 28-March 6, 2009.pp. 59-69. 61 Partha Chatterjee, The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most parts of the World, Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2004. 62 Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya, Of Control and Factions: The Changing Party-Society in Rural West Bengal, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLIV No 9, February 28-March 6, 2009.p.60. 63 Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya, Of Control and Factions: The Changing Party-Society in Rural West Bengal, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLIV No 9, February 28-March 6, 2009.p.68. 64 Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya, Of Control and Factions: The Changing Party-Society in Rural West Bengal, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLIV No 9, February 28-March 6, 2009.p.69. 65 Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya, Of Control and Factions: The Changing Party-Society in Rural West Bengal, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLIV No 9, February 28-March 6, 2009.p.69.

31

such success, Pranab Bardhan, Sandip Mitra, Dilip Mookherjee and Abhirup Sarkar have tried, on the basis of a survey of 2400 households spread in 88 villages of all districts of the state except Calcutta and Darjeeling, to answer this phenomenon.66 On the basis of their survey, which included a secret ballot regarding voting preferences, they made the following observations. Firstly, there is a clear association between voting for the Left and having less land, less education or belonging to SC or ST groups. Secondly, the likelihood of voting for the Left increased with benefits received from programmes administered by previous Left dominated local governments. Benefits that are recurring in nature (IRDP programmes, minikits, employment and relief programmes etc) had a positive correlation with voting for the Left rather than benefits that are one-time in nature (housing, supply of water, building of roads, provision for ration cards etc.). In addition, informal help provided by GPs in overcoming difficulties in personal and familial matters were positively associated with voting for the Left. Thirdly, improvement in agricultural fortunes between 1978 and 2004 were significantly associated with voting Left in Left dominated panchayats.67 Having said this, they have also found evidence of a clientelist politics operating in rural society. For example, they have found that attendance in political rallies tend to fetch more benefits for the households. Also the fact that recurring benefits from the GP as opposed to the one-time benefits have more clear association with voting for the Left is also an indication of the development of such clientelist politics. In addition there was also a gratitude factor Left rule has given the poor a sense of dignity which they did not have previously and hence they have consistently voted for the Left. They study has also claimed that such factors are much more important than the popularly believed idea that elections are regularly rigged in order to win votes. A very small percentage of respondents said that they faced trouble in voting. We may note however that this study, or any other study for that matter, has not discussed the other fairly obvious explanation lack of strong opposition parties capable of replacing the Left Front. There has been a steady erosion of Congresss organizational
66

Pranab Bardhan, Sandip Mitra, Dilip Mookherjee, Abhirup Sarkar, Local Democracy and Implications for Political Stability in Rural West Bengal Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. February 28-March 6, 2009, pp. 46-58. 67 Pranab Bardhan, Sandip Mitra, Dilip Mookherjee, Abhirup Sarkar, Local Democracy and Implications for Political Stability in Rural West Bengal Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. February 28-March 6, 2009, p. 49.

Clientelism: XLIV No 9, Clientelism: XLIV No 9,

32

capacity and even resulting in the formation of All India Trinamool Congress under Mamata Bannerjee, which has split the opposition vote whereas the Left Front had managed to stay united. This factor perhaps needs to be taken into account especially if one has to explain the rise of the opposition since the 2008 Panchayat election. In other words, some of the explanations of the political stability have to be found through close studies of the nitty-gritty of electoral politics rather than simply explaining it in terms of the everyday politics of development. Congress during the 1980s and 1990s failed to impress upon the electorate that the schemes from which they were benefiting were coming from the Congress Government at the Centre and not from the Left run State Government. The data presented by the study on seats won by the Left Front in Gram Panchayats between 1978 and 2003, similarly shows interesting ups and downs which perhaps do not reflect in the ultimate result as the opposition was not strong enough to capitalize on them. According to the figure presented68, the Left had around 70% seats in 1978. This was followed by a sharp decline to about 60% in the next election in 1983. In the next election it again went up to about 70%. Since then, interestingly, till 1998, there has been a secular fall in share of seats to less than 60% and then again the percentage went up to 70% in the 2003 elections and then (this is not shown in the figure) the proportion was reduced to 49% in 2008 when the opposition was able to pick up significant issues and stand united. So between 1988 and 1998 the Lefts fortune was falling but there is no clear explanation available as to why it then went up quite spectacularly. On the other hand there is no clear explanation either as to why in 1983 the Lefts share of the seats actually went down from that of 1978 even though conventional wisdom tells us that the Left performed very well in these years. A detailed political history of the Panchayats unfortunately is yet to be written. IV.IV. Peoples Participation and Planning from Below It has been mentioned in the above section that Harihar Bhattacharyya traced a certain ambivalence within the CPI(M)s position regarding the Panchayats. On the one hand there were firm directives that the Party would be controlling the representatives and on the other
68

Pranab Bardhan, Sandip Mitra, Dilip Mookherjee, Abhirup Sarkar, Local Democracy and Clientelism: Implications for Political Stability in Rural West Bengal Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLIV No 9, February 28-March 6, 2009, p. 47.

33

hand there was also a discourse on involving the people and the people taking initiatives. Hence along with the formation of what Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya calls party-society we also have narrative of participation and planning from below in the three decades of Left Front rule. Participation is a term that however requires certain amount of clarification. We shall try to understand the term in terms of (a) participation of the electorate as voters (b) participation of poor and marginalized and the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Women in the Panchayats as members, (c) participation in the Gram Sansad and Gram Sabha meetings, (d) participation of people in decision making, and (e) participation in planning from below. Each may be seen as a progressively higher level of participation in the Panchayati Raj system. (a) Participation of the electorate as voters: Surya Kanta Mishra, Minister in Charge for Panchayats and Rural Development till recently, has quite understandably proudly presented data on Panchayat elections in his book Sreni Drishtibhongitey Panchayat.69 He said that while in the bourgeois countries it is rare to see even 50% voters turnout in their election, in case of the Panchayat elections of 1993 and 1998 the voter turnout has been more than 80%.70 This was also corroborated by a study by Girish Kumar and Budhadeb Ghosh.71 We do not have any study which has looked into the voting data for the entire Left Front period, but generally speaking, it can be safely said that the voters turnout has been high. The study by Pranab Bardhan et al mentioned earlier has also shown that the electorate have had very few complains for electoral malpractice. (b) Participation of poor and marginalized as members: The West Bengal Human Development Report for 2004 (henceforth WBHDR) has quoted three studies to compile a profile of the representatives of the PRIs between 1978 and 1993.72 The data is as follows:

69

Surya Kanta Mishra, Sreni Drishtibhongitey Panchayat (Panchayat through the Class Perespective), National Book Agency, Calcutta, 1998, pp. 47-58. 70 Surya Kanta Mishra, Sreni Drishtibhongitey Panchayat (Panchayat through the Class Perespective), National Book Agency, Calcutta, 1998, pp. 49-50. 71 Girish Kumar and Budhadeb Ghosh, West Bengal Panchayat Elections 1993: A Study in Participation, Institute of Social Sciences and Concept, New Delhi, 1996. 72 Government of West Bengal, West Bengal Human Development Report, Calcutta, 2004, p. 49.

34

Occupational Distribution of Panchayat Members73 1 2 Occupation Landless workers Bargadars Landless agri (1+2) Cultivators acres Landless 4. 1978-83 agricultural 4.8 1.8 population 6.6. three 21.8 83-88 3.4 2.2 5.6 51.7 2.3 14.7 0.47 15.3 0.23 6.7 3.0 25.7 100.00 88-93 16.8 11.3 28.11 } }30.17 } 58.3 } }28.5 58.6 2.4 7.9 9.4 1.57 18.9 100.00

3.

below and

marginal

peasants (1-3) Cultivators (2-5 acres) 14.3 Landless and Small peasants 42.7 (1-4) Cultivators (5-8 acres) Cultivators (8-10 acres) Cultivators (above 10 acres) Total owner cultivators (3 to 7) Non agri workers Unemployed Student Teachers Doctors Shop owners Others Total non-agri (8to 14) Total 6.6. 4.1 4 50.7 3.9 7.5 0.6 14.0 1.1 1.4 14.2 31.3 100.00

5. 6. 7.

8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14.

The WBHDR says that landless and poor peasants constituted nearly 43% of the gram panchayat members and this represents a break from the usual pattern in India where the rural elite have captured the Panchayats. The survey by Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, conducted on GP members elected for the term 2003-08, based on a sample 0f

73

1978-83 data is from a study conducted by the economic and planning section of the Development and Planning Department of Government of West Bengal. Sample consisted of 100 Gram Panchayats. 1983-88 data is from a study conducted by Panchayat Department of Government of West Bengal. Sample consisted of 200 Gram Panchayats. 1988-93 data from survey by G.K. Lieten. Sample consists of 8 Gram Panchayats in Birbhum District. It may be noted that the sample is too small in case of the 1988-93 data to arrive at definite conclusions for the state.

35

162 GPs in all districts of the state, however shows a more complicated picture at the beginning of the twenty first century. The report concluded:
more than 25 per cent of GP members in most districts were landowning agriculturists, the proportion going up to 79.8 per cent in Purulia and 68.9 per cent in Uttar Dinajpur. However, the proportion was as low as 4.2 per cent in Howrah, 16.2 per cent in Birbhum and 22.4 per cent in Hooghly. In Dakshin Dinajpur and Birbhum, there were a significant proportion of GP members who were agricultural labourers. Interestingly, as much as 23.8 per cent of GP members in Jalpaiguri were in private employment, i.e. employed as workers in tea gardens. In North 24-Parganas and in Purba Midnapore, more than 10 per cent of GP members were in government employment. Also interesting is the fact that in as many as eight districts, more than 10 per cent of GP members were in some sort of business activity as their profession, the proportion being as high as 22.7 per cent in Howrah.74

It is unfortunately not possible to compare the data that has been presented in the WBHDR on 1978 and the CSSSC data presented on 2003 as sample sizes are different and also because the data presented by CSSSC is disaggregated into districts and does not show any state wide average. Also the CSSSC data does not divide the landowning agriculturists according to the size of their holding. We can perhaps hazard one generalization which is in agreement with the overall thesis of WBHDR that there has been a strong participation of the poorer sections of the society. However, in all probability, and this is not mentioned by the WBHDR, the agricultural labourers have not been significantly represented in the GPs as members. So in terms of participation as members, the small peasant has been more dominant than the agricultural labourers. Regarding participation by Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes and OBCs and on participation of women also we have only the CSSSC study which gives data on a large scale. The data is presented below75:
Distribution of GP Members by Caste 2003-08

DISTRICT MALDA PURULIA MURSHIDABAD BIRBHUM UTTAR


74

SC ST OBC GENERAL 25.00 2.36 1.89 70.75 23.08 36.69 15.38 24.85 12.00 0.75 0.25 87.00 46.05 5.70 1.32 46.93 28.15 1.48 3.70 66.67

Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, SRD Programme: Design of Purpose-level Indicators and Baseline Measurement in West Bengal Districts, Report submitted to Department for International Development, UK, 2006, p.125. 75 Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, SRD Programme: Design of Purpose-level Indicators and Baseline Measurement in West Bengal Districts, Report submitted to Department for International Development, UK, 2006, p. 123

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DINAJPUR DAKSHIN DINAJPUR COOCH BEHAR BANKURA JALPAIGURI NADIA 24 PARGANAS (S) PURBA MIDNAPORE PASCHIM MIDANPORE HOOGHLY BURDWAN DARJEELING 24 PARGANAS (N) HOWRAH

33.91 32.17

4.35

29.57 26.21 29.31 30.40 34.67 42.58 69.15 44.50 54.32 53.81 6.67 53.46 65.89

67.96 0.00 5.83 37.07 25.00 8.62 32.80 35.20 1.60 49.33 3.33 12.67 53.52 2.73 1.17 27.13 0.00 3.72 3.83 1.85 1.90 0.00 1.26 5.43

28.71 22.97 40.74 3.09 35.71 8.57 26.67 66.67 41.51 3.77 28.68 0.00

The data reveals that the participation of the SCs, STs and OBCs is quite significant in all districts except where there is very little ST population. For participation of women also we only have the CSSC data for 2003-2008 that is giving us a picture on the basis of a significant sample size. The data presented is as follows76:

Distribution of GP Members by Gender 2003-2008 DISTRICT MALDA PURBA MIDNAPUR MURSHIDABAD BIRBHUM UTTAR DINAJPUR DAKSHIN DINAJPUR COOCH BEHAR
76

Male 60.85 62.16 61.65 62.56 66.67 67.83 63.11

Female 39.15 37.84 38.35 37.44 33.33 32.17 36.89

Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, SRD Programme: Design of Purpose-level Indicators and Baseline Measurement in West Bengal Districts, Report submitted to Department for International Development, UK, 2006, p. 123

37

PURULIA JALPAIGURI NADIA 24 PARGANAS (S) PASCHIM MIDNAPUR HOWRAH BANKURA BURDWAN DARJEELING 24 PARGANAS (N) HOOGHLY

50.00 61.29 60.93 60.94 62.68 60.16 62.28 61.54 73.33 59.87 62.96

50.00 38.71 39.07 39.06 37.32 39.84 37.72 38.46 26.67 40.13 37.04

The data clearly shows that at least towards the end of our period women were becoming representatives as per the requirements set by the 73rd Amendment and in some cases their percentage is higher than the minimum required one. However statistic alone does not tell the complete story. This is because the women representatives are sometimes dictated from behind by their male family members. A study conducted by Raghabendra Chattopadhyay and Esther Duflo observed that 43% of their sample said that they were being helped by their husbands, and the interviewers are more likely to find the women hesitant, they are more likely to acknowledge that they did not know how the GP functioned before being elected and that they do not intend to run again.77 Another study conducted by Suparna Ganguly and Sonali Chakravarti Bannerjee in 2006-07 based on a sample of 260 women representatives in 32 Gram Panchayats found that:
84.23 per cent of the women Panchayat members under study have been playing their maiden innings in the current term. It is evident that the women who had earlier worked in the Panchayat bodies have mostly disappeared from the public arena. A fresh set of women members is evolving (due to compulsion of reservation) through every Panchayat election in every five years. But they are proving to be a perishable breed, in the maledominated political culture of ours.78

Moreover the study also said that 68 per cent of the women respondents in the 32 "mixed" GPs have never placed any demand in the general meetings at the GP level 79.
77

Ragahbendra Chattopadhyay and Esther Duflo, Impact of Reservation in Panchayati Raj: Evidence from a nationwide randomized experiment in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XXXIX No 9, February 28 March 5, 2004, p. 983. 78 Suparna Ganguly and Sonali Chakravarti Bannerjee, Women in Gram Panchayats in Alok Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Satyabrata Chakraborty, Apurba Kumar Mukhopadhyay (ed) Gram Panchayats in West Bengal: Institutional Capabilities and Developmental Interventions, Panchayat & Rural Development Department, Government of West Bengal, vol.1, p. 432. 79 Suparna Ganguly and Sonali Chakravarti Bannerjee, Women in Gram Panchayats in Alok Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Satyabrata Chakraborty, Apurba Kumar Mukhopadhyay (ed) Gram Panchayats in West Bengal: Institutional Capabilities and Developmental Interventions, Panchayat & Rural Development

38

Chattopadhyay and Duflo have presented a more positive picture of the impact of reservation for women and have noted some difference in the way women heads prioritize development work (for example water over roads) and have also noted that representation of women in gram sansad tend to go up when the GP is headed by women. 80 But there is a general agreement between the two studies regarding support from husbands and the fact that many of the women do not intend to become Pradhans in the next election. (c) Participation in the Gram Sansad and Gram Sabha meetings: The WBHDR has acknowledged that attendance in gram sansad meetings has been low and has been declining over the years.81 A study of gram sansad meetings in 20 sansads of 3 districts by Maitreesh Ghatak and Maitreya Ghatak82 found the average attendance to be about 12%. Although once again detailed data is not available in any existing research, there seems to be a consensus that the Gram Sansad meetings are yet to become truly democratic forums where the poor can freely voice their opinion. The CSSSC study also came to the same conclusion:
A majority of our respondents in most districts said that they never attend the meetings of the Gram Sansad. This figure is as high as 75.66 per cent in Murshidabad. On the other hand, the absentee rate was the lowest in the plains region of Darjeeling and in Paschim and Purba Midnapore. Most people said that they were unable to attend because they were not informed of the meeting (in Uttar Dinajpur, Malda and Murshidabad) or the timing of the meeting was inconvenient (most other districts). It is also significant that except in Dakshin Dinajpur and Purba Midnapore, only a small proportion of people actually know that there are two meetings of the Sansad every year.83

Thus, while we can say that the record of the Left Front is quite impressive when comes to voting percentage and percentage of representatives from disadvantaged sections of the society (SC, ST, women), the performance is less than impressive when it comes to their participation in the Gram Sansad where people actually have a chance to review and contribute to the workings of their gram panchayat. Let us now consider the fourth level of
Department, Government of West Bengal, vol.1, p. 437. 80 Ragahbendra Chattopadhyay and Esther Duflo, Impact of Reservation in Panchayati Raj: Evidence from a nationwide randomized experiment in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XXXIX No 9, February 28 March 5, 2004, p. 982. 81 Government of West Bengal, West Bengal Human Development Report, Calcutta, 2004, p.67. 82 Maitreesh Ghatak and Maitreya Ghatak, Recent Reforms in the Panchayat System of West Bengal: Towards Greater Participatory Governance? Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.XXXVIINo.1. January 511, 2002, p. 50. 83 Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, SRD Programme: Design of Purpose-level Indicators and Baseline Measurement in West Bengal Districts, Report submitted to Department for International Development, UK, 2006, p. 148.

39

participation and ask how far the people are able to contribute to the decisions made in the Gram Sansad and how far the Gram Panchayats are responsive to the demands that are raised in the Gram Sansad. (d) Participation of people in decision making of the GP: The CSSSC study team asked the respondents whether beneficiary lists are modified as per the deliberations made at the Gram Sansad meetings. Their conclusion is as follows:
We asked the GP functionaries whether beneficiary lists were modified at the Gram Samsad meetings after soliciting the views of the residents. Only in seven districts did more than 30 per cent of the respondents say that this was done. Most of the people said that beneficiary lists are prepared by GP leaders beforehand and the Samsad meetings are not generally seen as events where these lists can be seriously discussed.84 Another study, conducted by Debjani Sengupta and Dilip Ghosh85, in 2006-07, roughly

came to the same conclusion:


In gram sansad meetings the experience is that common people coming to the meetings mostly do not speak out. The gram panchayats also do not feel encouraged to make these people involved with the process. As illustration, the placing of income-expenditure report, budget of the gram panchayat and the latest report on the audit of the accounts of the gram panchayat can be cited. These important documents are rarely shared with the people.

Regarding the demands people make in the gram sansads the study made the following conclusion:
In gram sansad meetings people raise many demands in the context of priorities in the local area...No reflection of the demands from gram sansads is generally made in the upa samiti meetings. The general body of the gram panchayat directly deals with these demands and takes necessary decisions. The role of upa samitis came only in implementation stage. Though in the frame-work of law it is stated that upa samiti will prepare budget and plan for the subjects entrusted, in practice this is yet to be followed. In course of dialogue with the coordinators (sanchalaks) of the upa samitis, it was felt that they were mostly not aware of the demands raised in different gram sansads of the gram panchayat.86
84

Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, SRD Programme: Design of Purpose-level Indicators and Baseline Measurement in West Bengal Districts, Report submitted to Department for International Development, UK, 2006, p.150. Since 2008 the beneficiary lists of schemes are computer generated from the Rural Household Survey data by the Panchayat Department and hence this has further eroded the role of the Gram Sansad. 85 Debjani Sengupta and Dilip Ghosh, A study of the Gram Panchayats in West Bengal: Their responsiveness to demands made at the Gram Sansad in Alok Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Satyabrata Chakraborty, Apurba Kumar Mukhopadhyay (ed) Gram Panchayats in West Bengal: Institutional Capabilities and Developmental Interventions, Panchayat & Rural Development Department, Government of West Bengal, vol.1, p.394. 86 Debjani Sengupta and Dilip Ghosh, A study of the Gram Panchayats in West Bengal: Their responsiveness to demands made at the Gram Sansad in Alok Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Satyabrata Chakraborty, Apurba Kumar Mukhopadhyay (ed) Gram Panchayats in West Bengal: Institutional Capabilities and Developmental Interventions, Panchayat & Rural Development Department, Government of West Bengal, vol.1, p.379.

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Among the respondents they interviewed, 45.6% of the respondents felt that the decisions taken in the Gram Sansad meetings were implemented. While 81.4% stated that they raised demand in the Gram Sansad meetings, only 27.4% were of opinion that their demands were redressed.87 It is not difficult to see therefore why the enthusiasm regarding the Gram Sansad meetings are falling over the years. The voice of the people clearly hardly ever gets reflected in the decisions made by the Gram Panchayats. It may be mentioned here sometimes the GPs also do not function on their own and merely implement schemes that are sent to them from above. A study by the Institute of Social Sciences on the utilization untied fund by the Gram Panchayats, for example, has shown that GPs have spent less from the Untied Funds over which they have greater control than from the schematic funds they have received from above.88 We now proceed to discuss the fifth and highest layer of peoples participation, where they plan for themselves. (e) Planning from Below: CPI(M) in Kerala under the leadership of E.M.S. Namboodiripad carried out the first state-wide campaign on planning from below, which has become justifiably famous all over the world. The history of planning from below in West Bengal actually goes back to the early eighties and was a first in case of India. According to the WBHDR the districts of Midnapore and Bardhaman performed quite well but all districts were not equally good. Unlike in Kerala, the process did not receive wholehearted support from the Party or the Government. WBHDR has accepted that from 1988 onwards there was a rollback and by mid-nineties most of the districts stopped the process.89 We do not have any systematic research on the politics behind this rollback. Since mid-nineties there was another effort at doing planning from below in 40 Blocks of the state, which was known as Convergent Community Action (CCA). What is important to remember here is
87

Debjani Sengupta and Dilip Ghosh, A study of the Gram Panchayats in West Bengal: Their responsiveness to demands made at the Gram Sansad in Alok Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Satyabrata Chakraborty, Apurba Kumar Mukhopadhyay (ed) Gram Panchayats in West Bengal: Institutional Capabilities and Developmental Interventions, Panchayat & Rural Development Department, Government of West Bengal, vol.1, p.398. 88 Institute of Social Sciences, A study on Utilisation of Untied Funds by the Gram Panchayats in West Bengal, Report submitted to Panchayats and Rural Development Department, Government of West Bengal, 2007, p. 35. 89 Government of West Bengal, West Bengal Human Development Report, Calcutta, 2004, p.55

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that at no stage did CCA become a peoples campaign for planning like it did in case of Kerala. It was largely carried out by certain enthusiastic development practitioners, civil servants at various levels and some political persons but the Left Front did not give it the kind of big push that was required to make it a success even in these 40 blocks. We do not have any systematic study of the experience of CCA especially the political side of it. In 2004, Panchayat and Rural Development Department carried out a study to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the planning process in 18 GPs of 13 Blocks in 5 districts. 90 The report acknowledged a gap in terms of social acceptance where it noted that participation is still to be assured in decision making and transparency is needed91. The CCA process at this stage was largely abandoned and was replaced by another effort at planning from below which was part of the Strenghtening Rural Decentralisation programme which was initiated in November 2005 after a piloting in 6 Gram Panchayats earlier. With support from British Government initially it was started in 304 GPs in 6 backward districts of Purulia, Birbhum, Uttar and Dakshin Dinajpur, Murshidabad and Malda and later has been scaled up to about 800 GPs in 12 districts. This effort was largely driven by the contractual project staff and the civil servants responsible for the project and was restricted to the Gram Unnayan Samity and Gram Panchayat level and had no integration with the planning process at the Block and District level. The Block and District mainstream administration largely remained aloof from the process. More importantly, neither the Left parties, nor the opposition parties took any active interest in the process although at the grass-root level some political leaders were involved. At best the political parties did not create any hindrance. However, in spite of the best efforts of the project staff, it was a far cry from the peoples campaign of Kerala. Left Front was at this stage, following the victory in the 2006 Assembly Elections, more interested in industrialisation through private corporate capital. Strengthening participation of people through planning from below was less of a priority. This had disastrous consequences for the Left in the next Panchayat elections in 2008 and Lok Sabha elections in 2009.

90

Panchayat and Rural Development Department, Government of West Bengal, Evaluation of Panchayat Planning and Implementation Experience in West Bengal, 2005. 91 Panchayat and Rural Development Department, Government of West Bengal, Evaluation of Panchayat Planning and Implementation Experience in West Bengal, 2005. pp. 7-10.

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To sum this section therefore we may say that the during the Left Front period participation in the form of voting percentage and representation of SC, ST and women as elected representatives has been quite healthy. Higher levels of participation, such as participation in Gram Sansad meetings, participation in the decision making process of the GP and participation in planning from below has not been as impressive as perhaps it could have been. We now move on to a discussion on the literature regarding the role of the Panchayats in poverty reduction. IV.V. Panchayats and Poverty Reduction Any analysis of poverty reduction by the Panchayats has to cope with certain methodological problems. While it is possible to say how far poverty has decreased during the Left Front period, it is difficult to ascertain exactly how far this is because of the role played by the Panchayats. All factors which affect poverty are not in control of the panchayats but in the hands of departments specializing in agriculture, health or education. There is also a lack of systematic official data trying to track the impact of the tied and untied funds routed through the panchayats over the last three decades. Given this complexity, we may take note of some of the studies which have addressed the issue. The best defense of the achievements LFG has been recently presented by two civil servants of the Panchayats Department, Dr. M.N. Roy and Dilip Ghosh. 92 Roy and Ghosh have argued that if one comparer the percentage of population below poverty line in 197374 with 2004-05 then one can see the following decrease in percentage of population below poverty line in case of West Bengal and India:

Decline of Poverty in India and West Bengal 1973-04 2004-05 (in percentage)
Year
92

India

West Bengal

Dr. M.N. Roy and Dilip Ghosh, Daridro o Panchayat: Paschimbanger Obhigyota in Panchayatiraj, June 2008, pp. 13-25.

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1973-74 2004-05

55.4 28.3

73.2 28.6

Thus 44.6% of the population of West Bengal went above the poverty line during this time, a percentage that is only marginally lower to that of Kerala which stood at 46.00%. In allIndia terms this was the second best performance after Kerala. The all-India average is 28.1%. Thus the two states where Panchayati Raj has been strongly implemented the percentage of poverty reduction has been the highest. Regarding the role of the Panchayats in this story of poverty reduction, the authors pointed out the following areas (a) creation of rural infrastructure through various poverty alleviation programmes, (b) distribution of minikits for farmers, (c) increase in wages of agricultural labourers from 1980 onwards (d) improvement of drought prone areas and mitigation of floods, (e) provision of rural housing for the BPL category, (f) various social security programmes for the BPL families. The authors have also provided detailed data on fund flow during the 8th, 9th and 10th Five-Year Plan periods and the achievements from such fund flow. To this we can perhaps add that at least in late 1980s G.K. Lieten had observed in an ethnographic study carried out in Birbhum district that LFGs intervention in the rural society through land reform and Panchayti Raj had led to a new sense of dignity among the poor peasantry vis--vis the rural rich.93 How far were the funds to which Roy and Ghosh had referred to able to reach the targeted population? Was there widespread leakage and did the elite capture the funds that were meant for the poor? In a study of 89 villages spread over 15 districts, Pranab Bardhan and Dilip Mookherjee have tried to find answers to these questions94. Based on a data covering the period from late seventies to late nineties, the authors concluded that average levels of targeting and land reform effort was quite high although land that was distributed was only about 3-8 per cent of cultivable land and one in seven households were benefited from the programme. Leakage of IRDP programmes was minimal (4%) and 87% of the minikits went to the landless and small land-owning households. Thus, the West Bengal panchayats directed a significant portion of benefits of different developmental and poverty

93 94

G.K. Lieten, Continuity and Change in Rural West Bengal Sage, New Delhi, 1992. Pranab Bardhan and Dilip Mookherjee, Poverty Alleviation Efforts of Panchayats in West Bengal, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XXXIX No. 9, February 28-March 5, 2004. pp. 965-973.

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alleviation programmes to the poor.95 Sunil Sengupta and Haris Gazdar, based on their analysis in early 1990s came to the same conclusion regarding targeting of IRDP schemes. In their opinion, most beneficiaries were from the target group, and transaction costs of obtaining the loan were relatively small. This was in contrast to other parts of India where the beneficiaries were often the well-off relatives of panchayat officials, and intended target groups faced high transactions cost including the bribing of officials. 96 On the other hand Ross Mallick97 has argued on the basis of a Government of India report West Bengal. The overall positive assessment by Bardhan and Mookherjee, however, according to the authors themselves needs to be qualified in some important respects. The authors consistently found that targeting performance was poorer when the land distribution became less equal, the poor was less literate, when there was major low caste households, and local elections were less contested.100 Moreover, political biases were more significant in the allocation of resources across villages, rather than within villages101. In other words, where villagers were of low caste and lacked literacy they tended to lose out from the benefits of the panchayats are they were not able to voice their demands adequately. Similarly absence of political competition meant that the panchayats were less scared of favouring their own supporters. Finally, the targeting by the Gram Panchayats was probably much better than the targeting of the upper two-tiers. The discourse on poverty in West Bengal needs to be qualified in three other important ways. Firstly, although there is no significant study on this, the Left Front
95

98

and an essay by

Madhura Swaminathan99 that there was no significant difference between other states and

Pranab Bardhan and Dilip Mookherjee, Poverty Alleviation Efforts of Panchayats in West Bengal, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XXXIX No. 9, February 28-March 5, 2004. p. 972. 96 Sunil Sengupta and Haris Gazdar, Agrarian Politics and Rural Development in West Bengal in Jean Drze and Amartya Sen (ed.) Indian Development: Selected Regional Perspectives, OUP, New Delhi, 1996, pp. 156-57. 97 Ross Mallick, Development Policies of a Communist Government: West Bengal Since 1977, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993, p. 148. 98 Government of India, Department of Rural Development, Ministry of Agriculture, Concurrent Evaluation of IRDP: The Main Findings of the Survey for January 1987-December 1987, New Delhi, 1988. 99 Madhura Swaminathan, Village Level Implementation of IRDP: Comparison of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, Economic and Political Weekly, March 31, 1990, p. A-25. 100 Pranab Bardhan and Dilip Mookherjee, Poverty Alleviation Efforts of Panchayats in West Bengal, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XXXIX No. 9, February 28-March 5, 2004. p. 972. 101 Pranab Bardhan and Dilip Mookherjee, Poverty Alleviation Efforts of Panchayats in West Bengal, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XXXIX No. 9, February 28-March 5, 2004. p. 972.

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Government was not able to arrest the regional imbalance that had emerged during the Congress era. In other words, the rural areas of the district adjoining Calcutta are in general much more prosperous that the districts in the north and the dry regions of the west. Some evidence of this is presented in the WBHDR. According to a table presented in the report based on NSSO 55th round (1999-2000), we can see wide variation in the rural poverty ratio of the districts102: Poverty Ratio of Different Districts (1999-2000)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 District Darjeeling Jalpaiguri Koch Bihar Dinajpur Malda Murshidabad Birbhum Bardhaman Nadia North 24 Parganas Hugli Bankura Purulia Medinipur Haora South 24 Parganas Poverty ratio (in percentage) 19.66 35.73 25.62 27.61 35.40 46.12 49.37 18.99 28.35 14.41 20.43 59.62 78 .72 19.83 07.63 26.86

It can be seen that whereas a district like Bardhaman has a poverty ratio of 18.99, the ratio is as high as 78.72 for Purulia, both interestingly, consistently ruled by the Left. Secondly, in 2004, the Government itself published a list of 4612 villages which were termed as backward villages based on the proxy indicators (a) female literacy rate less than 30% and (b) percentage of marginal workers plus non-workers greater than 60%. A study conducted in 2006-07, with a sample of 92 villages in 7 districts found a rather sad picture.103 The survey discovered a population that has not benefited from any development initiative. Significantly a very high proportion of the population was from the Scheduled Tribes. Also a significant 20% of the 3815 respondents said that they had no faith in the Panchayats. By plotting the Blocks which have at least 10 such backward villages, it was
102

Government of West Bengal, West Bengal Human Development Report, Calcutta, 2004, p.80.

103

Dilip Ghosh, Prabhat Datta, Ajay Bhattacharyya, Dipankar Sinha and Debraj Bhattacharya, The Backward Villages of West Bengal: An Exploratory Study, Panchayats and Rural Development, Government of West Bengal, 2007.

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found that there was distinct pattern to it they formed a big red patch to the west of the state. It is perhaps not a coincidence that this is the area that is witnessing the maximum amount of Maoist violence in recent times. Thirdly, based on the NSSO 61st round data the state government has accepted that 9% of the population of the state does not get adequate food.104 This corroborated the findings of the Rural Household Survey that 16.5% of the population finds it difficult to arrange two meals a day throughout the year. A programme called SAHAY has been since then launched to address the problem but implementation has been less than impressive. Thus one can perhaps say that the impact of the panchayats on poverty has been a positive one but there are substantial dark spots within this bright story. How far LFG would be able to remove them would perhaps decide its political future. IV. VII. Panchayats and Changing Patterns of Rural Class Structure in West Bengal We conclude the discussion on Panchayati Raj and the Left Front by trying to address a question that is relevant regarding any historical assessment of the Left Front itself did LFG manage to create any transformation of rural class-structure in West Bengal through its programmes over the last three decades? Suryakanta Mishra makes the claim that this has been the case.105 Scholars such as G.K. Lieten have argued that there has been a fundamental transformation in the sense that the poor are no more afraid of the dapot (domination) of the rural rich.106 There cannot perhaps be any doubt that the kind of zamindar/jotdar domination that was found in the pre-Left Front period had disappeared to a large extent by the end of 1980s. The more significant question is who therefore became powerful in the rural areas as the dominant class? N. Mukarji and D. Bandyopadhyay pointed out in their report in 1993 that the Panchayats brought in a middle-category of society into key positions, many of them school teacherspower has yet to travel to the lower levels. 107 A similar
104

wbprd.gov.in/.../Sahay/Policy%20Guildeline%20for%20Sahay/Policy%20Guidelines%20of %20SAHAY.doc, checked on 04.01.10 105 Surya Kanta Mishra, Sreni Drishtibhongitey Panchayat (Panchayat through the Class Perspective), National Book Agency, Calcutta, 1998, pp. 65-71. 106 G.K. Lieten, Continuity and Change in Rural West Bengal Sage, New Delhi, 1992. 107 Nirmal Mukarji and D. Bandyopadhyay, New Horizons for West Bengal Panchayats: A Report for the Government of West Bengal, Government of West Bengal, Department of Panchayats, 1993, pp. 38-39.

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conclusion was reached by Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya108 and Aril Engelsen Rudd109 the rise of CPI (M) also saw the increase in power of the teachers in the rural society. Bhattacharyya further argued that CPI (M) leaders coming from the middle-peasantry and the school teachers excelled in a certain form of politics of middleness i.e. a consensus evoking unifying politics of mediation between several sectional interests. In other words, what CPI (M) practiced through the Panchayats was not a classical class-struggle on behalf of the rural proletariat but rather a certain kind of mediatory role with the key objective of winning in elections and staying in power. Roughly similar argument was made by Dipankar Basu in 2001110. Basu echoed what Ross Mallick111 had said earlier - through CPI (M) and the Panchayats the rural middle class consolidated its position at the expense of the landless. Mallick has also quoted a field study by Ranjit Kumar Gupta which claims that Socially the leftist leadership in rural areas is connected to the Rural Power Structure by Kinship and affinity: they were no strangers elevated to power. Often the family struggle took a political shape and often it was within the Rural Power elite a struggle for power between two relatives.112 Barbara Harriss through her work on the agricultural markets have commented that many of the erstwhile elite have continued to remain powerful through their control of the rural markets.113 We can perhaps conclude on the basis of such studies that by mid-nineties Left Front achieved a partial shift in rural power structure towards poorer sections of the society but not a complete transformation of class-relations. The rural middle class were better placed to take advantage of the changes than the landless poor.

108

Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya, Politics of Middleness: The Changing Character of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Rural West Bengal in Ben Rogaly, Barbara Harriss-White and Sugata Bose (ed.) Sonar Bangla: Agricultural Change in Rural West Bengal and Bangladesh, Sage, New Delhi, 1999, pp. 279-300. 109 Arild Engelsen Rudd, From Untouchable to Communist: Wealth, Power and Status among supporters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Rural West Bengal in Ben Rogaly, Barbara Harriss-White and Sugata Bose (ed.) Sonar Bangla: Agricultural Change in Rural West Bengal and Bangladesh, Sage, New Delhi, 1999, pp. 253-278. 110 Dipankar Basu, Political Economy of Middleness: Behind Rural Violence in West Bengal in Economic and Political Weekly, April 21, 2001, pp. 1333-1344. 111 Ross Mallick, Development Policies of a Communist Government: West Bengal since 1977, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993, p. 149. 112 Ranjit Kumar Gupta, Agrarian West Bengal, Three Field Studies, Institute of Social Research and Applied Anthropology, Calcutta 1977. p.45. 113 Barbara Harriss-White Rural Commercial Capital: Agricultural Markets in West Bengal, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008.

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Has there been any substantial shift between mid nineties to 2008? We unfortunately do not have substantial research on class-relations during this time. However the recent essay by Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya where he has coined the term partysociety114 seems to suggest that power structure in the present agrarian scenario cannot quite be understood in strictly class terms. The party seems to be the ruling elite rather than any particular class and party is not simply hegemonised by any particular class. Partha Chatterjee has agreed with Bhattacharyya on this.115 Chatterjee thinks that there has been a significant change in the last decade or so. The conditions of agricultural production have changed along with the growing significance of non-agricultural activities. This has generated unprecedented demands that the local institution of the party is now required to fulfill. Chatterjee has also pointed out that one of the crucial tasks of the political management of the rural society is now to manage illegalities, an issue on which there is very little research. Here party plays a significant role in distributing benefits and mediating conflicts. For example, more people may be included in a publics works programme at less than minimum wage without the official records showing the discrepancy. Similarly, almost all road side markets are regulated politically and not legally. In case of white-collar jobs such as teaching and government jobs are controlled by the party. According to Chatterjee, West Bengal has never seen Weberian ideal where the state holds a monopoly over legitimate violence. On the contrary the political mediators have always controlled violence, or the threat of it, as a significant resource to be deployed in the task of building consensus and keeping peace. This instrument can be used effectively if their use is more as a threat and can be kept localized and limited. This in turn, according to Chatterjee, requires a certain moral legitimacy as the local leader. In recent times, Chatterjee notes, this credibility is on the decline and it is this that signals the coming crisis in West Bengal.

114

Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya, Of Control and Factions: The Changing Party-Society in Rural West Bengal, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLIV No 9, February 28-March 6, 2009. 115 Partha Chatterjee, The Coming Crisis in West Bengal in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLIV No 9, February 28-March 6, 2009, pp.42-45.

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