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Uttarakhand panchayat women want greater role in governance

S.M.A. KAZMI, Indian Express – November 18, 2000

DEHRADUN, NOV 17: After the formation of Uttarakhand, the hill women — who played a pivotal role in their struggle for a separate state — have decided to be more assertive. They have sought to replace the Uttar Pradesh Panchayati Raj Act with a fresh legislation which should be in keeping with the geographical and socio-economic conditions of the new state.

Over 600 elected women panchayat members of the newly-formed Uttaranchal (sic) state who gathered here for a two-day “Open Forum” organised by the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK) and the Panchayati Raj and Gender Awareness Training Institute (PRAGATI) — both voluntary organisations — demanded more powers and rights to run schools, adult education centres, panchayats and even manage forests.

The 24-point charter of demands — the “Uttaranchal (sic) declaration” as they called it — urged the new state government to transfer all the 29 departments under the 11th Schedule of the 73rd Amendment Act to gram panchayats.

They strongly demanded that primary education should be managed by gram sabhas and must therefore be immediately handed over to the panchayats so as to provide opportunities for local unemployed youth and make schools in the hills functional.

The women contended that the new state has nearly 70 per cent of its land under forests cover and over 70 per cent of its population is dependent on the forests for their livelihood. According to them, the UP Forest Act — which they claimed was “anti-people” — should not be applicable in Uttaranchal and demanded that panchayats be entrusted with the task of forest management as well.

The charter also wants the benefits from the sale of sand, stones and minerals from riverbeds to accrue to the panchayats instead of private contractors. This would make panchayats economically viable, they said.

The problem of acute scarcity of water in the hills also came up for discussion and the women resolved to adopt traditional methods to harness locally available water resources and that the government’s role shouldbe restricted to only granting technical assistance. It was also proposed that gram sabhas be encouraged to take up minor hydropower projects, funds for which should be earmarked by the government.

Uttaranchal (sic) Chief Minister Nitayanand Swami conceded some demands of the women panchayat members and assured that he would issue directives to government officials to extend total co-operation to panchayats.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.