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5 Feb 2017

Bengal panchayat pill for infighting

TT, Calcutta, Feb. 4: The Mamata Banerjee government has decided to amend the West Bengal Panchayats Act so that MLAs can hold top portfolios in rural bodies in what appeared to be a bid to tackle the "chronic headache" of Trinamul infighting in the districts.
"The chief minister has given her preliminary approval to the proposal.... A draft of the amendment would be sent to her to get her final approval before tabling it in the Assembly," panchayat and rural development minister Subrata Mukherjee said.
The move would be pivotal to ensuring a smooth run for the ruling establishment after the panchayat polls next summer, which it is expected to sweep.
Sources in the panchayat department said the plan could be implemented if the 1973 act is amended, as there is no constitutional bar on MLAs holding rural body portfolios.
"But the permission would be restricted to senior positions like sabhadhipati (chief), saha-sabhadhipati (deputy chief) and nine karmadhyakshas (functionaries) in the zilla parishads and sabhapati (chief) and saha-sabhapati (deputy chief) in the panchayat samitis," a state government official said.
MLAs cannot contest rural body elections now as the panchayat act disallows it. No such clause in the municipal act prevents MLAs from contesting civic elections.
Sources in Nabanna said the decision to amend the panchayat act was aimed at addressing the "chronic headache" of infighting and faction feuds within the ruling party ranks, adding the absence of senior leaders in rural bodies had compounded the problem.
"The chief minister feels that if a heavyweight leader is placed at the helm of the zilla parishad, it would be relatively easy to control infighting and also curb corruption in all three tiers of the panchayat system," the government official said.
"Junior leaders don't command the same kind of respect, obedience or loyalty," he added. "See how well the Calcutta Municipal Corporation is being run with Sovan Chatterjee at the helm. He also holds several important portfolios in the state cabinet."
Chatterjee, an MLA, is minister for housing, environment and fire and emergency services.
Trinamul sources said the problem had become critical in some districts after most heavyweight leaders contested Assembly elections and went on to become MLAs.
"In several south Bengal districts, the senior leaders are not able to spend time in the districts because they are now MLAs. That helps these junior leaders create problems in the rural bodies," said a source.

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