As the term of Halqa Panchayats in Jammu & Kashmir came to an end on January 9th this year the Government appointed Block Development Officers (BDOs) as Administrators for running affairs of the Panchayats. The order was issued by the Rural Development and Panchayati Raj -Administrative Department on 10th January 2024. The orders said that concerned BDOs would be administrators for village Panchayats under their jurisdiction for six months with effect from January 10, 2024, or till further orders.
I am unable to understand that why didn’t Govt conduct fresh elections before the expiry of the halqa panchayat term ? Inspite of the fact that the Panchayati Raj system and Urban Local Bodies are empowered enough in many states and UTs of India but the policy making is not decentralized even now. Bureaucrats and civil servants take decisions which are then enforced on ground. The fresh panchayat elections in J&K have been deferred and would be held after Lok Sabha elections 2024? Already the term of Urban Local Bodies in J&K also expired some months back and all our Municipal Institutions have no elected representatives (Corporators , Councillors etc). Bureaucrats and Govt officials are taking decisions in local bodies which goes against the essence of democracy. Already our Legislative Assembly is dissolved and PRI and ULB’s have a great role to play. Infact young and educated youth were planning to contest the panchayat and ULB elections but by deferring these elections and giving the powers to Govt officials instead of elected representatives like DDC members is questionable indeed ?
Government had decided to make Block Development Officers -BDOs as administrators for village Panchayats and this goes completely against Public Policy and Design Thinking. Ideally, Panchayat or ULB elections should have been held even a month before their 5 year term was to end. If there were challenges then some brainstorming or design thinking could have been done on this.
DDC members as Panchayat Administrators
In case of Panchayats instead of Block Development Officers- BDOs, the District Development Council (DDC) members whose term will end in 2025 should have been empowered to be the administrators of the halqa panchayats. The DDC Members too are elected representatives and every district in J&K has 14 such councillors (DDC Members) but the way Govt decided to give the Gram Panchayat administrator powers to BDOs has raised several questions which goes against the Govt’s claims of empowering Panchayati Raj Institutions -PRIs in J&K. In today’s complex and changing society, public policy and governance face an increasing demand for effectiveness, efficiency, and above all empathy. Many of our centrally sponsored schemes and welfare programmes are indeed based on empathy. PM Awas Yojna -PMAY, Gareeb Kalyan Anna Yojna -PMGKAY or PM Awas Yojana, MG-NREGA , Right to Education Act -RTE or Forest Rights Act -FRA are some of these Govt programmes and rights based legislations which have been formulated emphatically. I am not sure how much has been the role of design thinkers while making these Govt programmes but yes to make these schemes and laws effective a great role can be played by Design Thinkers as conventional policy-making processes often seem disconnected from the citizens. The way pro people legislations or welfare programmes are enforced on ground are mismatching with the real-demands and needs. The only solution to this challenge lies in ‘design thinking,’ a method typically associated with fields like product design and business strategy. I can give dozens of illustrations wherein lack of design thinking has spoiled our programmes like the rural waste management programme executed under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan Gramin (Phase II). Even laws like the RTE Act, RTI Act or Forest Rights Act are not benefiting large sections of society and the reasons can be understood through design thinking.
Govt lacks Design Thinking
Design Thinking is a methodology that provides an innovative approach to problem solving and is characterized by focusing on solutions rather than the problems. Sometimes at the policy level we realize that the traditional way of addressing issues was better than laws enacted by the legislature around these issues. Let us take an example of the forest related laws enacted from time to time in India. The Indian Forest Act of 1865 was the first legal framework which systematically introduced State’s control over the forests in India. This law was amended in 1878 and after some decades the Indian Forest Act of 1927 was enacted repealing the previous laws. The Indian Forest Act 1927 is still applicable in India and it was extended to Jammu & Kashmir as well with effect from Oct 31st 2019 soon after article 370 abrogation. The Indian Forest Act of 1927 didn’t give the rights to tribals or other traditional forest dwellers. It took the Govt of India at least 60 years to enact a legislation that granted forest dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers the rights that existed before the British Rule. In 2006 Govt of India came up with Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 also called Forest Rights Act -FRA in 2006. This law was enacted on 18 December 2006 and the preamble of FRA says that this law was enacted to rectify the mistakes committed by Govt in the past. This law is indeed based on design thinking as its preamble is empathetic and seeks forgiveness from people for committing historical injustices with forest dwellers and tribals. Unfortunately, this law also isn’t giving us better results even after 15 years of enactment. This means while enforcing the rights based legislations or schemes Govt must involve design thinking professionals. This applies to enforcement of the Panchayati Raj Act as well. Had public policy experts or Design thinkers been taken on board by Govt , they would have never allowed BDOs to be made Panchayat Administrators ?
I am aware of the fact that many DDC Members are not qualified enough and a lot of them got elected because people preferred to stay away from elections. BDOs are more competent in fact to address public grievances , but does this go against the democratic values ? The Govt should have held Panchayat or ULB elections much before the term of panchayats or ULBs was to expire and if there were some constraints at least DDC Members should have been given charge to be the administrators of the panchayats that fall under their jurisdiction. This goes against Public Policy and Design Thinking as well and I would suggest Govt to issue a fresh order and assign Panchayat administrators work to the concerned District Development Council-DDC Members of the area…