Rural Development and Panchayat Minister Sikander Singh Maluka, who is considered as one of the most powerful ‘Jathedars’ of the ruling Akali Dal, in a freewheeling interview to DailyPost Assistant Editor Rajay Deep answers a variety of questions related to his experience, performance and vision. Here go the excerpts:
Q- The state is facing severe criticism over drugs issue with reports coming that youth in villages are rapidly getting hooked to synthetic drugs. What is your take on that?
A- At first, the media is giving unnecessary hype to the issue. The problem is not as grave as it is being projected. Rest, undertaking our responsibility towards the society we have asked all Panchayats to launch anti-drugs campaigns in the state. Besides, I have also announced that if any panchayat comes out with a declaration that its village is free from drugs, we will honour it at the state level and such Panchayats will also be receiving the reward of Rs 5 lakh each in the shape of special grants.
Q- As your government was not much serious about MGNREGA in the past, stating that people here hardly prefer to work on such ‘meagre’ wages. What is the status now?
A- No doubt the remuneration is less. It is for what only elderly, women and handicapped people are opting for the works under MGNREGA. Realising the practical problem, we have sent a case to the Centre seeking revision in the daily wages to Rs 300 from the existing Rs 210 per day. Further, with an objective to get due work from the labourers, we have also proposed to set age limit for hiring them.
Q- Almost every department in the state is facing staff crunch. What is the position of your department?
A- Like others, we are also suffering from the same problem. Against our odd-1,100 dispensaries, we have a shortage of 346 doctors and almost equal number of pharmacists. The same way, there are 800 posts of panchayat secretaries lying vacant in the state. However, we are now going to hire 300 panchayat secretaries and 30 doctors. Having witnessed the delay in the process, I wish there should be a proper recruitment commission, or the Service Selection Board must be given more powers. The problem can be solved only if we carry the recruitment process throughout the year.
Q- There were reports in the past that majority of panchayats did not submit the Utilisation certificates against the grants they received for development works. What is the current scenario?
A- The problem was there but since I assumed the charge of this department about two years back, I directed the officials to press the panchayats to submit such certificates and fortunately we are successful in the mission to a large extent. With just negligible backlog, now we get all UCs in time.
Q- Panchayats are up in arms against the private audit of their developmental works. Why so?
A- First of all, the department was not going to conduct the private audit of all works in all panchayats as there is a slab fixed for the audit. Rest, we learnt that some mischievous elements were wrongly influencing people through malicious campaigns. After understanding the things, we opted to probe the record of a panchayat which was being led by the union president and finding serious discrepancies we suspend the man.
Q- How many panchayat members have been suspended in your tenure?
A- Since October 2014, our department has suspended about 300 panchs and Sarpanchs but there is a fixed criteria to do so. And it is all done at the director level; even the appeal in such cases also doesn’t come to me.
Q- Has any grant from the Centre for rural development lapsed for the state not being able to put matching share?
A- There is no such case in my knowledge. Rather we have been able to get much more funds from the Centre than in the past. I take pride in mentioning that for the year 2016-17 we have Rs 100 crore for the sanitation project in villages under NABARD project and at the same hand we have also set a target to get Rs 1,000 crore works done under the MGNREGA scheme this year, which would be four times more than the previous year.
Q- What about the ambitious projects related to ponds’ revamping for the state?
A- The project is yet to get the approval of the Centre. We have had a meeting in past and hopeful to get it cleared soon we are again scheduled to have a meeting at Delhi on June 28.
Q- Under the Panchayati Raj, how much income the Panchayats in the state are generating?
A- There are various resources like water charges, house taxes, lease money and much more but the issue is that hardly any panchayat is earning good income as being into this political system no one wants to annoy the villagers asking for the taxes. It is for what I personally feel that Panchayats are being created for obliging the panchs and Sarpanchs. I wish the Panchayats should have sizeable area to work and in that system one Panchayat is sufficient enough to take care of the works related four-five villages. It will also save the manpower and expenses, which now goes waste for no logic.
Q- How strong are the self-help groups in the state?
A- Being straight forward, I tell you that these were almost non-existent in the state and people had lost faith in the staff going to a groups as the state has witnessed bitter experience of getting duped in different hands. However, I have now directed the department to give a major push to the scheme and pick one block each in every district to implement the scheme properly. The step is showing good results.
Q- What about the recognition of the rural games, which your department conducts?
A- Again, I tell you this was also not being pursued with sincere efforts. In 1993-94 the rural games were quite popular in the state and having seen those days I have re-introduced them now. In the recently conducted events, we got good response with females also having participated with much fervour. I am now planned to get this proposal enlisted in the agenda list of the next cabinet meet that the winners of these games also get some recognition while applying for jobs or in academic prospects.
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