Gram panchayat polls unfold in Karnataka amid promises and scepticism

The devolution of huge sums as funds to the gram panchayats is one of the factors that makes these rural local body elections attractive

Candidates in the fray for the gram panchayat elections have been wooing voters for the past few days, promising the provision of urban amenities in rural areas (PURA), as envisaged by the former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. However, despite many assurances, some villages have threatened to boycott the elections in protest against the neglect shown by local bodies and the State government.

Elections to 3,019 gram panchayats in 117 taluks of the State will be be held on Tuesday, while the rest will go to the polls on December 27.

Interestingly, the State Election Commission (SEC) has countermanded the unanimous election of 13 members in Byluru village of Sindigeri gram panchayat in Ballari after they allegedly agreed to pay ₹51 lakh to a local temple in an auction. A few other cases of such auctioning have been detected in Karnataka and locals say the actual number may be even higher.

Some of the districts have recorded a high number of unanimous elections. A total of 437 GP candidates — the highest — have been elected unopposed in Belagavi, while Mandya follows with 364. The numbers are 331 in Ballari, 250 in Vijayapura, 220 in Yadgir, 211 in Davangere, 203 in Raichur, 197 in Hassan, 158 in Chitradurga, and 156 in Tumakuru, according to the SEC.


Inflow of funds

The devolution of huge sums as funds to the gram panchayats is one of the factors that makes these rural local body elections attractive, besides the fact that they often serve as a stepping stone for further political growth.

Annually, the panchayats receive ₹3,250 crore under the 15th Finance Commission, nearly ₹6,000 crore under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, and ₹1,000 crore under the State Budget for payment of bills related to electricity, water supply, and other services. There are also funds from the State and Union governments under various flagships programmes such as Swachh Bharat, Indira Awaas Yojana, rural electrification, and midday meal.

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Sagar Biswas

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