Kumari Chitra/ Patna
To edge out Naxal influence, Bihar government gives more power to sarpanches
Outlawed CPI (Maoist) now may well have to think twice before thinking of holding janadalat to provide instance justice, at times by killing the accused. For sarpanch has started exercising his real powers from this month. Though Bihar Panchayati Raj Act, 2006 has provided these powers, they were seldom exercised with police often taking up cases which a sarpanch was supposed to do.
It was just about practical implementation to lend power punch to sarpanch and at the same time give out message to Red brigade to be careful and remember -- only legitimate court is that of a sarpanch.
The political vacuum after Maoists spread its tentacles with least resistance in at least 20 of 38 Bihar districts may well be filled by a strong sarpanch. And no one should try to mess with sarpanch as even a minor scuffle with him/ her would mean a DSP or SP monitoring the case and thus, giving sarpanch a sense if reassurance to do his duty.
But this has been happening only from this month - six years after the implementation of the Act. No one had bothered to check till recently that a sarpanch can play a big role in justice delivery at local level.
But until last month, moving around any corner of Bihar will make one hear only of mukhiya and mukhiya pati. It simply meant while a woman became mukhiya after Nitish Kumar government gave 50 per cent reservation to woman in panchayats since 2006, it was often husbands of these mukhiyas who wielded big financial powers after implementation of the Act.
In any case, tt just tells one about mukhiya's powers exercised directly or by proxy. Sarpanchs somehow felt left behind with work to hold kahhari one of twice a week to sort out petty village disputes.
Worse still, very few villagers preferred to go near a sarpanch and rather preferred "more influential" mukhiyaji to sort out disputes.
But this is not what Bihar Panchayati Raj Act, 2006, provided for. It has given a whole lot of power to sarpanch as well. But no one bothered to read between the Act to empower sarpanch for last six years.
Finally, it was Bihar Director General of Police Abhyanand, who tasked some senior police officers to read the Act carefully and find out what is there for a sarpanch, hence taken non-seriously. Even the state election commission was surprised to find that number of contestants for mukhiyas' posts were almost triple the number of ones contesting for sarpanchs' posts in 2011 panchayat election.
The DGP's team came out with the extract of the Act that said that a sarpanch has powers to take action under at least 25 IPC sections relating to rioting to creating nuisance after drinking to land disputes.
Sample these IPC sections and see what a sarpanch can do to stop piles of petty cases coming to police stations with a single page verdict, that can be challenged only in a district court. A sarpanch also has right to impose fine up to Rs 1,000 for an offence. He can hear and dispose off cases under IPC Sections of 142 (unlawful assembly), 143 and 145 (punishment provisions for unlawful assembly), 147 (punishment for rioting), 151 (continuing of assembly of five or more persons), 153 (provoke rioting), 160 (punishment for disturbing public peace by fighting), 172 (absconding summons), 174 (disobeying a public servant order), 178 (refusing oath by public servant), 179 (refusing to answer public servant), 269 (negligence causing infectious diseases, 277 (fouling water of public reservoir), 283 (obstructing navigation), 285 (fire safety negligence), 286 (negligence with respect to explosive substance), 289 (animal safety negligence), 290 (punishment for nuisance in public), 294 (obscene acts), 294 (A) (keeping lottery office), 332 (stopping public servant from doing his duty), 334 (hurting on provocation), 336 (engendering others life), 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint), 352 (punishment for assault), 356 (assaulting while committing theft), 367 (kidnapping for slavery), 374 (unlawful compulsory labour), 403 (misappropriation of property), 426 (punishment for mischief), 428 (mischief by maiming or killing animals), 430 (wrongful water diversion), 447 (punishment for criminal trespass), 448 (house trespass punishment), 502 (sale of printed substance carrying defamatory matters), 504 (insult with intent to provoke breach of peace), and 510 (misconduct in public in drunken state).
Any decision of Gram Kachahari can be challenged before full bench of Gram Kachahari within 30 days. Later, it can be challenged in district court concerned. A judicial secretary is being appointed in every panchayat to keep records. Under IPC provisions, a police station in-charge has to inform Gram Kachahari about any offence that should be taken up by sarpanch.
Sarpanchs can take up cases such as house or criminal trespass to disobedience to public servant to causing nuisance after drinking to rioting. The biggest aspect of sarpanch power is to resolve land disputes, which often burden any police station and at times, pave way for corruption.
Bihar Director General of Police (DGP) Abhyanand said: "We hope sarpanchs come forward to know their powers. All police stations have been asked not to take up cases coming under sarpanchs' domain".