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‘Punjab panchayat raj is half reserved for women, but not much change on ground’

The brouhaha over the Bill in Lok Sabha providing for 33 per cent reservation for women in Vidhan Sabhas and Lok Sabha, has brought back focus on the 50 per cent reservation for women in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI), which was implemented by former CM Captain Amarinder Singh in 2017. It is, however, yet to yield desired results as the incumbent Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government is battling proxy sarpanchs in the meetings.

Former AAP’s rural development and panchayats minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal had even issued orders banning the proxies of women sarpanchs in the form of their male family member last year. Yet, proxies still attend the meetings and work on the ground while the women sarpanchs continue to be rubber stamps.

Former rural development and panchayat minister and Congress leader Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, who was the minister in-charge when 50 per cent reservation for women was implemented, said, “When I was a minister, I found the reservation did not change much on the ground. We brought about the amendment in the Panchayati Raj Institutions Act to provide for 50 per cent reservation to women in panchayats, Zila Parishads and Block Samitis. I still do not see many women sarpanchs at the forefront. At least 80 per cent of them still send their male relatives for panchayat-related work. I am a votary of reservation for women in Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha also but its meaning would be lost if it does not bring about empowerment.”

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During the Congress government’s tenure when the state conducted elections to PRIs in 2018, the department found it difficult to declare reservation in 50 per cent panchayats as MLAs objected to reserving panchayats for women in their constituencies. The government took over two months to take the MLAs and other senior leaders on board to finally declare reserved seats.

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In 2018, the then ruling party MLAs resented the reservation for women in Block Samitis and Zila Parishads also. Later, after the elections, the government was not able to elect chairpersons for 11 months due to the feud. At that time, the Congress had stated that there was a dearth of women leaders and it was difficult to choose 50 per cent women chairpersons for 150 Block Samitis and 22 Zila Parishads. In Punjab, in a house of 117, 13 are women of which 11 are from the ruling AAP. AAP has a total strength of 92 in the house.

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“We have 50 per cent women sarpanchs in the state, but when we call a meeting of these sarpanchs, mostly men turn up. We even forget which village has a woman sarpanch. In the meetings, it seems there is no reservation,” said a Congress leader. The panchayat elections have not been conducted during the regime of ruling AAP yet.

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