ROURKELA: At a time when voices are getting louder for 33 per cent representation of women in Parliament and State Assemblies, reservation for women in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) has led to the practice of proxy candidates in tribal-dominated Sundargarh district and other parts of the State.
A staggering 70 per cent of elected women members of PRIs in Sundargarh lack leadership qualities and are incapable to perform their duties. Their spouses act as proxies for them.
A senior administrative officer in Panchayati Raj department said about 30 per cent of elected women PRI members act independently. Claiming that 70 per cent are acting as rubber stamps, he pointed out that until being instructed by their husbands, they neither sign cash books and vouchers nor talk in the meetings. Odisha has 50 per cent representation for women in PRIs and most of them are non-performing women members. The functioning of the department thus gets bogged down slowing down rural development activities, he added.
The official said sarpanchs have financial power and Panchayat Samiti chairpersons countersign cheques which are more than `two lakh. Since the PRI members get negligible honorariums, their husbands demand percentage (PC) from contractors, Block Development Officers, Junior Engineers and cashiers to clear schemes or else the files gather dust. Husbands rule by proxy and even attend offices.
However, there are capable and well-qualified women leaders like former Zilla Parishad member of Kuanrmun da block Ivy Pyari Bodra and incumbent Sundargarh ZP president Emma Ekka.
Ivy said reservation for women in Parliament and Assemblies would go a long way to empower women and strengthen the country. A majority of elected women are ignorant of their rights and duties. This results in Government officers dictating terms to them, she added. Echoing similar view, Emma said capacity building of women to make them future leaders should start on priority basis. There should be sincere efforts at Government and political levels to groom women leaders, she added.
A senior BJD leader admitted that during 2017 panchayat elections, all the parties had to struggle to field 50 per cent women candidates.
50 pc women quota in PRIs
In 1992, former chief minister Biju Patnaik had brought women to the realm of political decision-making by providing 33 pc reservation for them in local bodies. The State Legislature unanimously gave its nod to Orissa Panchayat Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2011 by amending the Orissa Gram Panchayat Act, 1964, Orissa Panchayat Samiti Act and Orissa Zilla Parishad Act enhancing the quota for women from existing 33 pc to 50 pc.