Panchayati Raj Institutions in Disaster Management : Role and Contribution

Role of Panchayati Raj Institutions in Disaster Management

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Through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment, a strong base was provided to the local bodies to empower them to play an important role in the economic development of the country. Through this amendment, Panchayats have been envisaged as institutions of local self-government.

In this context, the role of ‘Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs)‘ in both disaster risk reduction and post-disaster management is very important.

Unfortunately, these institutions are not yet fully empowered to play a major role in the pre-preparation phase or during disaster and post-disaster operations.

India should integrate its preparedness into its core system to deal with various disasters as a whole.

Panchayati Raj Institute and Disaster Management

Panchayati Raj Institutions in India: The system of 2,60,512 Panchayati Raj Institutions present across the country serves as the backbone of Indian democracy.

It is a local self-government system, representing about 31 lakh members across the country.

Response of Panchayati Raj Institutions to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Amidst the peak months of the pandemic, Panchayati Raj Institutions played a significant role by providing the necessary leadership at the local level.

Execution of regulatory and welfare functions: Panchayati Raj institutions set up ‘containment zones’, arranged transportation, identified buildings for people to quarantine, and arranged food for migrants.

In addition, the effective implementation of welfare schemes like MGNREGA and the National Rural Livelihood Mission has contributed to accelerating the pace of revival while ensuring the livelihood of vulnerable groups.

Effective Participation: During the pandemic, Gram Sabhas also played an important role in ensuring adherence to ‘COVID-19’ norms.

Simultaneously, engagement with frontline workers like ASHA and Anganwadi workers through committees helped in tackling the pandemic at the local level.

 

Creation of Local Surveillance Bodies: Panchayati Raj Institutions created community-based surveillance systems by engaging village elders, youth, and Self Help Groups (SHGs) to closely monitor quarantine centers and identify COVID symptoms in households.

Disaster Management in India:

Vulnerability to disasters: India is the 10th most disaster-prone country in the world, with 27 of its 28 states and all seven union territories being the most vulnerable.

Inefficient Standard Operating Procedures: ‘Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are almost non-existent in many places across the country, and where they do exist, the relevant authorities are unfamiliar with them.

Lack of coordination: States also suffer from the problem of inadequate coordination between various government departments and other stakeholders.

The Indian Disaster Management System also suffers from a lack of institutional framework at the Central/State/District level.

Weak warning and relief system: India lacks a strong early warning system.

Poor response of relief agencies, lack of trained/dedicated search and rescue teams, and poor community empowerment are some of the other major challenges.

Importance of Panchayati Raj Institutions in Disaster Management

Dealing with disasters on the ground: Devolution of powers and responsibilities to the Panchayats will help in getting an elastic and committed response at the ground level in case of natural calamities.

Effective and sound Panchayati Raj Institutions working in coordination with the State Government will help in dealing with the disaster through an early warning system.

Ensuring better relief work: As local bodies are closer to the population, they are in a better position to carry out relief work, as well as are more familiar with the needs of the local people.

This will ensure complete transparency in terms of implementation and utilization of funds in case of each disaster.

They can also be relied upon in the day-to-day operations of civil services, providing shelter and medical aid to the affected people.

Spreading awareness and getting support: Local self-government institutions have grassroots level contact with the people and can effectively help in spreading awareness among people and ensuring their participation in coping with any crisis.

They also form an ideal medium for the involvement of NGOs and other agencies in rescue and relief operations.

Problems faced by Panchayati Raj Institutions

Interference of MPs and MLAs: Interference of regional MPs and MLAs in the working of Panchayats adversely affects their performance.

Non-availability of funds: Panchayats are not provided with adequate funds and more importance is given to the state-controlled government departments, which are also controlling the implementation of programs falling under the jurisdiction of the panchayats.

Incomplete autonomy: Panchayats often lack the systems, resources, and capabilities to function independently due to various constraints imposed by the district administration and state governments.

Instead of becoming ‘institutions of local self-government’ as envisaged by the Constitution, Panchayats have largely been reduced to being local ‘implementers’ of decisions taken by the State and Central Governments.

Ambiguity with respect to the jurisdiction of Panchayats: Although Panchayati Raj is a three-tier integrated system at the village, block, and district levels, they have remained largely ineffective as a result of the ambiguities regarding their jurisdictions and enclaves.

The National Disaster Management Act, 2005 also does not adequately define the powers and responsibilities of Panchayats and has been left to be determined by the respective State Governments.

way ahead

Legal support for disaster management programs: It is very important to include the topic of disaster management in the Panchayat Raj Acts and to make disaster planning and expenditure a part of Panchayati Raj Development Plans and local level committees.

This will ensure citizen-centric mapping and planning of resources.

Resource availability and self-reliance: When empowered, local governance, local leadership, and the local community are able to respond quickly and effectively to any disaster.

Local bodies need information and guidance, as well as have the resources, capabilities, and systems to function confidently without waiting for instructions from above.

Change in Disaster Management Paradigm: There is an urgent need to change the risk mitigation cum relief-centric approach of disaster management to an integrated plan of economic development with social justice.

Early warning systems, early preparedness, preventive measures, and awareness among people are equally important for disaster management. As much as the recovery and rehabilitation plan and other relief measures.

 

Collective participation: Conducting regular, location-specific disaster-management events for the community and building forums for sharing best practices will strengthen individual and institutional capacities.

Assigning roles to individual members and providing them with the necessary skills can make such programs more meaningful.

Receiving financial contribution from the people: The receipt of financial contribution from the community should also be encouraged through the establishment of a Community Disaster Fund in all gram panchayats.

It is now more imperative than ever to make disaster resilience an integral part of community culture.

Role of Panchayati Raj Institutions in Disaster Management

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