The World Bank has given a soft loan of Rs 2,000 crore under the Institutional Strengthening of Gram Panchayat Programme to Bengal to help in the development of rural Bengal.
Senior officials of Panchayat and Rural Development department said all the 3,342 gram panchayats in Bengal had been brought under the programme. The loan has been given for five years starting from April 1, 2017 to December 2022. The state government will not have to pay any interest on the loan amount but just a service charge will be levied.
It may be mentioned that the first-ever two-day panchayat sammelan was held on February 3 and 4 where
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had urged the panchayats to take up their own schemes like beautification and other projects. The panchayats, that had done excellent work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme were also rewarded.
In view of the panchayat election scheduled to be held in 2018, the strengthening of gram panchayats across the state will play a very important role. Under the programme, all panchayat members and officials will be given intense training which includes transparent management of funds, making proper planning and the like.
The projects taken up by the panchayats will be assessed by a third party and the best maintained panchayats will be given performance grants. With this money, the panchayats will be able to set up infrastructure like building of toilets, taking up beautification programmes etc.
There are strict parameters that have been set by the funding agency to get the awards that include transparency
in maintaining the accounts and timely completion of projects. The World Bank and the Panchayat and Rural Development department have given special emphasis on timely completion of projects as a part of cost control measures. If a project jumps the deadline, the cost escalates manifold.
It may be mentioned that though the Left Front government had introduced the three-tier panchayat system after it came to power in 1977, for three decades, it did not do anything for the development of rural Bengal.
The Panchayat and Rural Development department has constructed nearly 14,000-km roads since the Trinamool Congress government came to power in 2011.
Projects like the Nirmal Bangla Mission has been taken up to ensure toilets in every rural household by March 2019. Subrata Mukherjee, state Panchayat and Rural Development minister said that the World Bank programme would strengthen the panchayats, which in turn would provide better service to the rural populace.
"Bringing the state closer to citizens has been an important promise of India's democracy. Effective and accountable Panchayati Raj institutions empowered with additional resources can help deliver on this promise," said Junaid Ahmad, World Bank Country Director for India. "Drawing on this principle, the programme aims to build the capacity of PRIs to respond to service needs of citizens across Bengal," he added.