AAP eyes countryside, plans to empower gram sabhas

After testing its mohalla sabhas in Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is planning to change certain key aspects of gram sabhas in the country. Party sources said while mohalla sabha concept was essentially born out of the gram sabhas created by the 73rd amendment, the party wants to give gram sabhas more teeth and ensure decisions are socially equitable. There are plans for a "social justice ombudsman" too.

These changes will be part of the party's manifesto to be released in March, ahead of elections.

Aatishi Marlena, member of the AAP manifesto committee, said, "Under the current system of the gram sabha, decision making powers are vested with the panchayat. This leads to closed-door decisions, lobbying and other associated ills. What we intend to do is give the 'open gram sabha' decision making powers, while the panchayat will essentially be a body that executes this decision."

Even in AAP's version of mohalla sabha, every adult member of a mohalla votes for or against a decision, and the mohalla sabha carries out the decision.

The party will look to reduce bureaucratic interventions once a decision has been taken by the gram sabha. "Right now, any decision taken by a gram sabha has to be approved by the Block Development Officer (BDO). This essentially brings government departments into the decision, and introduces red tape. We will look to remove involvement of the bureaucracy, so the autonomy of the gram sabha increases," a party leader said.

Leaders said that with villages in some parts of the country being "unequal societies", the party was looking at an option like a "social justice ombudsman" with powers to look into social discrimination at gram sabhas. "The ombudsman may be given powers to send observers to gram sabhas, and check if proceedings are conducted fairly, and if there are issues of discrimination, action can be taken by it. Further, if a member of the gram sabha feels socially discriminated against, they can complain to the ombudsman," Marlena said.

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