The introduction of 33 per cent reservation for women in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), it was felt, would herald socio-political reform. The transformation towards gender equity has been annoyingly slow, patriarchy continues to mark its presence in proxy attendance, but change has decidedly come. Active participation by women and assertion of rights and duties are encouraging milestones. Taking it forward is an evolving process. In that context, the passage of a Bill to amend the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act that seeks to ensure that 50 per cent seats are kept for women is a bold step. After each village is given a code, seats will be reserved for women and men on the basis of even-odd numbers. Where a woman sarpanch is elected first, the village will have an ‘other than woman’ successor; it may even include a transgender, according to the Chief Minister. The rule will be applicable in future elections to Zila Parishads, Block Panchayat Samitis and Gram Panchayats.
The endeavour, it appears, is to lend more weight to concepts of equal opportunity, active involvement, consensus on policy and reposing trust in the resource pool of experience. Equally important is to sensitise male co-workers. The downside of a one-term norm and rotation of seats could be a lack of consistency in policy and working style, and a discouraging pause for someone who has invested much time and effort in understanding the nitty-gritty of governance.
A significant amendment is the Right to Recall, giving villagers the right to remove a sarpanch who fails to perform, even before his or her tenure is over. To remove the sarpanch, 33 per cent of the voters of the village will have to give a complaint of no-confidence in writing; removal would need 67 per cent approval. The idea is to ensure that the sarpanch prioritises works in accordance with the sentiments of the villagers.