An agrarian counter-reform is under way in West Bengal under the State government led by the Trinamool Congress (TMC). What is happening to the panchayati raj system is part of this thoroughly reactionary socio-economic and political process.
The author argues that panchayati raj in West Bengal is ‘a system that has evolved over the years with the objective of introducing local self-governance that is pro-poor and transparent. Over three decades, new institutions have been created and new regulations framed to devolve greater financial and administrative power to the grassroots level, and to introduce development planning and financial accountability from below’. She points out that ‘in many other parts of India, the panchayat remains a weak body with limited powers, and, very often, is dominated by the socially and economically powerful’. However, ‘the panchayat structure in West Bengal, though not free of all weaknesses, presented a different picture’, with ‘well-functioning panchayats…often able to make a substantial difference to planning and implementation of development programmes, and, more importantly, to the lives of the poor’. It is a matter of great concern that ‘the recent developments in West Bengal undermine this achievement, and may well herald a shift in class alliances and power relations in the State’.