The gram panchayats secretaries, who are hailed as the link between the government schemes and the villages, work under tremendous work pressure. This is affecting the progress on the villages
“I have the charge of nine gram panchayats of 13 villages. You can well imagine my work load,” said Mukhtar Ali, a village development officer posted in Uttar Pradesh’s Siddharth Nagar district. It can be understood by Mukhtar Ali’s statement that gram panchayats secretaries who are hailed as the link between the government schemes and the villages, work under tremendous work pressure.
Uttar Pradesh has 58,808 gram panchayats for which village development officers and village panchayats officers are appointed by the Rural Development Department and Panchayati Raj Department to work as secretaries. In the state, however, 12,802 individuals are serving on the post — 6,802 as Village Development Officers (VDOs) and 6,000 as gram panchayat officers. So, these 12,802 people shoulder the crushing responsibility of over 58,000 gram panchayats’ development, which is adversely affecting the progress of the villages.
Rural Connection has endeavored to understand the plight of these officials, often called the first link between the government and the villages in India. The story is an effort to understand the type of work pressure that they face and how it is affecting their productivity and village development.
“We are from the Rural Development Department but are saddled with the duties of other departments too. For example, recently there had been the work of Mission Antyodaya wherein we had to collect data from 25 different departments and upload them on the website. Is this not extra work?” asked Mukhtar Ali.
Rajnikant Dwiwedi, the state head of the Uttar Pradesh Gram Panchayat Adhikari Sangh said, “In order to understand the work pressure of the secretaries, you can simply look into the nature of our work. We are responsible to various departments like Social Welfare, Agriculture and Health for various jobs. We have 45 such responsibilities. While the work of the gram panchayats has increased, the required number of posts have not been filled up. Out of the 16,432 posts approved, only 12,802 posts are filled up, so it is natural that those officials would have to face tremendous work pressure.”
“The biggest challenge is the unnecessary mental stress. For example, a work comes up and is asked to be completed within, say, two days. This mandatory completion within two days creates errors in project execution, affects quality of work and spoils many welfare schemes.”
Dwiwedi said: “Recently, in order to make Ayushman Bharat cards, the officers ordered immediate release of the list of eligible people. They are least bothered by the vastness of a secretary’s field of operation. Such hastily compiled lists are bound to be faulty and they actually are. The selection team, which is constituted to shortlist eligible candidates, has representation from all departments such as Revenue and Health, but since the matter is of the village, the entire selection process is left for the gram panchayats to execute.
The work pressure is also adversely affecting the health of these officers. Talking about this, Dwiwedi said: “Such is the work pressure that the secretaries are falling prey to mental illness. Uttar Pradesh has a thriving culture of dummy pradhans who pressurize the secretaries often. If the secretary complains about it to his seniors, he isn’t heard. This breeds frustration.”
The shortage of secretaries also affects the common people. Rampal Sagar, 50, who belongs to Piprauli Gram Panchayat of Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly district, shares the common woe of many villagers. He is frequenting the block office for the past one month due to his ration card issue. He requires the signature of the secretary on his documents but is not able to meet him. “This month, I have come thrice to this office seeking to meet the secretary, but am unable to do so. Every time I hear that he had gone to some other panchayats. Let us see how long it shall take for me to obtain his signatures,” he said.
The regional head of Gram Vikas Adhikari Sangh, Gangesh Kumar Shukla said: “Some secretary is looking after seven gram panchayats, other after eight. If the area is this vast, the secretary can’t be present everywhere. This affects his area’s development too. We have told many times to increase the posts and to fill up the existing ones, but no action has been taken.”
“This is affecting the mental level of the secretaries. Our workload is so immense that each of us works for 13-14 hours daily. The government provides about 100 holidays, including Sundays, but we do not get a single holiday out of these. Meetings are called on Sundays and during the festivals, we are stationed at the villages. All this is mental harassment,” complained Shukla.
When contacted, the Panchayati Raj Department’s deputy director, Praveena Chaudhary, said: “The posts of secretaries are falling short. This probably is affecting them. We have undertaken certain recruitments for the approved posts. Soon, there will be appointments of new gram panchayat officers.”