Madurai District Panchayat Board Women Presidents’ Conference was held in Madurai on 30 July 2002. 75 women Panchayat Board Presidents described the problems they faced, the panchayat’s activities etc. At the end of the conference, Tamil Nadu Federation of Women Presidents Panchayat Government (TNGWPPG) was created. This federation heavily criticized the termination of Madurai’s Keezhavalavu Panchayat President Mrs. Pungothai’s by the District Collector using Section-205 of the Tamil Nadu Panchayat Act (TNPA). It presented a petition to the Collector to nullify the termination order.
The aim of the Federation to support women who have been elected to the local bodies to acquire political power, especially the ones who have been elected as the Presidents. They should be able to conduct their service in an effective manner and make sure of justice, equality, economic upliftment of the marginalized people. The federation is also to motivate them to work together by prioritizing the policies which will ensure genunine decentralized governance and empowered local government. From 2002, 1146 Women Panchayat Presidents in 24 districts have been trained and district level boides have been formed.
The second state conference of TNWPPG was held in Chennai on 17 February 2002. In the conference speeches were given by Dr. Vasanthi Devi, President, Tamilnadu State Commission for Women, Mrs. Rajam Krishnan, Senior Writer, Mrs. Ruth Manorama, President, National Alliance for Women (NAWO), Mrs. A. Vasanthi, Writer, Mrs. Regina Babu, Head of the Department, Feminism, Alagappa University. More than 500 women Panchayat Presidents from 23 districts (Trichy, Pudukottai, Salem, Villupuram, Karur, Coimbatore, Cuddalore, Kanyakumari, Vellore, Perambalur, Thanjavur, Madurai, Ramanathapuram, Sivagangai, Dindigul, Thiruvarur, Thiruvannamalai, Dharmapuri, Virudhunagar, Kanchipuram, Erode, Nagapattinam, Theni) and a Women Panchayat President from the Bangarpalayam Panchayat in Andhra Pradesh attended the conference. They passed a resolution highlighting their important demands including reserving 50 % of the state income tax to the local bodies, authority to control the natural resources in the panchayat, remove the section which can terminate the panchayat president, authority to decide the projects to work on, authority of the 29 departments mentioned in the Constitution, Reduction of electricity prices which has been a burden in the Panchayat budget. Then, representatives were chosen from the districts where district associations did not exist.
After the 2nd state level conference the Federation’s 7th state association meeting was held in Madurai on 3rd March 2003. 24 Women Panchayat Presidents from 15 districts took part in the meeting. To further accelerate the democratic nature of the activities, the convention leadership was replaced with a new collective leadership, Central Committee, Zonal Secretaries, District organizers, and representatives for the State association were chosen in the meeting.
On knowing that Mrs. Selvi, a Women Panchayat President from Thimmarasanayakkanur Panchayat, Andipatti Union, Theni District was prevented from doing her work because of the confiscation of panchayat’scheques and bank accounts, the State committee went to the region on May 15, 16 and urged the Government authorities to take action, which was fulfilled by them.
TNFWPPG has been fighting relentlessly to strengthen the government mechanisms for Women Panchayat Presidents to efficiently manage the Panchayats and also to get rid of the infringement in their rights. The actions undertaken regarding the resolutions which were passed on the 8th State level Committee meeting of the Federation and other activities were debated and to formulate ideas to further strengthen the Federation the 9th state level meeting was held in Chennai. 27 Women Panchayat Presidents from 12 districts took part in this meeting. Recently, the 10th State level Committee meeting was organized on 23.10.2005 and resolution was passed.
Since the Chapter 10 of Tamilnadu Panchayat laws gave excess authority for the Government officials over the elected Presidents the chapter should be removed and since local government was a constitutional body the state and central government should be answerable to it. Termination of Panchayat Presidents by the District Collector was against the sovereign system of local bodies. So, to remove section 205 of TamilnaduPanchayat law a Public interest litigation has filed in the high court on behalf of the Federation of Tamilnadu Women Panchayat Presidents. W.P.No.10166 of 2003. Similarly, the federation is also involved in filing a case to bring under control the management and maintenance of the livelihood of the people such as the natural resources, water bodies, forests, fields, minerals like sand and granite.
On January 2nd the Federation sent its important demands to the Governor, State Chief Minister, related ministers, Secretaries, Directors on behalf of the Executive members as a letter through registered post. On 19 February 2004, Women Panchayat Presidents held a token hunger strike for a day in Chennai. Around 200 Women Panchayat Presidents from all over the state took part in this. In the same day a petition was presented to the political party leaders.
Ever since the Federation has been created, each year the Federation’s activities were explained and important demands were stressed. Then, during the State Budget session we meet the ruling political party and opposition leaders and gather support to recommend our demands like Panchayat’s policies, finances and legal reforms during the debate on Department of Rural Development.
On 07 April 2005, during the debate on Department of Rural Development’s budget in order for the federation’s demands to be stressed on their behalf, on Friday 22.03,2005, around 2 in the afternoon important ruling and opposition party leaders and MLAs were met with and support was gathered. The federation’s important members took part in it.
As a show of support to the women panchayat presidents who are fighting for public resources, Complaint petitions/letters were sent to the related government officials/officers asking them to take action regarding the issues.
Since the 87th constitutional amendment, in addition to weakening the three tierPanchayat reduced the participation of Women and Dalit representatives a signature campaign against this was conducted to the President, Prime Minister and the State and Central Rural Development Ministers.
The third state level conference of Tamilnadu Panchayat Women Presidents was held on 17 March 2006 in Chennai. In this conference, Dr. V. Vasanthy Devi, Tamilnadu State Women Commission, Mrs. Sivagami, IAS, Mrs. Ruth Manorama, President National Federation of Women Organisations (NAWO) and Mrs. U. Vasuki gave introductory speeches. More than 400 women Panchayat Presidents from 23 districts (Trichy, Pudukottai, Salem, Villupuram, Karur, Coimbatore, Cuddalore, Kanyakumari, Vellore, Perambalur, Thanjavur, Madurai, Ramanathapuram, Sivagangai, Dindigul, Thiruvarur, Thiruvannamalai, Dharmapuri, Virudhunagar, Kanchipuram, Erode, Nagapattinam, Theni) attended the conference. They passed resolutions by highlighting their important demands including reserving 50 % of the state income tax to be allocated to the local bodies, authority to control the natural resources in the panchayat, remove the section which can terminate the panchayat president, authority to decide the projects to work on, authority of the 29 departments mentioned in the Constitution and reduction of electricity prices which has been a burden in the Panchayat budget. Then, representatives were chosen from the districts where district associations did not exist.
Because the rotation system was introduced in 2006 elections the important members of the federation were in a position where they couldn’t contest in the elections. However, knowing the importance of the federation several of them continue to work in the advisory committee.
With the members elected in the state level conferences State Executive Committee and State Level Committee were created.
During the 2006 local body elections, a campaign for fair and independent elections was held and booklets and posters (the responsibilities of the voters, including those of the canditates) were published, and the campaign was spread all over the state.
After the 2006 elections, workshop/state conferences for women panchayat presidents have been held in 13 districts (Nagapattinam, Thanjavur, Madurai, Virudhunagar, Pudukottai, Kanchipuram, Villupuram, Thiruvallur, Cuddalore, Coimbatore, Thiruvarur, Ramanathapuram, Tiruchirapalli). About 600 women presidents took part and the federation was strengthened in each of the districts.
The State Committee members met with the Secretary, Department of Rural Development, Mr. Ashokvardhan Chetty twice (March and September 2008) and presented him a petition necessary for the local bodies’ efficient functioning and with greater power. Based on that important demands like the electricity charges were reduced from 3.40 Rs to 3 Rs, travel allowance of the presidents was increased, the budget of the state government was increased from 8% to 9% were fulfilled by the government.
To further strengthen the Gram Panchayats the activities of Gram Panchayat meetings held in the Panchayats of Kanchipuram District were closely observed and awareness is being created about the fulfillment of powers and responsibilities of Gram Panchayats.
While the events for discussion by the panchayat presidents regarding the difficulties in implementing the projects of State and Central Governments, were being co-ordinated a fact finding investigation was conducted regarding the working of Central Government’s Rural Employment Scheme where the authority of the panchayat was being denied and because of the decision of the Rural, Union, district level state authorities the people, and panchayat who were affected by the police department’s repression, of RettanaiPanchayat, Villupuram district gathered against proper jobs and wages not provided and appealed against the government. Then, the report was presented to the government and reforms that should be brought about in the National rural employment scheme were proposed.
On 26 February 2011 more than 225 panchayat presidents from Puducherry and 28 districts in Tamilnadu took part in the conference. More than 60% of them were from the depressed classes especially from Dalit and Adivasi communities. Mrs. Qudsia Gandhi (IAS), Mrs. Vasanthi Devi, Former Vice Chancellor, Manonmaniam Sundarnar University, Mr. Balakrishnan, Farmers society, and Mr. Karuppan (IAS, Retd.) were among those who took part in the conference.
The 15th state level executive committee of Women panchayat presidents was held on 27th and 28th of September. In this meeting, women panchayat presidents from more than 20 districts got involved and the federation’s most important demands were brought to the attention of the government and support was garnered.
TNFWPPG organised the Fifth State Convention jointly with Tamil Nadu Dalit Panchayat Presidents Federation at Chennai on 27 February 2016. Women Presidents from 15 districts participated. Many of the delegates are from the oppressed sections especially dalits and a few from the adivasi community. Eminent persons, representatives of political parties participated to support and articulate the significant aspects of the manifesto in their election campaign.The Inaugural session was addressed by Ms. Qudsia Gandhi, IAS, Dr. V. Vasanthi Devi and Ms. Valentina, State Committee Member, All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) also participated.
After the sharing of panchayat presidents The Election Manifesto of the Federation for the Tamil Nadu Assembly Election was presented. They called upon the political parties to support and articulate the significant aspects of the manifesto in their election campaign. While responding to the panchayat presidents, Mr.Indirajithi, Executive Committee Member, Communist Party of India (CPI), Mr.R. Velmurugan, State Committee Member, Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPI (M), Mr.Mallai Sathya, Deputy General Secretary, MDMK, Advocate Ezhil Caroline, State Secretary, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), Mr.Aslam Basha, MLA, Ambur, Manitha Neya Makkal Katchi ensured that they will support these demands and take forward in their election campaign.
The leaders of the Federation urged the Government to immediately take steps to implement reforms to enable Panchayat government to function as real local self government.