The Neer Sab of Karnataka

Abdul Nazir Sab

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Ask any individual for their opinion on politicians today and you are bound to get an answer in the negative. True, our nation is engulfed with scams, corruption etc., at every level and the citizens are angry with the government. But it was not the same in the past. Our country has seen many pro-people politicians whose work has benefitted the society to a very large extent. Among such politicians is Abdul Nazeer Sab. Born on December 19, 1934 and a native of Gundlupet in Chamarajanagar district, he was the pioneer of Panchayat Raj system in Karnataka.

Nazeer Sab was a President of Town Municipal Council, Gundlupet and Organising Secretary of Congress Committee, Mysore. He quit Congress (I) after completing his term as MLC during Gundu Rao's regime and joined Janata-Ranga alliance. Ramakrishna Hegde was the Chief Minister of the State when Janata Party came to power in 1983. His government was committed to social welfare and rural development. Nazeer Sab was appointed as the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Minister and he said that his aim was to make pure drinking water available to every village of the State.

During that time, the Indian Institute of Technology had come up with an unpatented innovation of hand pump or borewell. After having talks with them, Nazeer Sab got the required technology and equipment to Karnataka. He got a minimum of two pumps installed for villages with a population of about 600 and one pump for those with lesser population. He was able to motivate a lethargic bureaucracy to provide drinking water to every village in the State which earned him the name Neer Sab (neer meaning water in Kannada).

In his tenure, an effective Panchayat Raj Institution was brought to power. He believed that governance from Delhi should be stopped and Panchayat Raj be put in place to strengthen democracy at the village-level itself. For this he used to say, "Halliyinda Dillige" (from village to Delhi). He was the prime mover behind the constitution of Mandal Panchayats and Zilla Parishats in the State.

According to this concept, power was divided at two levels — Zilla Parishat and Mandal Panchayat. The Zilla Parishat President had the status of a Minister of State and was projected as the District Chief Minister. Also the Chief Secretary was given more power than the Deputy Commissioner of the district. In this way, all issues could be taken up at district and taluk-level instead of State-level. Hence, the Tahasildar at taluk-level and DC at district-level lost power but this however put an end to their corruption and dominance. The Mandal Panchayat President was called Pradhan and projected as the Prime Minister of the village. Apart from a few departments like tax, transport, Police, registration, industry, irrigation etc., rest came under the control of the Parishat. With this move a total of twenty-seven departments were brought under the Zilla Parishats. All villagers above the age of 18 were members of Gram Sabha. Beneficiaries of govt. schemes could be decided at the Gram Sabha and sent to the government. Panchayats also got the power to distribute ashraya houses, water and power due to which MLAs lost power.

The Mandal Panchayat (now Gram Panchayat) and Zilla Parishat (now Zilla Panchayat) was his brainchild. Nazeer Sab called this 'power to people.' Even the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was impressed with the system formulated and implemented by Nazeer Sab. Abdul Nazeer Sab believed that "such a system of devolution of powers would improve governance" and that he had "witnessed a real awakening in the people when they realised that they could share power at the lower level."

The political and policy framework for introducing people's participation in development was the introduction of the Panchayat Raj Bill in 1983, which was approved by the President in 1986 and passed as an Act in Karnataka in 1987. The President withheld assent for nearly two-and-a-half years when the Panchayati Raj Bill was sent to him. However, assent was given when Nazeer Sab threatened to stage a fast-unto-death before the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, aware of the implications of decentralisation of power, directed all CMs to implement the system and amended the Constitution to give power to people.

Government Organization - The Abdul Nazeer Sab State Institute for Rural Development (ANSSIRD) established in 1989 has been conducting training for elected representatives of Panchayat Raj Institutions as well as officers of these Institutions.

According to Nazeer Sab, "the Four Pillar State — Village, District, State and Centre — was the dream of Mahatma Gandhi. But when Karnataka set out to implement this, it was realised that within the limitations imposed by the Constitution, this ideology could not be implemented by a State government on its own and without a Constitutional amendment these intentions and efforts may not be as fruitful as one desired." At a seminar organised by the Institute of Social Sciences in Delhi in 1985, he pleaded with intellectuals to ponder over his question and to create a public debate on the necessity of a Constitutional amendment.

Within four years, on May 15, 1989, the 64th amendment was introduced in Parliament to give Constitutional status to Panchayats.

During his tenure, Nazeer Sab was diagnosed with cancer. Behind all the success of Nazeer Sab was the support of Ramakrishna Hegde. He made arrangements for treating Nazeer Sab in America and even sought help from Mumbai. During his last days, Nazeer Sab wished to visit his native Gundlupet and Hegde at once arranged for a government helicopter for him. Nazeer Sab was admitted to Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology in Bangalore. He breathed his last on October 25, 1988. At that time he was survived by his wife, four daughters and a son.

To immortalise this great socialist leader, who was one of the most outstanding politicians in the history of free India, a bust of Neer Sab was installed at the Zilla Panchayat office in city on May 7, 2005. K.C. Balram was the Zilla Panchayat President at that time. The then Deputy Chief Minister Siddharamaiah unveiled the statue. His words "Authority and wealth must be distributed equally among all. Even the last person should be given first priority," have been etched below his bust along with other quotes of Mahatma Gandhi.

The bust, made of Krishna Shile (same as those used in Belur and Halebid), is the work of B.S. Yogiraj Shilpi of Brahmarshi Kashyapa Shilpa Kala Shaala on Chamaraja Road in city. He is the son of National and State-level award winning sculptor B. Basavanna Shilpi. It took almost a month for Yogiraj to complete the bust which he says is acid, fire, weather and rust proof as it is made of Krishna Shile. The Abdul Nazeer Sab State Training Institute for Rural Development, established in 1989 in Mysore, offers training in areas of rural development and decentralised governance for elected representatives of Panchayat Raj Institutions.

Honrbl Mr. Siddaramaiah said. Mr. Siddaamaiah recalled that Hegde was a firm believer in decentralisation of power and the present panchayat raj system came into being because of him and late Abdul Nazeer Sab.

A Brief Biography of my work and life... by Muneer Ahmed