A constitutional contradiction

An article in mint – featuring opinion of Mr. Manoj Rai, director of Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA)

With two decades of decentralisation, the article questions how efficient devolution has really been on the grounds in respect to 73rd and 74th Amendment.

Some of the excerpts from the article are as following:

“Why do the central and state governments, supposed to be the enablers and guardians of local government, deliberately undermine the constitutionally created panchayats and municipalities? Many departments and agencies of the central and state governments encroach upon the functional domain of local governments. Article 243 D of the Constitution, for example, has empowered district planning committees (DPCs) to prepare draft district development plans. These plans should be the basis for preparation of the state and national plans. But the Planning Commission and state governments (votaries of decentralization) finalize all plans ignoring the recommendations, if any, of the DPCs, supposed to be functioning in about 600 districts of the country.

Reflecting on the 20 year journey of constitutional local governance in India, one could say that panchayats and urban local bodies have enabled great positive shifts at local levels. The visible leadership roles of women and scheduled castes and scheduled tribes have brought about inclusive change in the local power structures and economic development. Institutional mechanisms to strengthen panchayats and urban bodies such as the constitution of state election commissions, state finance commissions, district planning committees, holding of elections, reservation. and so on have been largely addressed. But crucial issues such as devolution of power to local governments, capacity building of elected representatives, empowerment of gram sabhas, enabling internal resource mobilization, control over service delivery and social-accountability are still ambiguous in most states. It seems state governments are not genuinely committed to empower panchayats. The central government’s role in recent years has been indifferent and sometime against the spirit of the constitution. Unfortunately, central ministries and departments often view panchayats as mere offloading and implementing agencies.
How do central and state governments cleverly manipulate and undermine the constitutional spirit for strengthening local governance in India? The involvements of panchayats, for example, in various central and state schemes, programmes and processes are often cosmetic in nature. Why, for example, do the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) or Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) have separate departmental implementation committees such as VHSNC (village health sanitation and nutrition committees) and VEC (village education committee) in every village? These committees are accountable to NRHM and SSA—not to the panchayats. These committees openly undermine the panchayats. It is sad that even today state and governments have the final say on certifying who is below poverty line in a village or city. Panchayats and municipalities at best could be recommending bodies.”

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