Tag Archives: decentralisation

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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Urbanising India and Lacking Behind Governance!

In a recent article on Terraurban, you read the debate of Urban and Rural Poverty at Urban poverty: its challenges and characteristics. With decentralisation celebrating a ‘two decade anniversary’, another interesting perspective is seen in this article on Mint: Panchayati raj: Failing the urbanization test, citing example of how inadequate are the present day municipalities and corporations, that a village under the Panchayati Raj system dreads being its upgradation to a small town and thereby being under the jurisdiction of the nagar panchayat or a municipality.

Reasons given are that corporations lead to a forego of participation and autonomy of the community, corporations are difficult to deal with, corruption and bribes are synonyms with corporations, panchayat leader is more empowered to take uplifting activities and projects in the community and panchayati raj system gives a direct interface with its people that completely lack in the urban setup. Municipal corporations/municipalities/ nagar panchayats find themselves ill-equipped to deal with the pressures of urbanisation that comes with economic growth. They find that the main weakness of the decentralised urban bodies is that we don’t work on the ‘mayor system’.

As quoted in the article, a resident of a newly formed ‘nagar panchayat’ is quick to say: “It was better when we were part of the panchayat than the corporation,” Raja complains. “We had direct access to the centre of power who got things done. Now, our taxes are doubled and when we take our complaints to the councillor, he says he has no power to do anything.”

And on the other hand, one of the people’s representative- a councillor is also quoted saying: “People want quick solutions to their problems. In a corporation ward, to lay drainage, I have to get clearances from six people before this gets to the mayor for his approval,” he says. As a panchayat president—for three terms between 1996 and 2011—“I could sanction projects. I had the autonomy to make my own decisions. Development was faster. Depending on the funds available we would concentrate on one thing and execute it”
Reality of the situation is that India is urbanising and the governance has to catch up!!