A study of decentralization models at panchayat levels in india
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India ushered in decentralization reforms with the passing of 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments in 1992. Till then, local bodies or Panchayati Raj Institutions were not a constitutional entity and was seen as an agent of implementation for central and state government schemes. But post-amendment, it was expected to become a dynamic institute of self government and help India’s development in an inclusive way. Decentralization was expected improve public service delivery and increase allocative efficiency. India’s decentralization had two major aspects. Firstly it involved the devolution of specific functions to local bodies. Secondly, it envisaged a district planning committee (DPC) that would help bottom up planning at grass roots levels. Local governance is a state subject in India. For this reason, each state with its own unique political scenario implemented decentralization in its own way. Consequently the success of decentralization has varied widely across states. In the scale of success and effectiveness of decentralization, states like Kerala and West Bengal have come out on the top while states like Bihar and Punjab has been dismal. A study of successful states and its comparison with not so successful states yield many lessons. Firstly the decentralization requirements of the constitutional amendments are not implemented completely in all states. In the case of fiscal and functional devolution, some states have stopped with partial devolution leading to difficulties and rigidities for local bodies. States where the fiscal autonomy is not given to local bodies have fared poorly in delivery of functions associated with local bodies. Secondly, the composition and function of DPCs have varied vastly between states. Lack of transparency, democratic institutions and processes in DPCs have lead to ineffectual bottom up planning. States like Kerala which are fairly successful in decentralization has shown that a multitude of factors are involved. These factors include policy aspects like fiscal autonomy and participatory process like social audit, operational aspects like capacity and competence building and finally socio-cultural aspects like literacy, political will, media activity and civil society participation. The effectiveness are quantified and verified against the progress of decentralization in states. States with good progress in decentralization were found to have better service delivery. They had better performance in indicative measures like coverage of government schemes, delivery of public services like drinking water and implementation of central schemes like rural housing. These states were also found to better in allocating funds in national level scheme like MNREGA. The states were also found to be better at protecting local citizen’s interests like protection of ground water better than other states. This was true especially when the local and state interests conflict. Apart from what laggard states can learn from successful states, there are few areas where even successful states can improve. Fiscal autonomy can be further improved to encourage local bodies to carry out more customized developmental plans. DPCs should be encouraged to develop long term plans (more than five years). With these improvements, decentralization can be more effective and bring inclusive development.
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