[Answered] Democratic decentralization in India has not been as envisioned by the Constitution. Elaborate and suggest reforms to strengthen Democratic decentralization in India.

Introduction: Contextual introduction.
Body: Write some Issues with democratic decentralization in India.  Also write some reforms to strengthen democratic decentralization in India.
Conclusion: Write a way forward.

Democratic decentralization is the process of devolving the functions and resources of the state from the centre to the elected representatives at the lower levels so as to facilitate greater direct participation of citizens in governance. 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments mandated the establishment of panchayats and municipalities as elected local governments.

Issues with Democratic decentralization:

  • Financial constraints: Less investment and hence local governments find difficult to raise their own taxes and user charges. Local government expenditure as a percentage of GDP is only 2 percentcompared with the OECD (14 percent), China (11 percent), and Brazil (7 percent).
  • Manpower: Local governments do not have the staff to perform even basic tasks. Moroever, most staff are hired by higher-level departments staff do not feel responsible to local governments
  • Adhoc meetings: There is a lack of clear setting of agenda in gram sabha, gram Samiti meetings and landlord and relatives many a time give a proxy for SC/ST’s and women.
  • Corruption: There is a chain of corruption involving a partnership between elected representatives and officials at all levels.
  • Centralization: Panchayats are nothing more than front offices for several Union government programmes. E.g. in the ‘Smart City’ programme States have been forced to constitute ‘special purpose vehicles’ to expense these grants and it does not devolve its funds to the municipalities.

Reforms to strengthen Democratic decentralization:

  • Revitalise gram sabhas and wards committees: Consultations with the grama sabha could be organised through smaller discussions where everybody can really participate. SMSs, or social media groups could be used for facilitating discussions between members of a grama sabha.
  • Strengthen organisational structures: Local governments must be enabled to hold State departments accountable and to provide quality, corruption free service to them, through service-level agreements.
  • Local taxation: Local governments should collect property taxes and user charges. As tax payment will create higher accountability for misusing funds.
  • Strengthening of panchayats through capacity building and trainingshould be given more encouragement from the centre and state governments.
  • Ministry of Panchayati Raj should monitor the release and expenditure of Finance Commission grants to ensure that there is no delay in their release.

A reasonably robust democratic structure for local governance should be given life through the practice of a robust democratic culture. It is important to instil more powers to local government providing more finance to them to work properly at same time keeping them accountable.

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