[Answered] “Local governments still remain hamstrung and ineffective after decades of 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments.” Discuss.

Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual Introduction.
Body. Various inefficiencies in local government. How to plug theses inefficiencies?
Conclusion. Way forward.

Decentralized democratic governance was introduced in India by the 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendments 25 years ago. Local government posed to be a vehicle of inclusive growth and development and tool of empowering democracy. Unfortunately after 25 years local government is inefficient and corrupt. Indeed, the village panchayats have not succeeded in enhancing the well-being, capabilities and freedom of citizens.

Issues and Inefficiencies in Local government in India:

  1. Inadequate devolution: Devolution, envisioned by the Constitution, is not mere delegation. It implies that precisely defined governance functions are formally assigned by law to local governments, backed by adequate transfer of financial grants. All states have not been forthcoming in giving Panchayats and Municipalities enough funds, functions and functionaries.
  2. Low technical knowledge: Low technical knowledge has restricted the aggregation of planning from village to block to district to state to centre. Hence bottom up approach of planning is very limited.
  3. Adhoc meetings: There is lack of clear setting of agenda in gram sabha meetings leading to adhocism with no proper structure.
  4. States’ attitude: From postponing the elections to the failure to constitute State Finance Commissions and District Planning Committees (DPCs), States have been seen to violate the various provisions of Parts IX and IXA.
  5. Inadequate Infrastructure: Insufficient staffing, office space, and infrastructure bottlenecks hamper the functioning of local bodies.
  6. Less taxes: Panchayats and Municipalities have not used their financial powers efficiently. Very few Gram Panchayats levy and collect taxes (on markets, fairs, property, business and so on).
  7. Parallel Institutions: Most States continue to create parallel bodies that make inroads into the functional domain of local governments.
  8. Criminal politics: Criminal elements and contractors are attracted to local government elections, tempted by the large sums of money now flowing to them. They win elections through bribing voters and striking deals with different groups. Furthermore, higher officers posted at the behest of Members of Legislative Assemblies, often on payment of bribes, extract bribes from local governments for plan clearances, approving estimates and payments. Thus, a market chain of corruption operates, involving a partnership between elected representatives and officials at all levels.

How to make local governance effective?

  1. To curb these tendencies, first, gram sabhas and wards committees in urban areas have to be revitalised.
  2. Consultations with the gram sabha could be organised through smaller discussions where everybody can really participate. Even new systems of Short Message Services, or social media groups could be used for facilitating discussions between members of a gram sabha.
  3. Adequate training to develop expertise in the members so that they contribute more in planning process and in implementation of policies and programmes.
  4. Decentralisation of governance can be achieved with devolution of power to lower levels. More financial resource generation powers should be give to these institutions.
  5. Local government organisational structures have to be strengthened. Local governments must be enabled to hold State departments accountable and to provide quality, corruption free service to them, through service-level agreements.
  6. Gram Sabha functioning should be improved. It should fully participate in planning, implementation and performance review (social audit) of various schemes with the participation of all stakeholders including women and other vulnerable groups.

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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