Throttled at the grass roots: how to strengthen decentralised governance

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Source– The post is based on the article “Throttled at the grass roots: how to

strengthen decentralised governance ” published in The Hindu on 11th October 2022.

Syllabus: GS2-  Devolution of Powers and Finances up to Local Levels and Challenges Therein

Relevance– Democratic Decentralisation

News- The article explains the constitutional provisions related to devolution of powers to local government. It also tells about the issue faced by panchayats and the way forward to resolve them.

73rd and 74th constitutional amendments mandated the establishment of panchayats and municipalities. It devolved a range of powers and responsibilities to them.

What is devolution?

It is a formal assignment of power by law. It is accompanied by adequate financial and human resources to carry out this responsibility.

The Constitution empowers states to devolve necessary functions to panchayats. Given diverse habitation patterns, political and social history, it makes sense to mandate States to assign functions to local governments.

A study for the Fourteenth Finance Commission by the Centre for Policy Research, shows that all States have formally devolved powers with respect to five core functions of water supply, sanitation, roads and communication, streetlight provision and the management of community assets to the gram panchayats.

What are key issues with Panchayats?

Funding– The local bodies have inadequate funds.

The money provided to them is not flexible. Thay are mostly tied grants with conditionalities attached to them.

They cannot raise their own taxes and other charges.

Violation of constitutional mandate– The elections are not held regularly at intervals of five years. In Tamil Nadu, panchayat elections have not been held for over two years now, resulting in the State losing finance commission grants from the Union government.

Centralising tendencies– The current Union government has further centralised service delivery by using technology. Panchayats are nothing more than front offices for several Union government programmes.

These tendencies also exist in the case of urban governance. The Smart city programme does not devolve its funds to municipalities.

Corruption– Criminal elements and contractors win elections by bribing the voters. There operates a nexus between elected representatives and officials.

What is the way forward?

Empowering of Gram Sabhas- Gram Sabhas and ward committees need to be strengthened. Consultations with the grama 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 grama sabha.

Organisation– 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.

Taxation powers– They should have taxation powers. It will introduce accountability for local governments.

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