Daily Editorials for UPSC IAS Exam Preparation

Governance at decentralised levels

GS2 – Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.


  • The 2001 Census had 593 districts, the 2011 Census had 640; the number has crossed 700 now.
  • But the governance structure at the lower levels remains in doldrums.

Why new districts are created?

  • More districts are presumably created for administrative convenience and delivering public goods and services better.
  • Take the Upper Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh. In 2011, this had a population of 7,984 and a geographical area of 9,129 square kilometres.
  • This makes it India’s largest district, but one with the lowest population density. The district headquarter is Anini and you can imagine the distance of other parts of Upper Dibang from Anini.
  • When deciding on new districts, there are obvious criteria like population, geographical area and the distance from district headquarters.
  • Once revenue laws have determined districts, government development programmes work through DRDAs (District Rural Development Agency), at least on the rural side; there are also elected representatives, through zila panchayats or parishads (ZPs) or district councils, further down to blocks and villages.
  • The number of ZPs is 618, a little lower than the number of districts, because there are urban districts too. (All such numbers change, depending on the year.)

How new districts get formed?

  • The oldest existing statute is the Bengal Districts Act of 1836. It is a statute with a single sentence and says the following, “Power to create new zilas: It shall be lawful for the State Government, by notification in the Official Gazette, to create new zilas in any part of West Bengal”.
  • This is the text as it stands today, not as it was in 1836. There have been amendments in 1874, 1903, 1920, 1948 and 1950.
  • The parallel legislation still exists in Bangladesh.
  • Other states have sufficient powers under relevant land revenue legislation to create and define districts, sub-divisions of districts and even villages.
  • Since states can create and change districts, the number of districts varies and are increasing.
  • With that 2011 base, Uttar Pradesh had 71 districts and Lakshadweep had one.

What are the problems associated with new districts?

  • Once there is a new district, barring time-lags, there will also be a new ZP, through the relevant state election commission.
  • There are various entities involved in a district’s development — the district collector/district magistrate/district Commissioner, the DRDA, the MP, multiple MLAs and ZPs. Unless they work together, a lot of resources, not just financial, will be frittered away.
  • Because of the DRDA structure, it probably works at the district level.
  • For instance, making the ZP president the chairperson of the DRDA doesn’t necessarily mean the ZP works in tandem with the DRDA. Below the district level, it does not work.

The governance structure of the district

  • There are 6,603 intermediate-level panchayats and 2,49,016 gram panchayats. At the district level, the DRDA chairperson has oversight about the district’s development and MPs or MLAs are part of the DRDA.
  • In principle, it should be possible to work on district-level planning. That’s true even if the DRDAs are replaced by something like rural development cells in ZPs, to function as district planning committees.
  • In 1950s, government development programmes are through community development blocks (CD blocks), under the overall charge of a BDO (block development officer).
  • For example in Andhra Pradesh, the sub-unit of a district is a revenue division and the sub-unit of a revenue division is a mandal.
  • In different states, it is called a mandal, circle, tehsil, taluka, sub-division, CD block, but there is often a revenue division or circle above it.
  • Other than the BDO, there is the tehsildar/talukdar and the intermediate-level panchayat, variously referred to as the mandal, taluka or block panchayat or panchayat samiti.
  • The BDO, MP and MLAs are members of the panchayat samiti.
  • But there isn’t a sense that there is a coherent governance structure at the panchayat samiti level, straddling the elected, the executive and land and revenue administration, the last specifically mentioned because development typically requires land issues to be sorted out.
  • Stated differently — no single entity is clearly responsible for a block’s development.

Changes effected after constitutional amendments

  • With the 73rd and 74th amendments of theConstitution of India, decentralization of planning is emphasized and the methodology of district plan was changed.
  • The sequence in the preparation of district plan can be as follows
  • Preparation of district vision, block vision and gram panchayat level vision.
  • Preparation of participatory plan involving Gram Sabha from Gram Panchayats to Zilla Parishad.
  • Preparation of plans by Urban Local Bodies.
  • Consolidation of plans prepared by local bodies by District Planning Committees.
  • Planning starts with the preparation of vision documents by local bodies
  • A vision document is for 10 to 15 years is to be prepared by the district and for each local government based on a participatory assessment. The DPC may hold formal interactions with local governments and other key stakeholders on this and then finalise it.
  • The document should clearly identify the key reasons for backwardness / development shortcomings and address issues impeding development.
  1. District vision
  • District vision document will cover – Agriculture and allied sectors, Availability and development of water sources, Industries – especially traditional, small industries including food processing, Infrastructure including power, Drinking water and sanitation, Literacy, school education, Health and medical facilities, Poverty reduction and basic needs, Gender and children, Social justice – SC / ST, Persons with disability etc.
  • To assist the DPC in preparing the vision document (and subsequently to vet the draft plan proposals), a Technical Support Group may be constituted in each district. It may consist of departmental officers nominated for the purpose in addition to their duties or retired persons locally available or a local academic institution or established NGO with a proven record – similarly, technical support as appropriate, may be organized for the urban areas, intermediate panchayats and village
  • Further, if District is to be the economic unit for planning exercise, the scope of vision document could be expanded to include areas of comparative advantage of each district which would be the basis for attracting private investment.
  1. Block vision
  • After finalizing the vision document for the district at the district level, the document will be discussed at the block level and a vision document for the block will be prepared with some modifications based on the conditions of the block.
  • The vision document for each block need not be completely different because the agro-ecological conditions of some planning units at this level may be same, particularly when a district is divided into a large number of Inter Mediate Panchayats as in the case ofAndhra Pradesh.
  • Even though the same vision is adopted for some blocks / mandals, it is necessary to have the vision owned by the Intermediate Panchayat. This exercise will be done by a team of experts at block level. The same team will be responsible for plans at the GP level. However, the team will take some members like professionals or retired persons belonging to the area to assist the team in the preparation of the plan. The general formats for planning at the lowest unit level viz., GP or ULB will be prepared at the district level and they will be adopted with certain modifications at the block level.
  • Vision of theGram Panchayat will also be prepared accordingly. The vision of the GP will be based on the Socio-economic Profile of the GP and views of the GP.
  1. Plan for Gram Panchayat/municipality
  • This is the third stage, the plan at the GP or ULB will be prepared. This will be prepared by the team with the help of people’s participation.
  • The will first interact with the GP and prepare a vision on the lines of the district vision.
  • Once the Gram Panchayat vision is approved, the team will conduct several Group Discussions to find out the potentials, needs and constraints of the village economy in Gram Sabha. The felt needs of these communities and the support needed for improving their livelihood conditions will be elicited.
  • Once this exercise is completed, it will be discussed in the Gram Sabha. This approach will help to study the situation thoroughly and prepare the plan.
  • In particular, all the schemes CSS State sponsored schemes will be examined thoroughly with a view to understand their suitability to the area. This can be more easily ascertained from the beneficiaries/stake holders.
  • The plan should also take into account the long term development perspective of the GP and also natural resource management (NRM) aspects.
  1. Plan at block level
  • The above three steps followed the top down approach in the preparation of the district plan. After this GP Plan is prepared and no plan is ready at higher levels except the vision.
  • The Plans at the higher levels will be prepared in the next steps. In this step, the GP plans will be consolidated and put before the IP. In the GP plans, the benefits of some of the schemes will go beyond the GP and such schemes may figure in the other GP plans also.
  • Hence, they have to be separated and duplication has to be avoided. Similarly, some schemes which provide benefits beyond the GP level may not be identified in any GP.
  • The Block Plan has to identify those schemes / projects. This exercise will be done at the meetings of the Intermediate Panchayat level.
  1. District Plan
  • The final stage is the preparation of thedistrict  This will be finalized after the Block Plans are finalized in the same way as the Block Plan is finalized on the basis of the GP Plans in the Block.
  • The schemes that will not figure in the Block Plans, but are essential for thedevelopment of the district will be identified at this stage.
  • Further, an attempt will have to be made to achieve functional and spatial integration and use the norms for the provision of social infrastructure.
  • The above five steps will help in the preparation of the perspective plan.
  • To work out the annual plans, the financial resources available have to be taken into account.

 District Planning Committe

  • District Planning Committee(DPC) is the committee created as per article 243ZD of the Constitution of India at the district level for planning at the district and below.
  • The Committee in each district should consolidate the plans prepared by thePanchayats and the Municipalities in the district and prepare a draft development plan for the district.
  • In preparing the draft development plan, the DPC shall have regard to matters of common interest between thePanchayats and the Municipalities including spatial planning, sharing of water and other physical and natural resources, the integrated development of infrastructure and environmental conservation and the extent and type of available resources, both financial or otherwise.
  • The DPC in this endeavor, is also mandated to consult such institutions and organizations as may be specified.
  • In order that the plans at different levels are prepared, there is need to strengthen the system comprising the machinery ofplanning and the process of consolidation of plans at the district level.

What is the status of Gram Panchayats?

  • That argument extends lower down, to the gram panchayat, and these have got a substantial amount of resources, courtesy the Fourteenth Finance Commission.
  • There are obvious questions about capacity, a lack of devolution of functions, funds and functionaries, convergence and separate cadres. Perhaps those are prerequisites before one can answer my question.
  • Decentralised planning is meant to start from below and “below” doesn’t mean the district. Gram panchayats/gram sabhas are supposed to have several “planning” functions. The intention is to make planning participatory.
  • But unlike the district, and like the block, we don’t have a coherent governance and administrative structure. Unlike even the panchayat samiti, there is no direct link between the executive and the elected in the gram panchayat.


  • Thus, unlike the district, there is no proper structure which owns the planning and development functions in panchayat samitis and gram panchayats.
  • Hence, whenever we talk about decentralised planning, we tend to think of districts — and nothing below.
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