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Panchayat Raj & Municipal Government


Panchayats are described in the constitution as institutions of self governance at village level.
As per the constitution, Panchayats have been assigned the function of 
a) Preparation of plans for social and economic development at the village level. 
b) Implementation of the plans. 
c) The implementation of the rural development schemes formulated by Union government and State government.


Though act (73rd AA) describes Panchayats as institutions of self-government but they are seen only as ‘developmental agencies’ and not as full fledged government. Governments role should include both – development as well as the maintenance of law and order.
Studies show that decentralized planning in India remains non starter, Panchayats lack capacity to formulate plans. Hence they continue to be just implementing agencies. However Panchayats are not the sole implementing agencies at the grassroot level, their role is circumscribed by non governmental organizations and voluntary sector. There are number of schemes where NGOs are given direct funds and are implementing agencies.

Vision behind Panchayats.

Since India lives in villages, villages have been the worst affected because of colonial policies. India inherited mass rural poverty. Hence Gandhi proposed panchayats as a institutions for the revival of Indian villages and to address rural poverty.
Gandhi had two prominent ideas to handle poverty and to give the life of dignity to the masses living in the villages. The first was – land reforms. ‘Land to the tiller’ was the only way to handle poverty or hunger. Second – democratic decentralization or Panchayati Raj would give the people of the villages control over the local resources. Thus would result into equitable and sustainable development. Local government also help people to solve their problems quickly and at minimum cost.

Strategies of rural development after independence.

Gandhian approach was rejected as traditional, utopian, based on the ‘nostalgic view’ of Indian villages. Ambedkar was critical of Panchayati Raj. He considered Panchayats as ‘den of ignorance’, where caste system is most entrenched. Similarly Pandit Nehru, a modernist coming from urban background had limited faith in the ability of masses. Preferred bureaucracy led developmental model rather than people led model.

1] Community development program.

It was the largest rural development program ever in the human history. The approach was, bureaucracy led development. Development administration. According to Pt. Nehru, ‘bureaucracy is the most modernized section of the society it will play the role of Vanguard (friend, philosopher and guide) in India’s social revolution.’

Achievement of community development program.

Total failure. If any achievement, it contribute development of administrative infrastructure in country. Country was divided into developmental blocks. Group of villages were placed into blocks. Block was headed by Block Development Officer. He was assisted by Village level workers in his task. His task was to
1) To inform the villagers about governments plans, programs. 
2) Provide them with all sort of support. 
3) Distribute seeds, implements etc. 
4) Motivate them to be a contributor in first Five Year Plan.

Why bureaucracy failed?
1) At the time of independence bureaucracy was trained only in maintaining law and order, they had not exposure in the developmental role. 
2) Since colonial times, corruption had become the culture of bureaucracy. 
3) Bureaucracy had the colonial mindset. Bureaucracy has been ‘steel frame’ of the Raj, the class of organic intellectuals, hence they were not suitable for the task. 

2] Balwant Rai Mehta Committee 1957.

Planning Commission appointed the committee to review the Community Development Program. Committee concluded that community development takes place only when community participates in development. It recommended the institution of people’s representatives at the village level. It recommended three tier Panchayati Raj. People were not able to communicate with the bureaucracy, nor bureaucracy had shown the leadership. Hence these representatives will act as a link.

1st phase of Panchayati Raj

50s and 60s. Phase of enthusiasm. On 2nd October 1959 Pandit Nehru inaugurated Panchayati Raj at Nagore district in Rajasthan after which almost all states introduced Panchayats.

2nd Phase (Stagnation)

70s and 80s.

Indications of stagnation.

Once Panchayats were constituted, there were no regular elections. If Panchayat was dissolved, it remained dissolved.
Lack of devolution of funds, functions, functionaries. However there have been some exceptions. e.g. They had some meaningful existence in Kerala, West Bengal, Karnataka, Maharashtra. In states like Maharashtra Panchayats did survive but controlled by the dominant castes.

Why stagnation?

There have been centralizing trend in Indian polity because of wars with neighbors, cessationist movements.
Central govt. failed to devolve powers to the state governments. States in India came to be known as glorified Municipalities. Hence we could not expect Panchayats to have any meaningful existence.
The success of Panchayats need the will of Union govt. Until and unless Union govt. devolve powers to the state govt.s, State govt.s will have least motivation to devolve powers to Panchayats.

3] Ashok Mehta committee 1977

Janata Party had Gandhian socialists, Janata Party appointed Ashok Mehta committee in 1977. Ashok Mehta Committee has done the exhaustive work on Panchayati Raj experiments in India. It has given a voluminous report for reform of the system but unfortunately its report has not been tabled in the parliament till date. Ashok Mehta committee highlighted the ‘conspiracy against Panchayats’. It mentioned that Panchayats have not failed, they are made to fail.

Who are the conspirators?

Though Union govt. is also culprit as it has not shown the leadership but the main conspirators have been
1_Leadership at the state level.
As mentioned earlier, states themselves are ‘glorified municipalities.’ If strong Panchayats will come into existence, state government will loose relevance.
State leadership was fearful that Panchayats will give rise to a new grassroot leadership, they will challenge the hegemony of the existing elites.
Caste class calculations. Once people at the local level became empowered, they will challenge the existing structures of domination at the local level.
Different studies starting from Balwant Rai Mehta committee show bureaucracy as the main conspirator. The reason is – there will be the shift of power and resources from the hands of bureaucracy to the people. The biggest reason for failure of Panchayati Raj is the lack of cooperation from bureaucracy towards Panchayati Raj representatives.
Recognizing the ground realities, government of Kerala has introduced ‘model code of conduct’ for both – civil servants and the representatives to be followed towards each other. Unfortunately 73rd AA ignored the need for such reform which will play the most critical role in the success.

3rd phase. Phase of revival. 90s

Rajiv Gandhi government brought the revolutionary bills to introduce strong Panchayats and Municipalities. However, these bills could not be passed in Rajya Sabha as states felt that the strong Panchayats will result into bypassing the state governments in India. The bills proposed by Rajiv Gandhi govt. were introduced on the recommendations of LM Singhvi Committee. Committee recommended to give constitutional status.

Why Rajiv Gandhi govt. introduced bills?

India started tiny steps towards liberalization and privatization because it was evident that the world order is changing. Finally in 1991, officially India adopted the new economic policy and in 1992, 73rd AA was passed. It is to be noted that political reforms and economic reforms have to go parallelly. Unfortunately we have moved much ahead in economic reforms but political reforms have not been done at all. Hence we have failed to move ahead with even economic reforms in a smooth manner.

What is the biggest factor for the poor Panchayati Raj in India?

Ultimately it is the failure of people. Especially the advanced section of civil society. Panchayati Raj experiment in India has entirely being supply driven. There has never been any demand for good governance from the people in India. We need grassroot movements (social movements) for good governance.

4] 73rd Amendment Act

What was the main factor behind govt. introducing 73rd AA?

It is the external agencies. International communities compelled govt.
Structural Adjustment Programs introduced conditionalities, the introduction of good governance.
India’s commitments at the ‘Earth Summit’ in 1992. The Agenda 21 adopted at Earth Summit recognized community participation is a precondition to achieve any sustainable development objective.
According to Amartya Sen, ‘until and unless some issue becomes a matter of public discourse/debate, governments will not respond.’ Similarly Habermas suggested the need for public sphere and communicative action.

4th Phase [Phase of disillusionment]

Manishankar Ayyar committee [2012-13] which was set up to analyze the 20 years (1992-2012) of the working of panchayats came to the conclusion that bad panchayati raj has been worse than no panchayati raj. Committee remarked that disillusionment is prevailing with panchayats. Even after 20 years of existence, Panchayats could not bring any qualitative improvement in the life of the people. Hence there is a disillusionment. It would have been better if govt. had not introduced panchayat at all. At least people would not have questioned the idea of decentralization. According to committee, what we have achieved is actually ‘decentralization of corruption’. Nexus has developed between the members of Panchayat (chairpersons), local bureaucracy and politicians. Hence it is better to call it as ‘Sarpanch Raj’ rather than Panchayati Raj.
It is to be noted that gramsabha has been ‘soul’ of the experiment. Gramsabha continues to be a weak institution. There have been lack of empowerment of the people at the grassroot level. Hence capacity building of the people at grassroot level is key to success for Panchayati Raj.

Overall Analysis of 73rd AA.

73rd AA is called as ‘half-baked cake’ i.e. Half hearted attempt. It is said that 73rd AA introduces just a skeleton. Flesh and blood has to be added to make it successful. 73rd AA is a ‘compromised document’. Rajiv Gandhi govt. tried to bring strong Panchayati Raj, however there was opposition from the state govts. They thought that central govt. is trying to bypass the states. Hence 73rd AA, a compromised document which contains 2 types of provisions.
1) Compulsory provisions (Primarily institutional, which create structure). 
2) Voluntary provisions – the provision on which state had objections were turned into voluntary provisions. These provisions are related to the empowerment of Panchayats. (Flesh and blood). These provisions have been left on the states.

It is to be noted that govt. publicized 73rd AA as a huge step towards decentralization, but the careful analysis will show that it is a step, which is not more than devolution. The act creates the skeleton. It leaves on states to provide flesh and blood. There has been huge variation in the experiment among states. e.g. Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Sikkim, MP present examples of strong Panchayats whereas Panchayats in UP, Bihar continue to remain extremely weak institutions.

Provisions of 73rd Amendment Act.

1] Acts make it mandatory to constitute Panchayats in all states. The act provides for three tier model with the exception granted to the states with less than 20 Lack population.
Advantage of the uniform model.
All states have to have similar structure because it becomes convenient for policy making institutions like finance commission to determine what schemes and what amount of funds to be devolved at what level.
Though uniformity is the objective, yet the act does not specify which level of Panchayat will perform what functions. Different states adopt different pattern. Hence the purpose is defeated. What is to be done? Punchhi commission and 2nd ARC suggested ‘activity mapping’ following ‘subsidiarity’ principle.
[ Subsidiarity principle. It is considered as the fundamental principle of good governance. According to the principle, what can be done at local level should not be done at state level, what can be done at state level should not be done at central level. Unfortunately the subsidiarity principle has been ignored in Indian context. ]

2] The act introduces gramsabha. Gramsabha is a heart and soul of the experiment. It is mandatory to constitute Gramsabha for each Panchayat.
Act does not tell the powers of Gramsabha. In some states like Madhya Pradesh (Gram Swaraj experiment), Gramsabha has lot of powers but in many other states, it lacks powers. Manishankar Ayyar Committee held that 1) Only one meeting in a year takes place.  2) Bogus meetings takes place. Hence there is a need for the video recording of the meetings. Gramsabha is supposed to do social auditing. Either people do not have capacity, the persons employed by the contractors are present in Gramsabhas.
Way forward
Like PESA Act (Panchayats Extension in Scheduled Areas), 73rd AA should also clearly mark the functions of Gramsabha.

3] Elections.
Lack of regular elections was the major reason for the stagnation in the Panchayati Raj experiment earlier. If Panchayats were dissolved, they were kept in that state. There was a lack of regular elections.
73rd AA creates 1) State Election Commission.  2) Mandatory regular elections
State Election Commission is not as autonomous as election commission. There is always a question mark on fairness of elections. Whether it is UP or West Bengal. It is suggested to bring State Election Commission under Election  Commission to make it more autonomous body.
The act does not specify the reasons for dissolution of Panchayats hence it entirely depends on state executives. Thus arbitrariness continues.

4] Finances
Lack of adequate finances has been the factor behind the failure of earlier experiments. The act aims to give certainty to the Panchayats. 1) It gives additions responsibility to the finance commission to make recommendations to the union for devolution of funds.  2) It creates state finance commission to make recommendations to the state governments.
Observation by 14th Finance Commission: 1) Unfortunately state govts. do not implement the recommendations.  2) Even the reports of the SFCs are not tabled in the legislature.  3) Lack autonomy.  4) Lack sufficient expertise.
There is a need to streamline the terms of SFCs and FCs for better assessment and disbursements.
As pointed out by Manishankar Ayyar committee, there is a huge corruption at the ground level.
Way forward
Like Kerala, there is a need to establish Panchayat ombudsman. People can register complains of misappropriation by the Panchayati Raj officials.
Though the act mentions about auditing requirements, yet it does not tell about the specific institution. Most of the states have given auditing to CAG. CAG has instituted ‘social auditing’. Social auditing in India continues to remain weak. 1) Lack of capacity among the people. (financial literacy).  2) Lack of cooperation from bureaucracy.  3) The weak implementation of RTI.

5] Planning
Decentralized planning is the heart and soul. Panchayats are the institutions to prepare the plans for social and economic development at the village level. 74th AA provides for District Planning Committees. The idea is to have integrated district level plan.
Observation by Manishankar Ayyar Committee – The weakest feature. Decentralized planning in India remains non starter. Initially states were reluctant even to create the mechanism. Planning is a expert job, which requires training and capacity building. No steps have been taken besides bureaucracy is not interested.

6] Reservation.
The act provides for reservation at all the three levels, including for the post of chair persons, reservation is meant for the members of SC, ST community, Women.
Reservations does not ensure representation or participation. Studies from Tamil Nadu show that the members of upper caste have not even allowed Dalit chairperson to attend the meeting also.
Way forward
Empowerment of the vulnerable sections is of course a necessity but it is a long term measure, in immediate context 1) Make it mandatory that no resolution will be passed without the presence of the members of Dalit community and women representatives.  2) Video recording of the meetings should be made necessary.

7] Bureaucracy.
It is unfortunate that the act does not make any provision related to bureaucracy. Lack of cooperation by bureaucracy as a reason for failure remains ‘well documented fact’. The act neither creates a separate cadre for Panchayats nor impose any obligation on bureaucracy towards Panchayat representatives.
Way forward
Like Kerala, there should be a model code of conduct (MCC) in all states. This code of conduct should clearly define the dos and don’ts for both – bureaucracy towards the representatives and representatives toward bureaucracy.

Above analysis shows that 73rd AA remains half hearted attempt. Panchayats continue to lack funds, functions and functionaries. Besides the loopholes in the act, various other policies contribute to the weakening of system. 1) Presence of parallel agencies like DRDAs (Dist. Rural Develop. Agency).  2) In many states, instead of devolving funds to Panchayats, there is a direct transfer of funds to NGOs.
One of the continuing paradox is MPLAD and MLALAD scheme.
Within 73rd AA, there is a provision for the presence of MPs and MLAs in Panchayat bodies. This also kills the initiative.
It is right to say that the present Panchayati Raj is a bad Panchayati Raj and that is a reason for disillusionment. 1) Political will is needed. 2) The experiment has remained ‘supply driven’. There is a need for grassroot movement for good governance and sustainable development.

According to Punchhi commission,  1) Create legislative councils in all states. Restructure it, let it be the institution to represent local bodies. Empower it. In this way, pressure can be made on state executives to devolve funds at the local level.  2) Create a watchdog body like National Commission and State Commissions for Panchayats.
To conclude, we can say that we need second freedom struggle, million mutinies are required.

74th Amendment Act (Municipal Government)

Historically India has been known for excellence in urban administration. Indus valley civilization can be called as one of the first and highly advanced urban civilization.
Urban centers have been the source of wealth in India, playing the role of trading centers. The age of Mahajanpads, Mauryans, Vijayanagara, is known for its achievements in urbanization. At present, while cities and towns occupy only 2% of total land, they contribute 70% of GDP. Urban centres have been recognized as engines of economic growth.

Unfortunately the state of urban administration at present remains worse than that of villages. Urban administration has been the most neglected area. Britishers tried to introduce some reforms. However after independence, there was hardly any attention towards municipal governance. At least Panchayats were mentioned in directive principles, municipalities were even missing.
There has been the neglect of urban administration because Loksabha is dominated by rural constituencies. Urban areas are sources for generating funds, hence there is greater reluctance among politicians to devolve power to municipalities.
India is passing through the phase of demographic transition. Now 40% of the population is living in urban areas. India aspires to become major power. It requires faster economic growth. Faster economic growth will require revamping of Indian cities. We should learn from China. China has revamped municipal administration. China has been successful in attracting foreign investment. It is a paradox that India is democracy, still municipalities lack power. On the other hand, China lacks democracy, yet provincial as well as local govts. enjoy lot of autonomy. The mayor of Shanghai is as powerful and prestigious post as mayor of London. China has even involved representatives of municipalities even in diplomatic initiatives. On the other hand, the status of municipalities has hardly improved even after introduction of 74th AA. Municipalities suffer from similar weaknesses like Panchayats. Municipalities are more backward in the sense that there is no institution of direct democracy that is Mohalls sabhas at par with Gramsabha, is existing. According to Isher Judge Ahluwalia, ‘we fail to even imagine the amount of loss we are incurring because of neglect of urban administration.’ There cannot be smart city without smart municipality. There are three fundamental roadblocks  1) A federal system which does not empower the 3rd tier.  2) Political system – heavily biased towards rural areas.  3) Lack of adequate institutional framework for metropolitan planning and governance.
Urban administration is more chaotic because of existence of parallel agencies with overlapping jurisdictions.
Lack of uniformity – Municipalities vary. e.g. Nagarpanchayats, Nagarpalikas, Municipal corporations, Notified area committee, court authorities, cantonment boards.
Whether Mayor is directly elected or indirectly elected, the office is ceremonial. The power continues to remain in bureaucracy. Unfortunately even in 21st century, India continues to be ‘overdeveloped state’.

Creation of Parallel institutions.
Municipal corporations are denied of their political role by continued operations by various parastatal agencies created by state govt. These agencies, having certain autonomy are accountable only to state govts. and not local govt.
Urban planning and land use regulation also lies with state govt. controlled development agencies. Globally these are quintessential local body functions.
Central govt. programs such as ‘Smart City’ program seek to ring fence itself from local govts. This program mandates creation of SPVs (Special Purpose Vehicles) for smart cities which will have ‘operational independence and autonomy in decision making and mission implementation’.
It further encourages state govt. to delegate powers available to ULB (Urban Local Body) to Chief Executive Officer of SPV.
This shows level of distrust for ULBs among higher tiers.

Not enough independence e.g. Even for certain functions which are in its purview like levying taxes or civil projects above certain budget – ULBs need permission from State govt.

Posted in PSIR 1B

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