1. Discuss the constitutionally mandated role of LSGs
2. What is stifling them from realizing the objectives – what are states doing and not doing to prevent them from realizing the full potential
3. Suggest steps to improve the state of LSGs and bring in grassroots development
Local Self Government is the management of local affairs by such local bodies who have been elected by the local people. It was constitutionalized through the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment to build democracy at the grassroots level and was entrusted with the task of local development in the country.
However, a lot remains to be done in order to further decentralization and strengthen democracy at the grass-root level.
- The grey area is the lack of adequate funds. There is a need to enlarge the domain of panchayats to be able to raise their own funds.
- The interference of area MPs and MLAs in the functioning of panchayats also adversely affected their performance.
- The 73rd amendment only mandated the creation of local self-governing bodies and left the decision to delegate powers, functions, and finances to the state legislatures, therein lies the failure of PRIs.
- The transfer of various governance functions—like the provision of education, health, sanitation, and water was not mandated. Instead the amendment listed the functions that could be transferred and left it to the state legislature to actually devolve functions. There has been very little devolution of authority and functions in the last 26 years.
- Because these functions were never devolved, state executive authorities have proliferated to carry out these functions. The most common example is the terrible state water boards.
- The major failure of the Amendment is the lack of finances for PRIs. Local governments can either raise their own revenue through local taxes or receive intergovernmental transfers.
- The power to tax, even for subjects falling within the purview of PRIs, has to be specifically authorized by the state legislature. The 73rd Amendment let this be a choice open to the state legislatures—a choice that most states have not exercised.
- A second avenue of revenue generation is intergovernmental transfers, where state governments devolve a certain percentage of their revenue to PRIs. The constitutional amendment created provisions for State Finance Commissions to recommend the revenue share between state and local governments. However, these are merely recommendations and the state governments are not bound by them.
- Though finance commissions, at every level, have advocated for greater devolution of funds, there has been little action by states to devolve funds.
- PRIs also suffer from structural deficiencies i.e. no secretarial support and lower levels of technical knowledge which restricted the aggregation of bottom-up planning.
- Genuine fiscal federalism i.e. fiscal autonomy accompanied by fiscal responsibility can provide a long term solution without this PRIs will only be an expensive failure.
- 6th report of 2nd ARC, ‘Local Governance- An inspiring journey into the future’’, had recommended that there should be a clear-cut demarcation of functions of each tier of the government.
- States should adopt the concept of ‘activity mapping’, wherein each state clearly delineates the responsibilities and roles for the different tiers of the government with respect to the subjects listed in the Schedule XI.
- The subjects should be divided and assigned to the different tiers on the basis of accountability to the public.
- States like Karnataka and Kerala have taken some steps in this direction but overall progress has been highly uneven.
- There is a need for bottom-up planning especially at the district level, based on grassroots inputs received from Gram Sabha.
- Karnataka has created a separate bureaucratic cadre for Panchayats to get away from the practice of deputation of officials who often overpowered the elected representatives. Such practices need to be replicated in other states for strengthening the true character of local self-governance.
- The center also needs to financially incentivize states to encourage effective devolution to the panchayats in functions, finances, and functionaries.
- Training should be provided to local representatives to develop expertise so that they contribute more to planning and implementation of policies and programs.
- There should be clear mechanisms to ensure that States comply with the constitutional provisions, particularly in the appointment and implementation of the recommendations of the State Finance Commissions (SFCs).
Local democracy in India is in deep disarray. The immediate need of the hour is to take remedial action in the interest of democracy, social inclusion, and cooperative federalism.