25 years of Pan­chay­ati Raj: Map­ping the road ahead

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - Vikram Singh Gaur and Roshni Tara Gaur is joint sec­re­tary at NITI Aayog and Tara is a Young Pro­fes­sional at NITI Aayog.

The Pan­chay­ati Raj in­sti­tu­tion (PRI) is cel­e­brat­ing the 25th an­niver­sary of its in­cep­tion this year. The in­sti­tu­tion was for­mal­ized through the 73rd amend­ment to the con­sti­tu­tion in 1992 with the pur­pose of de­cen­tral­is­ing gov­er­nance to the lo­cal level. The 73rd and 74th con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments her­alded de­cen­tralised gov­er­nance and al­lowed in­dia to move to­wards a truly rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy from just the ‘largest’ democ­racy. This mo­men­tous event was a wa­ter­shed in in­dia’s polity, and brought about a par­a­digm shift in fis­cal fed­er­al­ism and gov­er­nance. The con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments en­vis­aged a pack­age of de­vo­lu­tion and au­ton­omy to dif­fer­ent lev­els of gov­ern­ment and brought forth a par­tic­i­pa­tory form of gov­er­nance.

The essence of par­tic­i­pa­tory democ­racy has been cap­tured well in the lo­cal gov­er­nance sys­tem through a frame­work en­sur­ing quin­quen­nial elec­tions as in the states and the cen­tre, rep­re­sen­ta­tion of marginalised com­mu­ni­ties and women, es­tab­lish­ment of state fi­nance com­mis­sions (sfcs) and es­tab­lish­ment of district plan­ning com­mit­tees, among other things.

Lim­i­ta­tions to de­vo­lu­tion: tack­ling the 3Fs

The pur­pose of the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment was the de­vo­lu­tion of func­tions, func­tionar­ies, and fi­nances – the 3Fs. To en­sure that the Pris got enough fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence and didn’t have to rely com­pletely on trans­fers, it be­came mandatory for states to con­sti­tute SFCS to re­view the fi­nan­cial po­si­tion within the state. The con­sti­tu­tion of SFCS ad­dresses the is­sue of fi­nan­cial au­ton­omy of the Pris, but the func­tional au­ton­omy of these in­sti­tu­tions re­mains a chal­lenge.

ac­cord­ing to ar­ti­cle 243(g) of the con­sti­tu­tion, the states have been man­dated to de­volve ad­e­quate pow­ers and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the Pris. The Xith sched­ule lists 29 sub­jects which have been as­signed to the Pris so that they are able to pre­pare plans for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and so­cial jus­tice ac­cord­ing to the same. The state is re­spon­si­ble for clearly de­lin­eat­ing the am­bit of each tier of lo­cal gov­ern­ment and thereby en­sur­ing func­tional au­ton­omy and trans­parency. The clear iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of what each tier of pan­chayat is re­spon­si­ble for is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial for en­sur­ing ef­fi­cient and trans­par­ent gov­er­nance.

in 2005-06, the Pan­chayat em­pow­er­ment and ac­count­abil­ity in­cen­tive scheme (Peais) was in­tro­duced to im­prove the de­vo­lu­tion process within the states. This cen­trally spon­sored scheme had the ob­jec­tive of in­cen­tivis­ing states to em­power the pan­chay­ats through the de­vo­lu­tion of the 3Fs, and to in­cen­tivise the pan­chay­ats to put in place an ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem. un­der this scheme, the min­istry of pan­chay­ati raj, through an ex­ter­nal body, has been rank­ing the per­for­mance of the states/uts an­nu­ally. ac­cord­ing to the

de­vo­lu­tion in­dex of 2015-16 (see de­vo­lu­tion Re­port 2015-16, MOPR and Tiss), Ker­ala has been the best per­former in terms of de­vo­lu­tion of func­tions and func­tionar­ies in prac­tice, while Haryana has de­volved the funds best.

ac­cord­ing to a study con­ducted by the Tata in­sti­tute for so­cial sci­ences (Tiss), “de­vo­lu­tion the­ory clearly in­di­cates that ‘ef­fec­tive trans­fer of func­tions based on the prin­ci­ple of sub­sidiar­ity’, ‘un­am­bigu­ous con­trol of the Pan­chayat over the func­tionar­ies dis­charg­ing the func­tions’, ‘fi­nan­cial autho­riza­tion of the Pan­chayat com­men­su­rate to the func­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity’ and the ‘abil­ity of the Pan­chayat to func­tion as cut­ting edge part­ners with the line depart­ment as au­ton­o­mous agen­cies in de­ci­sion mak­ing’ are crit­i­cal to ef­fec­tive­ness in de­vo­lu­tion.” This has still not been achieved in most states ex­cept for Kar­nataka, Ker­ala, Tamil nadu, Ma­ha­rash­tra and gu­jarat.

The im­ped­i­ment that arises in re­al­ity is that while the law man­dates the role of pan­chay­ats, it is am­bigu­ous in dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing the roles and thus al­lows for co­ex­is­tence of both cen­tralised and de­cen­tralised ac­tions in ser­vice de­liv­ery and/or pro­gramme ex­e­cu­tion. The is­sue of am­bi­gu­ity in the di­vi­sion of func­tions and funds has al­lowed con­cen­tra­tion of pow­ers with the states and thereby re­strain­ing the elec­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tives who are more aware and sen­si­tive to the ground level is­sues to take con­trol. This has the po­ten­tial to threaten the ethos of the demo­cratic fed­er­a­tion that in­dia is and brings forth the ur­gency to tackle this is­sue.

Map­ping the func­tions

one plau­si­ble way to ad­dress this chal­lenge is for states to adopt the con­cept of ‘ac­tiv­ity map­ping’, wherein each state clearly de­lin­eates the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and roles for the dif­fer­ent tiers of the gov­ern­ment in re­spect to the 29 sub­jects listed in the Xith sched­ule. The sub­jects are di­vided and as­signed to the dif­fer­ent tiers on the ba­sis of ac­count­abil­ity to the pub­lic and the pub­lic fi­nances.

The sixth re­port of the sec­ond ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­forms com­mis­sion had rec­om­mended that there should be a clear-cut de­mar­ca­tion of func­tions of each tier of the gov­ern­ment. Kar­nataka has been the first state to bring about ac­tiv­ity map­ping in func­tion­ing. it un­der­took ac­tiv­ity map­ping and the de­vo­lu­tion of funds and func­tionar­ies si­mul­ta­ne­ously for each level of pan­chayat. This po­si­tioned the zilla and taluk pan­chayat as the plan­ners, fa­cil­i­ta­tors, and own­ers of the ex­ec­u­tive ma­chin­ery. con­se­quently, gram pan­chay­ats be­came re­spon­si­ble for the pro­vi­sion of lo­cal ser­vices while gram sab­has in­stru­mented ac­count­abil­ity at the low­est lev­els.

Kar­nataka’s ex­pe­ri­ence lays forth an ex­am­ple for other states to adopt as well as learn from their chal­lenges to en­sure seam­less func­tion­ing of the gov­ern­ment. A sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge that Kar­nataka seeks to man­age is the com­men­su­rate de­vo­lu­tion of funds and func­tionar­ies. The process of ac­tiv­ity map­ping needs to be com­ple­mented by en­sur­ing the de­vo­lu­tion of other two Fs.

Trig­ger the change

The min­istry of pan­chay­ati raj has pro­vided guide­lines that the states can re­fer to while adopt­ing this mech­a­nism. The ‘ac­tiv­ity ma­trix’ pro­vided sug­gests the sub­jects and the ac­tiv­i­ties that each tier of the gov­ern­ment can be given re­spon­si­bil­ity for. The trig­ger for mov­ing for­ward has been made avail­able to the states.

The case for de­ter­min­ing the cur­rent sta­tus of ac­tiv­ity map­ping and thereby de­vo­lu­tion of the 3Fs is crit­i­cal. con­se­quently, the need to achieve suc­cess in the same is per­ti­nent to en­sure ef­fec­tive democ­racy at the grass­roots level. This will al­low for ef­fi­cient plan­ning and ex­e­cu­tion of schemes, and more im­por­tantly, bring forth con­ver­gence in the mul­ti­tude schemes and pro­grammes that are be­ing im­ple­mented by both the cen­tre and the states. There­fore, ac­tiv­ity map­ping is an im­per­a­tive and cru­cial step to­wards en­sur­ing de­vo­lu­tion as well as bet­ter out­comes for wel­fare schemes and so­cio-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

Kar­nataka has been the first state to bring about ac­tiv­ity map­ping in func­tion­ing. It un­der­took ac­tiv­ity map­ping and the de­vo­lu­tion of funds and func­tionar­ies si­mul­ta­ne­ously for each level of pan­chayat. This po­si­tioned the zilla and taluk pan­chayat as the plan­ners, fa­cil­i­ta­tors, and own­ers of the ex­ec­u­tive ma­chin­ery.

A gram sabha in progress in the 1950s

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