Rural Development Through Democratic Decentralization - amr

Rural Development Through
Democratic Decentralization
Prof. R. Suryanarayana Reddy
Center Head, CDP&A
Initially, a two-tier planning was initiated at the
National and State levels. The planners and
policy-makers did, however, realise the
limitations of this system for a country as big in
size and diversity as India. They felt that multilevel planning was meeded if the fruits of
development were to reach the grass-root
level, otherwise there was always a possibility
of losing sight of problems, requirements and
potentials of the local areas while planning
form the State headquarter.
Under the Constitutional arrangements,
various subjects were divided into three
categories-Central, State and Concurrent.
Rural Development is a concurrent
subject, wherein the national policies
are framed with the consensus of all
the States.
The idea of decentralised planning
below the State level has featured
consistently in all the Five-Year Plans.
The First Five-Year Plan talked about
breaking the National and State plans
into local units based on district, town
and villages.
It did not, however,
elaborate the way decentralisation
would be put into operation.
First experiment in this regard, the Community
Development Blocks were established so that
infrastructure was created at the block level for
development functions. The block level staff
was entrusted with the responsibility of
initiating all round development of the villages.
However, it certainly lacked the popular
involvement, as its scope was limited. The
programme was empowered only with
economic and administrative decentralisation
and not with political decentralisation, which
was vital for its success.
Second Five –Year Plan, It was clearly
stated that district would be the pivot of
the structure of democratic planning. In
emphasising planning at the district level
and below, the objective was to carry
the district and State plans as close to
the people as possible through local
cooperative self-help.
Balwantrai Mehata Committee constituted by
Government in 1958 on community
administration and democratization of power.
decentralisation”, a democratic body in each
development block for all the development
activities at that level was suggested, i.e. A
three-tier integrated organic structure with
Gram Panchayats at the base, Zilla
Panchayat (ZP) at the apex and Panchayat
Samities or Kshetra Samities in-between.
Acceptance of these recommendations
by the National Development Council
The State legislatures passed legislations to
create these bodies in their states.
These legislations provided for development
of districts as their main unit. Simultaneously,
these bodies were given enough powers not
only to raise resources but also to requisition
the machinery at the district and lower levels
to implement development plans to
Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs)
Third Five-Year Plan and it was proposed that
the States should formulate their annual
plans, at least in the following activities on the
basis of district and block level plans.
1. Agriculture, including minor irrigation, soil
conservation, village forests, animal
husbandry, dairying, etc.,
2. Development of co-operatives;
3. Village industries;
provision of school buildings for local
5. Rural water supply, programme of
construction of approach roads linking each
village to the nearest road or rail head; and.
6. Works/programmes for fuller utilisation of
manpower resources in rural areas
The Administrative Reform Commission in 1967
examined the question of planning at the district
level. Thereafter the Planning Commission issued
a set of detailed guidelines for preparation of
district plans. These guidelines also visualised
preparation of a perspective plan along with
medium-term and annual plans. On the basis of
Planning Commission’s guidelines, the State of
Maharashtra started preparation of district plans in
1972. It not only identified the schemes for district
planning boards known as District Development
and Planning Councils at the district level. Gujarat
initiated district planning in 1979. Karnataka was
the third state to start district level planning around
this time. All these States evolved their own
procedures of devolution of plan funds to the
districts as well as formulation of plans.
The new Government at the Union Level in
1977 set-up a Working Group under the
Chairmanship of M.L.Dantwala to draw up
guidelines for the block-level planning. The
Working Group noted that the remoteness of
the planning agencies from the areas of
implementation and vastness of geographical
coverage hamper matching of sectoral
financial allocations with location-specific
needs as well as potential for regulating the
distribution of the developmental gains.
Another committee, headed by Ashok Mehta, was
appointed to inquire into the working of the panchayat
Raj Institutions and to suggest measures to
strenghten them so as to enable the decentralised
system of planning and development to be effective.
Ashok Mehta Committee felt that development work in
future needs intricate designing and greater coordination, which would be unwise to attempt at the
State level. It also suggested that district planning
unit consisting of a professionally qualified team
should be placed with the ZP.
The Planning Commission again set-up
a Working Group on district planning
under the chairmanship of C.H.1984,
recommending the ‘stage approach’ to
district planning.
The Seventh Plan document (1985-90)
re-affirmed its faith in the process of
decentralisation and resolved to follow
the process on the lines suggested by the
Rao Committee.
In 1985, the Planning Commission
appointed a committee under the
chairmanship of G.V.K. Rao to review
existing administrative arrangements for
rural development and to suggest
appropriate structural mechanism to
activate PRI’s.
The Eighth Five-Year Plan (1992-97) was launched from 1st
April 1992 against the background of two years of poor
economic performance. It offered a package of structural
adjustments in the form of economic liberalisation,
privatisation and fiscal disciplinary reforms. The Government
recognised that under the evolved system, people have
become mere passive observers and receivers of doles.
Hence, the emphasis Institutions (PRI’s) as the focal point for
organising and implementing rural development programmes.
Tjis approach was consistent with the views of Mahatma
Gandhi and the Recommendations of Ashok Mehta
Committee on PRIs. The socio-economic activities like
education and literacy, health and family planning, land
improvement, minor irrigation, recovery and development of
waste-land and afforestation were treated as “core activities”
in which people’s participation could be maximum and more
fruitful. It would also result in lowering financial outlays on
these activities. Government envisaged a happy marriage
between integrated area development approach and
democratic decentralisation of rural development.
The Ninth Plan (1997-2002) provides
that the PRIs should prepare plans for
economic development and social
justice for an integrated development of
the district.
Certain broad principles are laid down for
assigning a role to each of the three-tiers; the
actual devolution could be based on the rule
that what can be done at a lower level should
be done at that level, and not at a higher
level. Initially, the Gram Sabha would list out
developmental priorities and assist in the fair
selection of beneficiaries under various
programmes and schemes. Thereafter, the
planning process would begin from below
with the preparation of village plans, which
would be incorporated into the intermediate
level Block plans and finally merged into a
District Plan.
Union Government has set apart 41 per cent
of plan resources for decentralised planning,
including ‘un-tied funds’ and’incentive grants’
to match the contributions raised by PRIs.
Thereafter sectoral allocations at the State
level should be on the basis of demands
made from below by the districts and in
keeping with the national priorities. In this
way, it would be possible to bring about both a
vertical and a horizontal integration of
resources and services.
The Ninth Plan aslo lays emphasis on a
comprehensive time bound training
policy for the functionaries, in order to
equip them with updated information
and modern technologies, which in turn
have to be disseminated amongst the
rural people.
Hitherto, the question of decentralised
planning has been restricted to one of
planning techniques but it needs to be
extended to the whole process of sociopolitical changes.
The electorate, elected representatives
and the bureaucracy, has to jointly
create an environment conducive for
these institutions to take roots.
There are at least six areas where local
government empowerment is sought to be
achieved through constitutional means.
These are:
(i) typology and size,
(ii) electoral representation,
(iii) institutional existence and autonomy,
(iv) local functions,
(v) local finance, and
(vi) external accountability.
While ‘social audit and transparency’ in
the functioning of PRIs is crucial for
evoking peoples’
participation, the
institutional structure should support
financial and administrative devolution
of power. While rural development
necessitates decentralisation, political
compulsions, many a times, pull
towards centralisation.
Political parties in power are always
uncertain of their position. So they tend to
resist and resent any attempt at setting up of
local organisations outside their control. The
Central and Stae leaderships look with
suspicion at the emergence of any strong
decentralised institutional political leadership
and hence evolve ways and means of
controlling the power and authority of the
lower tiers.
Despite the obvious struggle for power and
control. The Central Government has shown
the political will to constitutionalise the status
of PRIs in larger public interest, the
Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 has
therefore been cherished as a watershed
event for achieving rural development
through democratic decentralisation. It has
laid down certain mandatory provisions in
terms of structural organisation of PRIs while
the functional aspects are left to the option of
respective states.
The catch lies in the areas where each
state has to frame its own laws to
operationalise the mandate given in
favour of strengthening the PRIs.
Provisions of 73rd Amendment
2-3 tier structure
Direct Elections
Reservations for weaker sections
Fixed Tenure
State Finance Commission
State Election Commission
District Planning Committees(DPCs)
Direct election of GP
Role and scope of Gram Sabha
Powers and functions of each
Financial devolution
Maintenance and Audit of
Composition and functions of
Reservation to Adhyakshas posts
at GP, TP and ZP level by rotation.
Rural development so far has been
characterised by centralised planning
withemphasis on macro-level targets than on
ground level realities and felt needs of the
people. The bureaucratic system sought
little involvement of the community for whom
these programmes were not evaluated
against the end objectives viz., removal of
poverty or improvement of standards of living
in the rural areas.
Based on the Directive Principles
enshrined in the Constitution, various
Governments made attempts towards
setting-up of multi-structured Panchayat
Raj system, but did not endow it with
requisite powers and resources.
It is only now, after more than 45 years
of independence, that 73rd Amendment
of the Constitution enables Panchayats
to play a substantial role in the local
The emergence of PRIs is leading to
changes in rural poor structure as well as the
equation between the officials and nonofficials. Within the Panchayat Raj set-up
there is a grim fight, directly or indirectly,
among the political parties, to capture power,
as it facilitates their political power struggle,
at higher levels, as well as among different
tiers of PRIs for appropriating maximum
resources. PR system has to surmount many
challenges by evolving consensus in the
long-run, if it has to survive and play an
important role in ensuring growth and equity
in rural areas.
With the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution
envisaging the establishment of Panchayats
as units of local government, it is mandatory
for the States to devolve adequate powers
and responsibilities upon the PIRs. The
success of this system essentially depends
upon the external as well as the internal
politico-administrative set-up.
political will is said to have been
demonstrated by away of constitutional
amendment at the Centre and through the
State legislation, yet it needs to be further
reiterated in terms of devolution of funds,
functions and functionaries to the PRIs.
The aspirations and expectations of the
community though raised by the PRIs
have not been fulfilled to a great extent
due to paucity of resources. This has
eroded the faith of the common man in
the local government. The alienation of
people thus shadows their active
participation in developmental process.
At the State government level, it is
apprehended that non-empowerment of Gram
Sabhas with inadequate devolution of powers,
finances and top-down approach to planning,
monitoring and evaluation, manipulation of the
pattern of reservation for the posts of
Adhyakshas by the ruling party would
decentralised character of the PRIs. Further,
vesting of major powers, functions and funds
at ZP/TP level could impoverish the GP in
reaching the goal of self-reliance or
empowerment of the poor and weak.

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