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Mains Answer Writing

15-February-2024

Q1) The issues of local self-governance are primarily the issues of autonomy, authority, and accountability. Analyze.

(250 Words/ 15 Marks)

ANSWER

Local bodies are institutions of self-governance at local level, set up by 73rd and 74th Amendments to the constitution to strengthen grass root participatory democracy. Called as the third tier of democracy, they are beset with several challenges:

Autonomy:

  • Limited devolution of subjects/powers (11th and 12th schedule) by the state governments, resulted in halfhearted reforms.
  • Financial autonomy remains elusive:
    1. Inordinate delays in releasing bill payments, hampering development.
    2. Financial woes dampen the morale of elected representatives.

E.g., rampant delays in payment of salaries etc.

            III. As per economic survey, PRIs depend on devolved funds for 95% of their revenues; PRIs are ineffective in taxing their constituents etc.

  • Absence of a clear demarcation of functions (6th report of 2nd ARC) limits the efficacy.
  • Delay in realisation of the constitutional mandate.

E.g., as per reports, as of March 2023, only 9 states have formed the 6th SFC.

  • Critics question the independence and autonomy of the State Election Commission (SEC).

E.g., senior bureaucrats appointed as election commissioners.

Authority:

  • Lack of powers to hold the cutting-edge bureaucracy accountable (Panchayat Secretaries) leads to bureaucratic apathy.
  • Dominance by parastatal bodies.

E.g., SPVs under the smart cities mission; District Rural Development Agency etc.

  • The functioning of PRIs smacks of ad-hocism.

E.g., absence of a model code of conduct for bureaucrats.

  • The Gram Sabhas, especially powerful under the PESA, have become cosmetic in nature.

E.g., Women, SC/ST etc., vulnerable members are not invited to Gram Sabha meetings.

Accountability:

  • Lack of accountability has marred the objectives of PRIs.

E.g., Mani Shankar Aiyer committee held that Panchayati Raj has become Sarpanch Raj.

  • PRIs, DPCs & MPCs lack wherewithal and capacity to make developmental plans, conduct social audit etc.
  • Stronghold of patriarchal values.

E.g., prevalence of “Panchayat Patis”.

  • Negation of developmental/planning role of the Gram Sabha.

E.g., Cleavages in Gram Sabha on caste/religious lines.

Adequate steps can be taken to make the Panchayats truly representative:

  1. Ensuring political autonomy by devolving powers under the 11th schedule and 12th schedule.
  2. Financial innovation (Green Masala Bonds by Indore Municipality); City Economic Councils (NITI Ayog) to attract investments; monetisation of assets; credit rating of PRIs; devolution of untied funds from Union Finance Commission etc., will strengthen local finances.
  3. Dedicated cadre should be recruited for the PRIs.
  4. Training and capacity building at the cutting-edge level.

E.g., modules for social auditing.

  1. Timely conducting elections and making the constitutional bodies like SEC, SFC more autonomous.
  2. Big Bang Reforms (Kerala model):
    • Appointment of Panchayati Ombudsman.
    • Complete activity and responsibility mapping of panchayats.
    • Prescribe objective conditions for the dissolution of Panchayats.
    • Developing a code of conduct for bureaucrats and officers.

 

It is imperative to reform PRIs, through stakeholder approach, to reinstate their position as a planning body, and the voice of the people.

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