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Mains Answer Writing

17-November-2023

Q1) The foundational phase of “Functions, Functionaries, and Funs” has given way to the modern stage of “Functionality” in India’s local institutions. Draw spotlight to the serious functional issues that local institutions have been facing lately.

ANSWER

  • Local institutions in India are a niche political system that derives its source from the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992. State governments are empowered to devolve powers and authority to local governments.
  • Because of the efforts of various governments and people themselves local government systems have become deeply rooted in Indian polity gradually moving away from quantitative aspects like functions, funds, and functionaries to qualitative aspects focused on functionality.

SHIFT FROM THE FORMATIVE PHASE TO THE CONTEMPORARY STAGE OF FUNCTIONALITY

  1. More importance to Local governance institutions: Unlike today where local institutions play significant roles in the execution of key programs like the MGNREGA Act, 2005, NFSA Act, 2013, etc. in formative phases local institutions were not considered tiers of government and were overlooked in the functioning of key legislation.
  2. Awareness among functionaries: In the formative stage, local institutions were seen as training grounds for future leaders and no real power was given to their functionaries. However, in recent times, functionaries are becoming aware of their political powers and duties.
  3. More revenue for local institutions: Since under the principle of subsidiarity local institutions are seen as focal points for the implementation of important policies on health, education, etc. to fill the lacunae of their low revenue generation, the 15th finance commission has granted 4,40000 crore for them.
  4. Feedback mechanism in policy formulation: In recent times, local bodies often function as a feedback mechanism providing important inputs about a pilot project to help the State and Central Government in policy formulation.

CHALLENGES OF LOCAL INSTITUTIONS IN TERMS OF THEIR FUNCTIONALITY

  1. Issues due to variations in local institutions: Due to variations in the organization, mode of recruitment, and qualification requirements of local institutions across states, it becomes difficult to define functionality from the policy point of view.
  2. Issues with elected representatives: The elected representatives often lack the skills to perform their duties, and they are not given the necessary powers to function independently (for example mayors in cities). Factors like this create ground for over-interference of officials.
  3. Issues with the creation of parallel bodies: Parallel bodies created by centrally sponsored schemes and community-based organizations have stunted the development of the Panchayati Raj institutions. For example Water User Groups in UP, and DRDAs in most states.
  4. Issues with revenue generation: Municipal own income comes from various taxes, property tax being the most important tax. However, problems like low coverage, low rates, low collection efficiency, and lack of indexation of property values, make it a non-buoyant source of revenue.
  5. Other issues:
  6. The recommendations of the State Finance Commission are not binding and most of the time ignored leading to economically non-viable local institutions.
  7. The number of officials in local institutions is also low and vacancies are not filled timely. For e.g., almost 25% of panchayats do not have a panchayat secretary.
  8. There are no timely elections to local bodies in many states and often consensus candidates continue for long tenure.

For Devolution to be meaningful, local governments should be effectively empowered to frame regulations, take decisions and enforce their will within their legitimate sphere of action. The local institutions are the backbone of federal governance in India and empowering them helps get better feedback from the beneficiaries which helps in better governance.

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