Importance of Democratic Decentralization For Good Governance
Good Governance’ has become a very fashionable concept in the literature on Political Science and Public Administration. It is also widely used by International Agencies such as the United Nations, the World Bank and IMF. The Indian Polity has also committed itself to the theory and practice of Good Governance. One of the main objectives behind the constitutionalization of Democratic Decentralisation, popularly known as the Panchayati Raj through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment was to promote Good Governance in the rural local government system. It was hoped that this step would lead to efficiency, accountability, transparency and responsiveness in ensuring rural governance. It was also hoped that the new system of Panchayati Raj will not only ensure popular participation in the implementation of rural development programmes but will also ensure that the benefits of these reach the rural poor. The 21st century offers India the right opportunity to critically analyze, in the context of government, to meet the future challenge before the country (Geholt, 2005) This is possible only when the government of the day is prepared 58 Concept of Democratic Decentralisation to change its mindset, to cope with the fast pace of technological change, global competition and the emergence of knowledge-based economy. It is pertinent to recall, in context with the contemporary governance scenario, that value-based transparency is the pre-requisite of the good governance and this should happen right from the Centre down to the grassroots levels.
The World Bank has identified a number of aspects of good governance, which has assumed significance both for the developed and the developing countries. These factors deal with political and administrative aspects, which are as follows:
1) Political accountability.
2) Freedom of association and participation rule of law and independence of the judiciary
3) Bureaucratic accountability
4) Freedom of information and expression
5) A sound administrative system leading to efficiency and effectiveness.
6) Cooperation between the government and the civil society (Blunt,1995).
Similarly, ‘the new public management ‘ focuses on management, not policy and on performance appraisal and efficiency. It deals with converting public bureaucracies into agencies, which deal with each other on a user-pay basis (Lane, 1995). If we want to have good governance we have to make bureaucracy responsive and ultimately democratic decentralisation can achieve. The bureaucracy has become an inevitable part of Indian public administration, as civil servant is meant to execute and implement government policies, especially those meant for the deprived sections of the society.
What has been wrong with the accepted concept of democratic decentralisation, popularly known as the Panchayati Raj, particularly before the 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution?
• The pattern of Panchayati Raj was not uniform throughout India, as each state had adopted a pattern suitable to its own political administrative conditions.
• While these institutions took root in a few states and made a significant impact in an embryonic stage and all energies were exhausted simply to keep them alive in most of the states.
• Its working indicated that these institutions were not equipped with adequate powers and resources.
• The bulk of their budget consisted of the grants provided by the state government for the schemes chalked out by the state or the central government in the making of which they had no role, this adversely affected their performance in the field of development.
• Conflict, tensions and clashes between officials and non-officials on petty matters were a common feature.
• Power was nowhere transferred to the people in reality.
In a nutshell, we can say that with all the dimensions and variables Decentralisation in the institutional form of Panchayati Raj, however, came to stay in this country. Political parties penetrated the PRIs, making them subservient to the upper echelons of an integrated political structure. This proceeded from above and was not built from below as conceived by Mahatma Gandhi. Although the 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution has not only accorded a constitutional status to the PRIs, provided for a uniform structure of Panchayati Raj in all the states, listed the powers to be given to the PRIs, made provision for the establishment of Finance Commission in every state, but also made provision for reservation of offices and membership to the scheduled castes in accordance with their proportion in the population of the state. In fact, there has been no real change in the character of the PRIs.
There have been merely formal changes in the context. There has neither been transferred of powers nor that of resources. The women and the scheduled caste have not been empowered because of their lack of participation in the decision- making process. This democratic decentralisation, which is prevalent in India, is neither democratic in character nor decentralised in substance. Moreover, it functions in a highly impersonal and bureaucratic manner. There is yet no model of polity, which has a built-in process of decentralisation that generates people’s power to decide their own fate over a wide range of activities.
When the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act came into vogue, there was a sense of devalue among the ardent admirers of democratic decentralisation in the country, if not among the people at large. After all the demand for according constitutional status to the Panchayati Raj Institutions ( PRIs) was more than a quarter-century old. It was a bold step, we were made to believe, and that not only would ensure the continuity of PRIs but also make the country move steadily towards genuine democratic decentralisation. Above all, the quota system introduced to ensure the representation of marginalized communities like the SCs, STs and women in general in the PRIs was perceived as an added commitment of the political elites to the cause of participatory decentralisation. By all means, it was the first serious attempt, we were told over and again, to expand the social base of the representative democratic system in the country.