is the process of dispersing decision-making governance closer to the people
and/or citizen. It includes the dispersal of administration or governance in
sectors or areas like engineering, management science, political science,
political economy, sociology and economics. Decentralization is also possible
in the dispersal of population and employment. Law, science and technological
advancements lead to highly decentralized human endeavours. "While frequently
left undefined (Pollitt, 2005), decentralization has also been assigned many
different meanings (Reichard & Borgonovi, 2007), varying across countries
(Steffensen & Trollegaard, 2000; Pollitt, 2005), languages (Ouedraogo,
2003), general contexts (Conyers, 1984), fields of research, and specific
scholars and studies." (Dubois and Fattore 2009).
A central theme
in decentralization is the difference between a hierarchy, based on:
- authority: two players in an
unequal-power relationship; and
- an interface: a lateral
relationship between two players of roughly equal power.
Meaning and context:
decentralisation is aided with different and slippery meaning which changes
according to the context in which it is being used. Finding the appropriate
size of political states or other decision-making units, determining their
optimal relationship to social capital and to infrastructural capital is a
major focus of Anthropology. In management science there are studies of the
ideal size of corporations, and some in anthropology and sociology study the
ideal size of villages. The most relevant uses with which anthropology is
directly related include the following:
Ø Decentralised governance:
Decentralization—the transfer of authority and responsibility for public functions
from the central government to subordinate or quasi-independent government
organizations and/or the private sector (Sundaram 1994). It is a complex and
multifaceted concept. It embraces a variety of concepts. Different types of
decentralization show different characteristics, policy implications, and
conditions for success. Typologies of decentralization have flourished (Dubois
& Fattore 2009). For example, political, administrative, fiscal, and market
decentralization are the types of decentralization.
Ø Political decentralisation: Political
decentralization aims to give citizens or their elected representatives more
power in public decision-making. It is often associated with pluralistic
politics and representative government, but it can also support democratization
by giving citizens, or their representatives, more influence in the formulation
and implementation of policies. Advocates of political decentralization assume
that decisions made with greater participation will be better informed and more
relevant to diverse interests in society than those made only by national
Ø Administrative decentralisation: Administrative
decentralization seeks to redistribute authority, responsibility and financial
resources for providing public services among different levels of governance.
It is the transfer of responsibility for the planning, financing and management
of public functions from the central government or regional governments and its
agencies to local governments, semi-autonomous public authorities or
corporations, or area-wide, regional or functional authorities. The three major
forms of administrative decentralization -- deconcentration, delegation, and
devolution -- each have different characteristics.
Ø Fiscal Decentralisation: Dispersal of financial responsibility is a
core component of decentralisation. If local governments and private
organizations are to carry out decentralized functions effectively, they must
have an adequate level of revenues – either raised locally or transferred from
the central government– as well as the authority to make decisions about
expenditures. Fiscal decentralization can take many forms, including
§ self-financing or cost recovery through user charges,
§ co-financing or co-production arrangements through which the users
participate in providing services and infrastructure through monetary or labor
§ expansion of local revenues through property or sales taxes, or
§ intergovernmental transfers that shift general revenues from taxes
collected by the central government to local governments for general or
specific uses; and
§ authorization of municipal borrowing and the mobilization of either
national or local government resources through loan guarantees.
§ In many developing countries local governments or administrative
units possess the legal authority to impose taxes, but the tax base is so weak
and the dependence on central government subsidies so ingrained that no attempt
is made to exercise that authority.
PANCHAYATI RAJ IN INDIA: DECENTRALISED
raj is a South Asian political system mainly in India, Pakistan, and Nepal.
"Panchayat" literally means assembly (yat) of five (panch) wise and
respected elders chosen and accepted by the village community. Traditionally,
these assemblies settled disputes between individuals and villages. Modern
Indian government has decentralised several administrative functions to the
village level, empowering elected gram panchayats.
(Rule of Village Committee) system is a three-tier system in the state with
elected bodies at the Village, Taluk and District levels. It ensures greater
participation of people and more effective implementation of rural development
programmes. There will be a Grama Panchayat for a village or group of villages,
a Taluk/ block level and the Zilla Panchayat at the district level (Mullick
& Raaj 2007).
traditional village administration in India has an important stake in the
Panchayat system based principally on Kin and contractual system of authority.
British rulers never prioritised Panchayat (Matthew 2000).
From 1870 that
Viceroy Lord Mayo's Resolution gave the needed impetus to the development of
local institutions. It was a landmark in the evolution of colonial policy
towards local government. The real benchmarking of the government policy on
decentralisation can, however, be attributed to Lord Ripon who, in his famous
resolution on local self-government on May 18, 1882, recognised the twin considerations of local
government: (i) administrative efficiency and (ii) political education.
Commission on Decentralisation (1907) under the chairmanship of C.E.H. Hobhouse
recognised the importance of panchayats at the village level. The commission
recommended that "it is most desirable, alike in the interests of
decentralisation and in order to associate the people with the local tasks of
administration, that an attempt should be made to constitute and develop
village panchayats for the administration of local village affairs".
Montague-Chemsford reforms (1919) brought local self-government as a provincial
transferred subject, under the domain of Indian ministers in the provinces. Due
to organisational and fiscal constraints, the reform was unable to make
panchayat institutions truly democratic and vibrant.
National Congress from the 1920s to 1947, emphasized the issue of all-India
Swaraj, and organized movements for Independence
under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. The task of preparing any sort of
blueprint for the local level was neglected as a result. There was no consensus
among the top leaders regarding the status and role to be assigned to the
institution of rural local self-government; rather there were divergent views
on the subject (World Bank 2000).
The First Five
Year Plan failed to bring about active participation and involvement of the
people in the Plan processes, which included Plan formulation implementation
and monitoring. The Second Five Year Plan attempted to cover the entire
countryside with National Extensive Service Blocks through the institutions of
Block Development Officers, Assistant Development Officers, Village Level
Workers, in addition to nominated representatives of village panchayats of that
area and some other popular organisations like co-operative societies.
In 1957, Balwantrai Mehta Committee studied the
Community Development Projects and the National Extension Service and assessed
the extent to which the movement had succeeded in utilising local initiatives
and in creating institutions to ensure continuity in the process of improving
economic and social conditions in rural areas. The Committee held that
community development would only be deep and enduring when the community was involved
in the planning, decision-making and implementation process (Government of
India 1957, Kashyap 1989).
were for as follows :-
- an early establishment of elected
local bodies and devolution to them of necessary resources, power and authority,
- that the basic unit of democratic
decentralisation was at the block/ samiti level since the area of
jurisdiction of the local body should neither be too large nor too small.
The block was large enough for efficiency and economy of administration,
and small enough for sustaining a sense of involvement in the citizens,
- such body must not be constrained
by too much control by the government or government agencies,
- the body must be constituted for
five years by indirect elections from the village panchayats,
- its functions should cover the
development of agriculture in all its aspects, the promotion of local
industries and others
- services such as drinking water,
road building, etc., and
- the higher level body, Zilla
Parishad, would play an advisory role.
One of the prime
areas of concern in this long debate on panchayati raj institutions was fiscal
decentralisation. The K. Santhanam
Committee was appointed to look solely at the issue of PRI finance, in
1963. The fiscal capacity of PRIs tends to be limited, as rich resources of
revenue are pre-empted by higher levels of government, and issue is still
debated today. The Committee was asked to determine issues related to
sanctioning of grants to PRIs by the state government, evolving mutual
financial relations between the three tiers of PRIs, gifts and donation,
handing over revenue in full or part to PRIs. The Committee recommended the
- panchayats should have special
powers to levy special tax on land revenues and home taxes, etc.,
- people should not be burdened with
too many demands (taxes),
- all grants and subventions at the
state level should be mobilised and sent in a consolidated form to various
- a Panchayat Raj Finance
Corporation should be set up to look into the financial resource of PRIs at
all levels, provide loans and financial assistance to these grassroots
level governments and also provide non-financial requirements of villages
During 1977, Ashok Mehta committee was formed to
assess the functioning and weakness of existing panchayat system.
had to evolve an effective decentralised system of development for PRIs. They
made the following recommendations: -
the district is
a viable administrative unit for which planning, co-ordination and resource
allocation are feasible and technical expertise available,
- PRIs as a two-tier system, with
Mandal Panchayat at the base and Zilla Parishad at the top,
- the PRIs are capable of planning
for themselves with the resources available to them,
- district planning should take care
of the urban-rural continuum,
- representation of SCs and STs in
the election to PRIs on the basis of their population,
- four-year term of PRIs,
- participation of political parties
- any financial devolution should be
committed to accepting that much of the developmental functions at the
district level would be played by the panchayats.
Later on G.V.K.
Rao Committee (1985) and L.M.Singhvi Committee (1986) strongly suggested for strengthening
of Panchayat system.
The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act
The idea that
produced the 73rd Amendment (Indian Constitution 1992) was not a response to
pressure from the grassroots, but to an increasing recognition that the
institutional initiatives of the preceding decade had not delivered, that the
extent of rural poverty was still much too large and thus the existing
structure of government needed to be reformed. It is interesting to note that
this idea evolved from the Centre and the state governments. It was a political
drive to see PRIs as a solution to the governmental crises that India was
experiencing. The Constitutional (73rd Amendment) Act, passed in 1992 by the
Narasimha Rao government, came into force on April 24, 1993. It was meant to provide
constitutional sanction to establish "democracy at the grassroots level as
it is at the state level or national level". Its main features are as
- The Gram Sabha or village assembly
as a deliberative body to decentralised governance has been envisaged as
the foundation of the Panchayati Raj System.
- A uniform three-tier structure of
panchayats at village (Gram Panchayat — GP), intermediate or block
(Panchayat Samiti — PS) and district (Zilla Parishad — ZP) levels.
- All the seats in a panchayat at
every level are to be filled by elections from respective territorial
- Not less than one-third of the
total seats for membership as well as office of chairpersons of each tier
have to be reserved for women.
- Reservation for weaker castes and
tribes (SCs and STs) have to be provided at all levels in proportion to
their population in the panchayats.
- To supervise, direct and control
the regular and smooth elections to panchayats, a State Election
Commission has to be constituted in every State and UT.
- The Act has ensured constitution
of a State Finance Commission in every State/UT, for every five years, to
suggest measures to strengthen finances of PRIs.
- To promote bottom-up-planning, the
District Planning Committee fDPC} in every district has been accorded
- An indicative list of 29 items has
been given in Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution. Panchayats are
expected to play an effective role in planning and implementation of works
related to these 29 items.
there are about 3 million elected representatives at all levels of the
panchayat one-third of which are women. These members represent more than 2.4
lakh Gram Panchayats, about 6,000 intermediate level tiers and more than 500
district panchayats . Spread over the length and breadth of the country, the
new panchayats cover about 96 per cent of India's more than 5.8 lakh villages
and nearly 99.6 per cent of rural population. This is the largest experiment in
decentralisation of governance in the history of humanity.
visualises panchayats as institutions of self-governance. However, giving due
consideration to the federal structure of our polity, most of the financial
powers and authorities to be endowed on panchayats have been left at the
discretion of concerned state legislatures. Consequently, the powers and
functions vested in PRIs vary from state to state. These provisions combine
representative and direct democracy into a synergy and are expected to result
in an extension and deepening of democracy in India. Hence, panchayats have journeyed
from an institution within the culture of India to attain constitutional
Figure 1 Present structure of Panchayat system in India (Panchayat and Rural
Development West Bengal 2010)