(Sample Material) Gist of Important Articles from IIPA
Topic: People’s Empowerment Arvind K. Sharma
The key to fostering participation, as understood in its empowerment
dimension, lies in Decentralisation the essence of which is delegation of
Decentralisation is variously understood and practiced, and
has a variety of nuances attached to it. The term is used both in a narrow,
techno-managerial sense to conn no to deconcentration as well as in a more
profound and influential way to refer to the process of devolution designed to
effect redistribution of political power in society.
The protagonists of new public management—a reform movement
currently in progress in a large number of Western public bureaucracies — have
argued that introduction of market mechanisms in public systems might be the
ultimate in the practice or dccentralisation in the sense that power is
decentralised to the individual user of public services, who exercises choice
between Competing suppliers.
In whichever form it might be practiced, decentralisation
could become an effective instrument of redefining power equations. The concepts
of ‘exit’ and ‘voice’ developed by Hirschman are useful analytical tools for
understanding power relationship between citizens and public organisations Voice
and exit in essence represent alternative citizen empowerment strategies.
Empowerment, under exit, is achieved via an impersonal route, through the
operation of the Invisible Hand; a dissatisfied customer makes an exit from the
scence by taking his business to another provider. Under the voice option,
empowerment is accomplished through political action; the citizens voice protest
by becoming politically organised.
The exit route espouses introduction of markets in public
services; an act of exit on the part of customer, in theory, triggers market
forces which will induce recovery on the part of a supplier which has declined
in comparative performance. The alternative strategy, the voice option, seeks to
Briefly, one seeks empowerment via the market under one category while under
the other it is sought through the political route.
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The Market Route
Those advocating the exist option argue that introduction of
market mechanism in the public domain builds citizen power through publication
of public services; the individual user in enabled to exercise choice between
competing service provider.
Under this model, inefficiency is punished and quality rewarded through power
of the individual to take her/his business elsewhere.
By breaking the monopoly of the monolithic State as the provider and by
introducing choice and participation the market model seeks to redefine power
equation between the State and the citizen.
Criticisms against this approach to empowerment are numerous,
and rather too well known. Most importantly, the considerations of disposable
income, mobility and information inevitably an elite bias in the provision of
public services based on the market model. In other words, because of these
constraints, markets is out of the reach of the poor. Secondly, in the public
service context, ‘choice’ is more apparent than real; what does one do when
there is not where else to go to? How can, for instance, one change one’s
electricity supplier? Choice is precluded from services provided by monopolies.
Beside, how does not introduce markets in services concerned
with social control where supply of public regulatory service is correctively
enforced (public security, environmental planning, town planning). Equally,
where is the question of making choice available to consumers is respect of
services whose supply must be rationed? Likewise, the market model is clearly
not applicable to services which must be consumed on a collective rather than
individual basis, e.g., reads, street lighting.
Collective needs need to be addressed collectively so that a
consensus based on the views of all the constituents and sections of society may
emerge. The market model, because it accentuates individualistic perspective,
actually militates against efforts to build and articulate collective concerns
and organise collective action. In this sense, it has been argued, market
mechanism is an assault on local democracy.
The alternative route to empowerment invokes what is
essentially the local self-government option. The local self-governing
institutions (LSGIs) are in essence created through the process of devolution.
However, in making public services available locally, the decentralisation
device may also be used. Therefore, both devolution as well as decentralisation
may be used in installing the strategy of decentralisation for citizen
A brief discussion of the concepts of decentration and devolution may be in
order at the present juncture.
Decentralisation, in its deconcentration aspect, is spurred
by what are essentially functional consideration, e.g., preventing the central
system from becoming too unwidely; securing speed and economy in delivery of
public goods and services. Certain of field agencies illustrates the phenomenon
of deconcentration. Delivery from a single location imposes constraints of
logistic (for the providers of services) and causes delay and hardship (for the
recipients); these handicaps can be removed if delivery is effected from a large
number of locations that are physically proximate to the localities.
Physical dispersal of delivery systems to a large number of
convenient locations is identified by the label of “localization”. Localisation
is motivated by the desire to provide clients an essay access to pubic agencies
and takes the shape of physical relocation of goods and services form a single
central point to sites within local communities. A concomitantly discernible
phenomenon, a deconcentration progress, is that of decongestion: decongestion of
the headquarters form the essence of this process. The primary criterion by
which to judge decongestion is the extent to which the central system is enabled
to shed its workload. Deconcentration, therefore, has essentially an
instrumental character, it emphasises functionality and is oriented towards
securing operational effectiveness of public organisation. It is
decentralisation is strictly administrative, rather than political sense:
deconcentration is geared to fostering administrative rationality.
An over-simplified version will picture field agencies, created through a
process of deconcentration, somewhat as follow:
(a) Field agencies stand in a subordinate relationship to the headquarters,
unlike the LSGIs which hare the ‘coordinates’ of the central system (state
governments). The former have derived, not original, jurisdiction.
(b) A principal-agent relationship obtains between the centre (headquarters) and
its local territorial formation (field agencies).
(c) The field units are simply executants of the orders of instructions handed
down to them by the headquarters, and no more. The former may be viewed as ‘the
long arm’ of the centre; they exercise delegated authority with detailed
stipulation of referral of cases to the headquarters.
(d) Policies and priorities are framed by the headquarters which coordinates the
field agencies’ operations and performs an overall supervisory role vis-à-vis
(e) Field agencies function through the headquarters appointed personnel and do
not appoint their own.
If deconcentration denotes the managerial dimension of
decentralisation, devolution may be thought to refer to its political aspect.
Power sharing or power equalization in society forms the principal motivation
force behind the process of devolution. The value being maximized via this route
is that of redistributive politics, i.e., redistribution or reallocation of
power in society so as to enable the local communities to have a voice, a say, a
role in the society’s power structure.
The LSGIs-signifying efforts to form institutions of
autonomous governance at the level of localities, may be thought to form the
most classic example of devolution, Traditionally, the LSGIs are known to have
constituted the most well known device to widen and deepen popular participation
in the process of democratic governance. The argument having been that If only
the decision-making power was transferred to sub-national constituencies and new
levels of governance created, will it be possible for the masses at large to
achieve a voice In determining policies that after their lives. That the LSGIs
were potent vehicles of converting a representative democracy-with its
periodical ritual of elections into a participatory democracy, which will permit
people at the grassroots a genuine participation in power.
The most distinguishing characteristic of the LSGIs, as
contrasted with the field offices, is that they command a coordinate and not
subordinate relationship with the central system (which devolves power) (in our
context the state governments).
Local governments units are corporate bodies with
legislatively constitutionally defined function and delegations. They have the
power to levy taxes and employ their own personnel. The have legally recognized
territorial jurisdictions (geographical boundaries).
Representative assemblies, elected on the basis of universal
adult suffrage, are the hallmark for the LSGIs. It is in this sense that the
process of devolution, whose culmination marks the formation-of the popularly
elected people’s assemblies- mini legislatures-in localities, signifies an
effort to bridge the gulf between power (which is lodged and Centre and in the
states) and the people, who live at the local level. Governance by popularly
elected representative forms, so to say, the chief trademark of political
devolution; this stands in a clear and sharp contrast with the managerially
oriented concept of deconcentration, leading to formation of field offices
manned by Centrally/state appointed bureaucrats who govern though a system of