(Sample Material) UPSC IAS Mains GS Online Coaching : Paper 2 - "Devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein"

Sample Material of Our IAS Mains GS Online Coaching Programme

Subject: General Studies (Paper 2 - Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations)

Topic: Devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein

Devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein

Devolution is a form of decentralization which seeks to create independent level of authority of government with functions and responsibilities. It is an arrangement for central or state governments to relinquish some of its functions to the new units of government that are outside its control. This can be achieved by providing for it in the Constitution itself or by ordinary law of the land. One of the major reasons for the failure of the local self-government institutions in India has been half-hearted devolution of powers to them. The 73rd and 74th amendments also contained provisions for the devolution of powers and responsibilities to rural (Panchayati Raj Institutions) and urban (Nagarpalikas) local self- government institutions.

These amendments respectively provided that the panchayats at village, block and district levels would have 29 subjects of rural importance as listed in the 11th schedule and municipalities would have 18 subjects of urban importance as listed in the 12th schedule. These amendments bestowed upon the local self- government bodies - both rural and urban - the responsibility to prepare and implement a number of development plans based on the needs of local people. They operationalise the concepts of spatial planning and micro level planning to facilitate decentralized socio economic development in India. With the help of these powers the local self government institutions are supposed to promote agricultural, industrial, infrastructural and ecological development, poverty alleviation and development of women, children, scheduled and backward castes. These development functions are in addition to the obligatory functions such as ensuring the supply of drinking water, street lighting, maintenance of schools and hospitals etc.

There seem to be plethora of debates involving the concept, utility and effectiveness of the local self- government institutions. In early village councils an arrangement of government by consent and an active sense of community prevailed over caste divisions. Since beginning, these features of the PRIs have been used to legitimise them. According to Lieten and Srivastava, the village panchayats were established as units of local self- government and focal points of development in country at large more often than not captured by autocratic and invariably corrupt leaders from among the male elite. As argued by some other scholars, the institutions were used by the rural powerful for their benefits. Paul Brass was of the view that PRIs were made to fail because of the reluctance of state politicians to devolve much powers to the district level or below because they feared that if such local institutions acquired real powers they would become alternative source of influence and patronage. Rajani Kothari argued that village councils were nothing but catchy slogans and false that promises had enabled the rulers to contain the forces of revolt and resistance and prevent public discontent from getting organised. Ashok Mehta who headed the second Committee on Panchayati Raj refused to be pessimistic about the PRIs. He thought that the process of democratic seed drilling in the Indian soil made people conscious of their rights and also cultivated in them adevelopmental psyche. He was of the opinion that these institutions had failed because development programmes were channelised through official state bureaucracy, finance had been inelastic and these institutions were dominated by privileged sections of society. Noorjahan Baba argues that centralised planning and administration were considered necessary to guide and control the economy and to integrate and unify new nations emerging from long periods of colonial rules. This might have been possible because as Lieten and Srivastava think, the Indian state was reputed to have an enlightened vision and a developmental mission. According to Baba in the 1960s there was great disillusionment with centralised planning because it failed to achieve equitable distribution of the benefits of economic growth among regions and groups within developing countries. Henry Maddic is of the view that there exists a triangular relationship between democracy, decentralisation and development.

The experience of the PRIs in different states of the country has not been the same. The formal beginning was made when Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurated PRIs at in Nagaur in Rajasthan October 1959. The Rajasthan model of PRIs revolved around the three tier, village panchayat, panchayat samiti and zilla parishad. The panchayat samiti at the block level was the kingpin of the Rajasthan model. In contrast to the executive role of the panchayat samiti, the zilla parishads were advisory bodies. Maharashtra and Gujarat followed a model in which zilla parishads were nodal point of action as main units of planning, development and administration.

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