Local Government System in India

Pakistan-India Legislators and Public Officials Dialogue on Sharing of Experiences on Governance and Democracy Dubai, UAE December 12, 2015 Backgroun...
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Pakistan-India Legislators and Public Officials Dialogue on Sharing of Experiences on Governance and Democracy Dubai, UAE December 12, 2015

Background Paper

Local Government System in India

Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development A n d Tr a n s p a r e n c y

Pakistan-India Legislators and Public Officials Dialogue on Sharing of Experiences on Governance and Democracy Dubai, UAE December 12, 2015

Background Paper

Local Government System in India

Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development A n d Tr a n s p a r e n c y

PILDAT is an independent, non-partisan and not-for-profit indigenous research and training institution with the mission to strengthen democracy and democratic institutions in Pakistan. PILDAT is a registered non-profit entity under the Societies Registration Act XXI of 1860, Pakistan. Copyright © Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency - PILDAT All Rights Reserved Printed in Pakistan Published: December 2015 ISBN: 978-969-558-573-3 Any part of this publication can be used or cited with a clear reference to PILDAT.

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Local Government System in India

CONTENTS Preface Abbreviations and Acronyms About the Author Introduction

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Panchayats In Post-Independence Period - Constitutional Debate - Rise and Decline of Panchayats till 1977 - Asoka Mehta Committee - Need for Constitutional Support

10 10 10 11 11

Constitution (73rd and 74th Amendments) Acts 1992 - Fundamental Changes in Indian Democratic Polity - Women's Leadership - Special Act for Tribal Areas

12 13 14 14

Salient Features of the Local Government System in India - State Finance Commissions - District Planning Committees - Emergence of Gram Sabha - Social Audit - Right to Information and Panchayats - Towards Little Republics

15 15 15 15 15 16 16

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Preface Preface

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ocal Government System in India is a background paper authored by Prof. George Mathew, Founder Director & Chairman, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, India for the benefit of participants for the Pakistan-India Legislators and Public Officials Dialogue on Sharing of Experiences on Governance and Democracy, scheduled to be held in Dubai, UAE, on December 12, 2015. The paper outlines the developments and intricacies within the Panchayat Raj system in India during the PostIndependence Period. Prof. Mathew, while discussing the Panchayat Raj system, highlights the emergence of Gram Sabha, the Role of the Women, the Special Act for Tribal Areas and District Planning Committees. He also touches upon the Constitutional Debate regarding the Panchayat Raj and the emergence of the 73rd And 74th Amendments Acts of 1992 in the Indian Constitution.

Disclaimer The views expressed in this paper belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT). Islamabad December 2015 05

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Local Government System in India

Abbreviations and Acronyms UPA MoPR BRGF PEAIS RSVY SFCs ATRs DPC

United Progressive Alliance Ministry of Panchayati Raj Backward Regions Grant Fund Programme Panchayat Empowerment and Accountability Incentive Scheme Rashtriya Sama Vikas Yojana State Finance Commissions Action Taken Reports District Planning Committee

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Local Government System in India

Aboutthethe About Author Author

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rof. George Mathew is the Founder Director of the Institute of Social Sciences (ISS), New Delhi, India. He is a member of several committees of the Federal Government and on the Board of Governors of National and International organizations and has held many prominent positions including Visiting Fellow, University of Chicago, South Asian Studies Centre (1981-82) and Visiting Professor, University of Padova (1988). Prof. Mathew was awarded the Fulbright Fellowship for the University of Chicago in the summer of 1991. He has also participated and presented in international conferences on Political Process, Democracy, Federalism, Human Rights, Religion and Society. He is currently specialising on the Local Government system, Decentralisation and Gender Equity. Some of his major works include: (i) Communal Road to a Secular Kerala; (ii) Panchayati Raj from Legislation to Movement and edited works: (i) Shift in Indian Politics; (ii) Dignity for All: Essays in Socialism and Democracy; (iii) Panchayati Raj in Karnataka Today: Its National Dimensions; (iv) Panchayati Raj in Jammu and Kashmir; (v) Status of Panchayati Raj in States of India 1994; (vi) Status of Panchayati Raj in the States and Union Territories of India 2000; (vii) Grassroots Democracy in India and China: The Right to Participate (co-ed.); and (viii). Inclusion and Exclusion in Local Governance: Field Studies from Rural India. He has contributed to a number of research articles and papers to both national and international academic and research journals and books. Prof. George Mathew has produced the film: “Swaraaj: The Little Republic” (Based on a true story) which won the national award for the Best Film on Social Issues (2002) from the President of India for “its strong depiction of women's empowerment in rural India”. 09

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Local Government System in India

Introduction It is widely recognised that self-governing village communities characterised by agrarian economies had existed in India from the earliest times. Not only are they mentioned in the Rig Veda, which dates from approximately 1200 B.C., there is also definite evidence available of the existence of village "sabhas" (councils or assemblies) and "gramins" (senior persons of the village) until about 600 B.C. Sir Charles Metcalfe, the Provisional Governor General of India (1835-36), called the Indian village communities "the little republics." It was in 1687 that the first municipal corporation was formed in Madras because of the British colonial interest in trading centres. In 1870, the viceroy, Lord Mayo, got a resolution passed by his council for decentralisation of power to bring about administrative efficiency in meeting the demands of the people and to add to the finances of the "existing imperial resources of the country."1 The government resolution of May 18, 1882 during the viceroyalty of Lord Ripon, providing for local boards consisting of a large majority of elected non-official members and presided over by a non-official chairperson, is considered to be the Magna Carta of local democracy in India. The village panchayats were central to the ideological framework of India's national movement. Gandhiji had defined his vision of village panchayats (village Swaraj) as a complete republic based on perfect democracy and individual freedom.2

Panchayats in Post-Independence Period Constitutional Debate After independence, in the Constitution of India, Panchayats got mention in the Directive Principles of State Policy (Part IV of the Constitution), which is not mandatory. Article 40 reads: "The state should take steps to organise village Panchayats and endow them with such power and 1. 2. 3. 4. 10

authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.” Rise and Decline of Panchayats till 1977 India's development in the early 1950s was planned without taking cognisance of Gandhiji's idea of gram swaraj. The country had to wait till the study team headed by Balwantray Mehta recommended that "public participation in community works should be organised through statutory representative bodies"3 to see the coming into being of active local governments in the country. During this stage, the term "Panchayati Raj" came into vogue conceptually as a process of governance. It refers to a system organically linking people from the Gram Sabha to the Lok Sabha. Etymologically, it is derived from Urdu. In one of his meetings with the author, Mr. S. K. Dey had disclosed that the term was coined by Hon. Jawaharlal Nehru. It is distinct from the term Panchayat, which connotes a local body limited to a geographical area. The state of Rajasthan was the first state to inaugurate Panchayati Raj by Hon. Prime Minister Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru on October 2, 1959 at Nagaur, near Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. Mr. Nehru hailed the system as "the most revolutionary and historical step in the context of new India."4 He expressed similar sentiments while inaugurating the new Panchayati Raj at Shadnagar, about 60 kms from Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh) nine days later. Hon. Mr. S. K. Dey, Minister for Community Development in Nehru's cabinet and the architect of Panchayati Raj after independence, elevated the whole idea to a philosophical level and viewed it as an instrument, which linked the individual with the universe. In the sphere of national democracy he visualised an organic and intimate relationship between the Gram Sabha (village assembly) and the Lok Sabha (Parliament). By 1959, all the states had passed Panchayat acts, and by the mid-1960s, Panchayats had reached all parts of the country. More than 217,300 village Panchayats, covering over 96 percent of the 579,000 inhabited villages and 92 percent of the rural population had been established. On an average, a Panchayat covered a population of about 2,400, in two to three villages.

M. Venkatarangaiya, and M. Pattabhiram (eds). 1969, Local Government in India: Select Readings, Allied Publishers (Bombay, 1969), p. 97. M.K. Gandhi, "My Idea of Village Swaraj," Harijan, 26 July 1942. Government of India, Report of the Team for the Study of Community Projects and National Extension Service (Balwantray Mehta Committee) 1959. p. 23. The Hindustan Times (Delhi), 3 October 1959.

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There was enthusiasm in rural India and the people felt that they had a say in affairs affecting their daily lives. Younger and better leadership was emerging through the Panchayati Raj Institutions and there was a fairly high degree of satisfaction among the people with their working. Nevertheless, the Panchayati Raj System had been moving downhill, Panchayati Raj Institutions becoming only a "living caricature of local government."5 The bureaucracy, in alliance with local powers, state and central-level politicians, began to discredit the new system by highlighting its shortcomings. It saw in these local bodies the domination of the upper or dominant castes, corruption and total ineptitude. The Asoka Mehta Committee In 1977 a committee chaired by Asoka Mehta was set up to enquire into the working of the Panchayati Raj Institutions, and to suggest measures to strengthen them so as to enable a decentralised system of planning and development to be effective. The committee's report (1978) is a seminal document, which seeks to make Panchayats an organic, integral part of our democratic process. The Panchayati Raj Institutions which came into being in certain states after the Asoka Mehta Committee's recommendations could be considered the second generation Panchayats. The most important thrust of the second phase was that the Panchayats emerged from a development organisation at the local level into a political institution. The emphasis shifted from the bureaucracy to the political elements. In the states of West Bengal, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and later in Jammu and Kashmir, following the Asoka Mehta committee report, the attempt had been to make Panchayats into genuine political institutions. Thus they were a microcosm of the state itself with all its ramifications. Need for Constitutional Support It may be recalled here that the Asoka Mehta committee favoured participation of political parties in Panchayat elections with their symbols and made the first official recommendation for including Panchayati Raj in the Constitution.

5.

Abhijit Datta, "Decentralisation and Local Government Reform in India," Indian Journal of Public Administration, Vol. XXXI, No. 3, JulySeptember, 1985, p.562. 11

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rd

th

Constitution (73 And 74 Amendments) Acts 1992 On May 15, 1989 the Constitution (64th Amendment) Bill was introduced in Parliament by the then Hon. Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi. Although the Constitution (Sixty-fourth Amendment) Bill got a two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha, in the Rajya Sabha on October 15, 1989 it failed to meet the mandatory requirement by two votes. The National Front government introduced the 74th Amendment Bill (a combined bill on panchayats and municipalities) on September 07, 1990 during its short tenure in office but it was never taken up for discussion. By this time all political parties through their statements and manifestos had supported constitutional amendment for strengthening panchayats and a propanchayati raj climate was being created in the country. In September 1991, the Congress government under Hon. Prime Minister Mr. Narasimha Rao introduced the 72nd (Panchayats) and 73 rd (Nagarpalikas) Constitutional Amendment Bills. These two bills were referred to a Joint Select Committee of the Parliament. The Lok Sabha passed the two bills on December 22, 1992 while the Rajya Sabha passed them the next day. By the time the Parliament passed the two bills, their sequence changed to 73rd and 74th respectively. Following their ratification by more than half the state assemblies, the president gave his assent on April 20, 1993. They came into force as the Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) Act 1992 on April 24, 1993 and Constitution (Seventy-fourth Amendment) Act 1992 on June 01, 1993. These amendments to the Constitution brought about a fundamental change not only in the realm of local self-government but also in India's federal character. The new Panchayats which started their journey in 1993 with great euphoria entered the new millennium with new-found hope. A letter written by Hon. Prime Minister Mr. A.B. Vajpayee to the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Mr. Chandrababu Naidu on April 27, 2001 categorically stated that, constitutionally, Panchayats have been visualized as the third tier of governance in the federal polity. He deplored “the tendency of many State Governments to create parallel

6. 7. 8. 9.

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structures, which marginalize Panchayati Raj Institutions.”6 It gave a much-needed confidence to all concerned, that with political will the 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendment Acts could be implemented in letter & spirit in the country. In 2004, when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government came to power, for the first time, a separate Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MoPR) was created. Hon. Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar was made the first Union Minister of this ministry. There was a very positive response to this move, but there was also a view that it should have been the Ministry of Local Government entrusted to coordinate and facilitate core ministries, which are closely associated with local development to ensure better planning and monitoring of local development programmes as also their efficient implementation. Evidently, only a full-fledged Ministry of Panchayats and Municipalities, Ministry of Local Government with appropriate mandate, could implement the provisions in Part IX and IXA of the Constitution. However, no action was taken by the coalition government in this regard.7 During the five-year period (2004-2009) the Ministry of Panchayati Raj made an impact on the seventy per cent population of this country. The push it gave for national debate on various issues affecting the lives of ordinary people, the ideas and programmes it generated at the state level and below, to make Panchayats the 'Institutions of Self-Government', created a lot of hope in the mind of the common man.8 From July to December 2004, MoPR organized several Round Tables of state ministers in-charge of panchayati raj on major themes in different parts of the country. They were: (i) Devolution of Functions (Kolkata), (ii) Planning and Local Government (Mysore), (iii) Provision of Panchayats (extension to the scheduled areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) (Raipur), (iv) Panchayati Raj in the Union Territories (Chandigarh), (v) Preparation of Annual Reports on the State of the Panchayats, including Preparation of a Devolution Index (Srinagar), (vi) Election to the Panchayats (Guwahati), and (vii) E-Governance (Jaipur). The papers presented and the deliberations held in these round tables have generated several conceptual and practical ideas to take the Panchayats forward.9 The Union Minister of

Panchayati Raj Update, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, Vol. VIII, No. 6 (9)), June 2001, p.3. George Mathew, “Ministry of Local Government: Need of the Hour”, Employment News, Vol. XXIX, No. 20, 14-20 August 2004, pp. 1, 6. George Mathew, “Devolution and Rural Development”, India International Centre: Golden Jubilee Lecture, New Delhi, 27 February 2012. Government of India. A compendium of resolutions of the Seven Round Tables of Ministers in-charge of Panchayati Raj, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, New Delhi, July-August 2004.

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Panchayati Raj signed memoranda with 22 chief ministers on how to strengthen the panchayats by implementing the provisions of the 73rd Constitution Amendment through the State Acts. Three other initiatives launched during this period included the Backward Regions Grant Fund Programme (BRGF), Activity Mapping and Panchayat Empowerment and Accountability Incentive Scheme (PEAIS). First, the Backward Regions Grant Fund Programme (BRGF) for 250 districts in 27 states. It was started in 2007 merging the Rashtriya Sama Vikas Yojana (RSVY). In 232 districts, panchayats and the municipalities plan and implement the programme. The grant was 'untied' and nearly 11 per cent of the total allocation was for capacity building. The under utilization of the fund was significant. For instance, in 2011-2012, Rs. 5,050 crore (Indian Rupee) was allocated but the Ministry had released only Rs. 3,917 crore (Indian Rupee). 10 The main reason for underutilization was the lack of capacity in programme management at the state and district levels. A second initiative was Activity Mapping. In the first Round Table held in Kolkata, India it was resolved that “ On the basis of the identification of activities related to devolved functions, and through the application of the principle of subsidiarity, States/UTs may review/undertake time bound Activity Mapping….”11. In December 2009, after more than five years, the Secretary of Panchayati Raj in his letter to all the states emphasized the “need to carry out a detailed review of the Activity Mapping and update the same…’’12. It was clear that hardly any substantial devolution of functions, functionaries and funds to panchayats had taken place in most of the states (except Kerala) making the activity mapping exercise irrelevant or out of context. Third initiative was the introduction of Panchayat Empowerment and Accountability Incentive Scheme (PEAIS) aimed at motivating states to empower the Panchayats and to ensure Panchayats to have accountability systems to bring about transparency and efficiency. A Devolution Index was computed using funds, functions and functionaries and their subcomponents as parameters of measurement. Since 1989, the Devolution Index also had a fourth 10. 11. 12. 13. 14.

dimension, viz.; framework - “establishing the state election commission, holding regular panchayat elections, Constitution of State Finance Commissions at regular intervals and setting up of District Planning committees.”13 The PAEIS rewarded incremental devolution in addition to cumulative devolution. From 2011-2012, the Panchayats performance was assessed and rewarded. The judiciary had been extremely positive about the importance of the 73 rd and 74 th Constitution Amendments. The judgement, taken by five-judge constitution bench headed by Hon. Chief Justice Mr. Y. K. Sabharwal, had directed that panchayat and municipal elections needed to be held within the stipulated time-frame. “The Election Commission shall try to complete the election before the expiration of the duration of five years' period as stipulated in Clause (5)”.14 Fundamental Changes in Indian Democratic Polity Two fundamental changes have taken place in Indian democratic polity. They are as follows: 1. First, the democratic base of the Indian polity has widened. Before the Amendments, The democratic structure of India through elected representatives was restricted to the two Houses of Parliament, 25 State Assemblies and two assemblies of Union Territories (Delhi and Pondicherry). They had just 4,963 elected members. Now there are more than 589 District Panchayats, 6904 Block/Tehsil/ Mandal Panchayats at the intermediate level and 2,39,000 gram Panchayats in rural India where about 72 per cent of India's population lives. Urban India, with about 27.8 per cent population, has 149 city corporations, 1,772 Town Municipalities and 2,023 Nagar Panchayats. Today, every five years, about 3 million representatives are elected by the people of India through the democratic process, out of whom more than one million are women. Women head about 175 District Panchayats, more than 2000 Block/Tehsil/Mandal Panchayats and about 85,000 gram Panchayats. Likewise, more than 30 city corporations and about 600 Town Municipalities have women Chairpersons. A large number of excluded groups and communities (Scheduled Castes – SCs; Scheduled Tribes – Sts)

Annual Report: 2011-12, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India, New Delhi, p. 19. “Compilation of Important Correspondence and Minutes of Major Meetings (April 08 – March 2010)”, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India, New Delhi, 2010, p. 49. Ibid., p.42. Alok, V. N. and P. K. Chaubey, Panchayats in India: Measuring Devolution by States, Macmillan Publishers India Limited, Delhi, 2010. Supreme Court Judgment dated 19.10.2006 in the Case No. Appeal (Civil) 5756 of 2005, Kishan Singh Tomar Vs. the Municipal Corporation of the City of Ahmedabad and Ors., New Delhi. 13

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are now included in the decision-making bodies. As the Indian population has 16.6 per cent SCs and 8.6 per cent STs, about 6,60,000 elected members, i.e., 22.5 per cent of the total membership in the rural and urban local bodies are from Scheduled Castes and Tribes.

and Chhattisgarh) - Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Orissa and Bihar - vide Clause (i) of Article 244 of the Constitution, Parliament extended the 73rd Amendment Act to these areas on December 24, 1996 by legislating the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996.

2. Second, these amendments have brought about significant changes in India's federalism. India is on the move to becoming a multilevel federation with elected local bodies at the District (Zilla) and below.15 Of course, only when the subjects mentioned in the 11th (Panchayats) and 12th (Municipalities) schedules are brought under Schedule VII, they will assume the status equal to that of Union and State Lists. Although the elected bodies have no legislative powers and de jure the Union and States constitute the federal India, the qualitative change that has come about in the Indian federal structure has far reaching consequences. As coalition governments at the Centre are here to stay, the Centre depends on the States which are controlled by a number of State Level or Regional Parties. If the State Governments ignore the Panchayati Raj Institutions, there is every possibility of their not getting elected again. That is to say, a State Government's or State Ruling Party's popularity depends on the extent of its sincerity in devolution of power to the local bodies and strengthening them in letter and spirit of the Constitution. Political leaderships of State Governments which neglected Panchayats had to pay a heavy price. Women's Leadership One of the most positive results of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment has been women's participation in a big way in the Democratic Institutions at the district, block and village levels. Lakhs of women are performing leadership roles. Constitution provides 33% seats for women in the Panchayats and Municipalities. Today 14 states have statutory 50% reservation for women. Special Act for Tribal Areas As the provisions of the Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) Act did not apply to the Tribal majority areas in eight states (now there are eleven states, which include the new three states of Jharkhand, Uttarkhand 15.

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George Mathew, "Institutions of Self-Government in India: Towards Multilevel Federalism", Review of Development and Change, Vol.II, No. 2, July-December 1997, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai.

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Salient Features of the Local Government System in India State Finance Commissions The State Finance Commissions (SFCs) are to be constituted every five years, according to the 73rd and 74th Amendments. As per the provisions of Clauses 4 and 2 of Articles 243 and 243 Y respectively, the Action Taken Reports (ATRs) would be placed before the Legislatures in most of the states. District Planning Committees Article 243 ZD of the Constitution (inserted by the 74th Constitution Amendment) providing for constitution of District Planning Committee (DPC) by the State Governments in every District is a milestone in decentralised planning involving people and communities. The DPCs are expected to consolidate the plans prepared by the Panchayats and Municipalities in the District and on their basis formulate a draft development plan for the District as a whole. All the States and Union Territories have either incorporated this provision in their respective Panchayati Raj and Municipal Acts or have enacted separate acts for this purpose. Under Article 243 ZD (2) of the Constitution the composition of the DPCs and the manner in which they will be formed, including the choice of their chairpersons, has been left to the State Legislatures. This is a unique opportunity to make the development process a bottom-up exercise, which is the essence of a really democratic Panchayati Raj System. Emergence of Gram Sabha Since 1995 the Gram Sabha has become a central issue in the Panchayati Raj discussions. With the declaration of 1999-2000 as the Year of the Gram Sabha by the Union Finance Minister in the 1999 Budget speech it had attracted greater attention. The Gram Sabha is the only forum, which can ensure direct democracy. It offers equal opportunity to all the citizens of a village to discuss, criticize and approve or reject the proposals of the Panchayat executive and assess its past performance and is a watchdog of democracy at the grassroots level. Although today the Gram Sabha is a statutory unit, it has not so far achieved the status and position it should have.

The Sram Sabhas have the power to identify beneficiaries for various poverty alleviation programmes, propose an annual plan, discuss the budget and audit reports and review progress. West Bengal had a better record. In 1995, Gram Sansads in West Bengal held 63 per cent of the statutory meetings. The figure rose to 88 per cent in 1998.16 Social Audit The concept of social audit has come into vogue after the new Panchayats in India began functioning. Social audit is a scrutiny and analysis of working of a public utility vis-à-vis its social relevance from the perspective of the vast majority of the people in the society in whose name and for whose cause the very institutional system is promoted and legitimised. In the context of the present discussion it means an independent evaluation of the performance of Panchayati Raj Institutions by the people. Panchayats in several states have provided fora to implement social audit. Committees could be set up by panchayats at various levels for effective social audit. Social audit committees at the block Samiti and District level Panchayats, consisting of respected citizens and professionals, to audit developmental programmes whenever they deem it appropriate are necessary. Retired persons from different organisations, teachers or other public-spirited persons with impeccable integrity could constitute a social audit forum or committee. So also women's watchdog committees at the Gram Panchayat level and in municipalities having nominees from each Gram Sabha or ward committee with one of them being a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe will go a long way. These women's committees should have the same rights as social audit committees. They could scrutinize costs, estimates, quantity and quality of materials used in works, adherence to norms in selection, and so on.17 The Gram Sabha is perhaps the best social audit unit in our new democratic set-up. All members of the Gram Sabha and all sections of local bodies through their representatives could raise issues of social concern and public interest and demand explanation. Reports from several states suggest that several Gram Sabha meetings had been extremely effective social audit fora. A lot of ground work needs to be done to make the institution of Gram Sabha the best forum of social audit.

16. Prabhat Datta, The Gram Sabha Experience, Front Line, 30 July 1999, p. 52. 17. Government of Kerala, Committee on Decentralisation (Chairman S.B. Sen), Second Interim Report, 1996, Government of Kerala, pp. 19-20. 15

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Right to Information and Panchayats A significant development in the last few years in the sphere of Panchayati Raj has been the struggle for right to information. The Chief Minister of Rajasthan declared on the floor of the State Assembly in April 1995 that every citizen had the right to information, and on payment he/she could demand and receive details of expenditure on the work done over the last five years in his/her village and all the documents could be photocopied as evidence, should they want to use them in future. Tamil Nadu, Goa, Kerala have followed suit. Towards Little Republics Despite teething troubles and resistance of the old order to yield to the new, several developments point to a situation of poise and optimism. New programmes with the participation of people are being taken up in a meaningful way after the new Panchayats came into being. Participatory and sustainable Local Level Development Planning with the slogan: `planning by the people and for the people' taking place in Kerala Panchayats and municipalities is a case in point. This attempt to empower the local bodies by ensuring that they prepare and prioritise a shelf of integrated schemes in a scientific manner has assumed the dimensions of a movement and attracted nationwide attention. Certain percentage of Plan funds being allocated for Panchayati Raj and Nagar Palika institutions as 'untied' with guidelines that it should be spent on productive sectors, social service sectors and infrastructure.

dark. Transparency in public dealings was missing because everything official was secret and confidential. Panchayats come to break this centralised information system when 30 lakh elected members ask for information on a variety of matters that affect people's lives. At the threshold of the 21st century the new Panchayats have the capacity to turn a new leaf in the life of the villagers of these states. Resistance will be high, it could even be violent; but democratisation is a process that cannot be stopped by such outbursts. Forces against devolution of powers to the Panchayats as well as strengthening democracy at the grassroots are still powerful. One can discern deliberate attempts on the part of the vested interests supporting the status quo to create scepticism about the working of the local governments. Constructive criticism or creative action is absent. But the new Panchayati Raj is showing the way. India is destined to be a land of "Little Republics". It was so at the dawn of civilisation and she kept this specific character for the next four or five centuries. With the democratic revolution and liberating forces of modernity, the new "Little Republics" are bound to work for equality and prosperity of the people.

The Constitution Amendment is only a necessary condition to bring into existence vibrant local governments. Political will is an equally important factor for Panchayats to take roots. Corruption, which has become a bane of national life could be considerably reduced by strong local bodies. There is a view that along with political and economic decentralisation, corruption will also be decentralised. This has, of course, taken place but with a difference. Corruption at the local level is more visible and gives rise to spontaneous resistance. Accountability to the people at the lower levels is naturally higher because of the watchful eyes of the people. As the Gram Sabhas are becoming a fora of social audit, they are making the elected representatives alert. The new Panchayati Raj is opening up possibilities for a better flow of information. Information is power and the dominant classes kept the ordinary people in the 18. People's Campaign for 9th Plan: An Approach Paper, Kerala State Planning Board, Trivandrum, 1996, p. 1. 19. George Mathew, "Kerala's Success Story", The Hindu; also see "People's Plan: Kerala's Story", Kurukshetra, Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, Vol. 47, No. 11, August 1999, pp. 15-17, 29. 16

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