Local Governance problems in India


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Rajan Kumar Kotru wrote at 2010-06-15 08:08 GMT
Dear participants of e-discussion!

I am Rajan Kotru from ECES/ICIMOD. As background on my experience on local governance, I may say that I worked in the field of local governance and its linkage to sustainable natural resource management issues for ten years in India. Especially in the state of Himachal Pradesh, the effort was to build capacities of NGO’s and GO’s on the theme, bring out local government development plans, and policy issues and their consideration/lobbying at the highest level of decision-making related to policy and programs. My contribution to the questions below is underlined as follows:

1) What accounts for the existing communication and understanding gap between local formal institutions (government bodies) and informal institutions (traditional or customary practices) as well as civil society organisations?

I think the key reflection on what exists as communication and understanding gaps between government bodies and the local governance bodies/CBOs etc is demonstrated by following example from India of constitutional amendment on the subject as follows: is

In the Indian system of government, the constitution addresses the status of state and local government. The state, desirous of greater decentralization, amended the constitution (73rd amendment) in 1993 to encourage state legislation on Panchayati Raj Institutions. The formulation was not binding however, as the states were enjoined to decentralize (Article 243G)

the Legislature of a State may!, by law, endow the Panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government and such law may contain provisions for the devolution of powers and responsibilities upon Panchayats at the appropriate level…

This construction resulted in uneven progress among states. In 2001, a “Task Force on Devolution of Powers and Functions” established by the GoI Ministry of Rural Development concluded that in most of the States, the PRI are not very clear about the role that they are expected to play in rural development. This is mostly due to the absence of ‘role clarity’ with regard to the statutory functions assigned to them…

The November 2006 “Mid Term Review and Appraisal” of the GoI Ministry of Panchayati Raj notes that “in the assessment of the Ministry, 16 states … and 3 Union Territories have adequate activity maps,” but urged further improvement. Now while translating the federal constitutional amendment to one of the states i.e. Himachal Pradesh makes a an interesting case

The Himachal Pradesh Panchayati Raj Act was enacted in 1994, establishing a three-tier system of local self-government bodies, the so called Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs). There are 3,243 Gram Panchayats, 75 Panchayat Samitis (block level), and 12 Zila Parishads (district level). Currently more than 24,000 elected representatives are at all three levels, and fresh elections are on the anvil.

Due to the lack of human, financial and institutional resources, and the often unclear division of tasks and functions between the state level government administration and the three tiers of PRI, the PRI do not yet fully function as bodies of local self-government. Within the sectors, mechanisms of cooperation and coordination between technical departments and the PRI bodies are not defined. In the water sector for instance, the state government has transferred more than 1,000 small-scale rural water supply schemes to the Panchayats, however no measures have been taken to develop local capacity to operate and maintain these public assets. Mechanisms for technical support and facilitation by the Irrigation and Public Health (IPH) Department are lacking. The PRI own-source revenue is below 10 percent, in other words they depend heavily on financial transfers from the state government (usually in the form of tied grants earmarked for specific purposes). While many Gram Panchayats formulate their own development plans, these plans are often not integrated at district level, and are therefore less effective in influencing development planning at state level and the subsequent allocation of state resources. Many elected PRI representatives are not fully aware of their roles, or of the possibilities (and limitations) of their mandates. Likewise, the local communities often have sketchy and sometimes misleading perceptions regarding the role of the PRI, and participation in the local public meetings (the Gram Sabha) is often below the quorum required for decision-making.

Adjusting the legal, institutional, human resources and fiscal framework conditions for Panchayati Raj Institutions in Himachal Pradesh to the needs of effective decentralization therefore underwent/is undergoing a very slow process. A counter example to this is Kerala State of India, which two decades bank simply put 40% of the development funds at the disposal of local government bodies level of planning and implementation. On the other hand theer are few state, which first did devolute but curtailed later the powers of such bodies (e.g. Karnataka)

Hence summing it up for why gaps exist, we can conclude:
-The clarity on 3Fs i.e. funds, functions and functionaries is vague
-Capacities and willingness of several tiers of governance (both for GOs’ and Panchayat Institutions, also NGO’s) to practice devolution is often questionable
-Devolution of power through local governance bodies is not compatible with the sectoral devolutions which is following a parallel power-brokering, of which often CBOs have more power than local bodies
-Local government bodies in earlier times were more for social justice and infrastructure development issues and not natural resource management, hence often conflicts even at the lowest level, who has power on what?????(e.g. in Nepal there is conflict between Forest Act 1993 and Local self governance act???)
-Communication and awareness building efforts of the state as “Mass campaign” was never done
-Enacting constitutional change did not actually follow multistakeholder and multi-level governance consultation.
-Devolution was unpacked without having a standard package on capacity building to make it actually happen

2) What are some key factors in customary institutions being overlooked by central and local governments at times of decision making and implementation?

This question has to be viewed from the historical background in South Asia as Indian sub-continent got partitioned and each state which developed took a centralized approach to governance. Post-independence and state restructuring 1950’s state worked/delivered services directly with/to users and CBOs and local governance bodies gradually were relegated to non-entity. This development increasingly was complemented by X No. of donors which propogated community approach and worked directly with CBOs or other customary institutions etc. Hence a governance situation was created where e.g. a CBO had more funds and power to decide on local resource management than Panchayat. After the constitutional amendment, the reverse is supposed to be the case i.e. local government has the jurisdiction on 3 Fs (Functions, funds and functionaries) hence it overlooks such customary institutions. On the other hand state overlooks such CBOs etc. as it is clear that land ownership should remain with the state and not with resource users of the land and therefore is unwilling to take policy decisions, which might make local communities fully in control of resources. On the other hand state political gamesmanship starts at macrolevel and local government bodies are good forums to provide micro-level entry points e.g. at the times of elections. Hence in India, even in Nepal earlier times, Panchayat representatives were simply political stooges, good enough to play politics at the lowest level to their advantage. In a way it was win-win for the state and its local governments. Summing up, some of the key factors for not involving customary institutions in the key development relate decisions are based on:

-Stronger communication may provide more information to e.g. CBOs, therefore higher chance of non-participation/acceptance

-Unclarity on who has what role at the grassroot level in local development

-key resource persons/vulnerable group representatives are not often available in the decision-making processes related to planning, implementation and monitoring etc.

-Often CBO representatives in user networks/federations (e.g. FECOFUN in Nepal) itself van become a political/power entity (e.g. in sector decisionmaking) so that its interface to actual user is diluted (Decisions are made in Kathmandu and may not be conveyed to grassroot users

-We may have few best practices produced through heavy investments and therefore not upscalable

- Why do competing stakeholders (formal and informal organisations as well as communities) often fail to identify a win-win approach; and why, even if consensus is reached, does their strategy fail at application level?

Partly the comments made in previous question throw light on this question as well. Here again obviously we have to acknowledge that state has created a dependency-syndrome by it supply oriented services to the institutions at the micro/meso level. Programmes of rural development as well as sectoral programmes are operated parallel to each other. This is complemented by X No. of donor/NGO sectoral/specific programmes, meaning thereby that grassroots users know that resources will come from one or other sources. In a way an Indian Proverb underlines it: “Living in water does not qualify for having a conflict with crocodile”. However, any win-win approach would demand that all the actors are coordinating. But to achieve this is a herculean task. Imagine which state has a hassle free Inter-Ministerial coordination on policy/programme/planning issues. So if there is no consensus at the top, why or how can that/ should happen at the lower level. For instance, X no. of donors come out with their own planning manual/guidelines, reducing thereby the chances of universality of the purpose.

But the fundamental problem is that there is as yet very limited clarity on who is responsible for what as was mentioned in the first question???. On the other hand there are always factors that can stifle the processes at the application level, such as:

-Political interference
-Groupism at local level (need not necessarily be caste or politics)

-Might is right principle, more powerful will get more resources so why to go for consensus

-Awareness and information gaps

-Poor communication to coordinating actors

-Inequitable access and benefit sharing
-Limited capacities of development actors especially state agencies to facilitate consensus through a negotiation/mediation process as these resource persons were never trained on these issues

- Knowledge is power, and women have this power derived from their knowledge in natural resource management. Ironically their power is disregarded or underestimated by decision makers - both formal and informal power holders. What are some of the reasons?

I think here in South Asia this has to be viewed from cultural and historical background of the societies built on which is a political gamesmanship that inherently provides lesser chances for women to be part of the key decision-making processes. Although in India for example now local governance constitution and related norms for planning, implementation are pro-women (e.g. by rotation X No. of Panchayats are reserved for women candidates. Even efforts are on to reserve 50% of seats for women in panchayats). Barring women champions here and there as best cases, decisionmaking is with the men. However, in rural scenario, we must always ask question “Given the workload women are facing –feminization of rural/mountain development- how much time they can spare for decisonmaking related to local development. On the other hand how strict and compulsory are development plans to demonstrate that women issues are part of such plan. Even activities such as gender budgeting etc. does not really mean much when it comes to such decision-making. Hence some key problems still are:
-Inadequate Orientation and capacity deficits of development actors in galvanizing women for decisonmaking and bring orientation to men why women must participate in key local decisions
-On the other hand there are no checks and balances or accountability for any one if women are not participating in decisionmaking, so why to complaint?
-There are hardly programmes which improve upon the capacities of local women leaders or built new champions
-Lets be also clear on the fact that none of the line agencies have a critical mass of women employees, so where does a supportive/enabling framework for women issues come from
-Inherent deficiency of not learning and upscaling from best practices is still hindering.

Most of our states have “Gender and Social Inclusive” strategy” but who implements it and how?????

Pls note, attached is the same note in word version.
Moderator’s note:

Dr. Rajan has shared his idea under each of the question kept for discussion during this week. He has given several examples of India. Different scenario at various states of India is really exciting to relate with the scenario of other countries. For example, he notes that election of Panchayati Raj Institutions in India is taking place regularly. Even in this situation, Dr Rajan says that there are several gaps and issues in local governance. Remember that periodic elections of similar institutions in other countries are not taking place regularly. For example, in Nepal, there are no elected representatives at local level for more than five years. Similarly, there is no election at local level in Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh for more than a decade. Therefore, I agree with Dr Rajan that there is a big gap between prepared framework and actual functioning of local governance systems.

With regards,
Nani Ram

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