[Model Answer QP2022 GS2]To what extent, in your opinion, has the decentralisation of power in India changed the governance landscape at the grassroots?

Democratic decentralisation can be defined as meaningful authority devolved to local units of governance that are accessible and accountable to the local citizenry, who enjoy full political rights and liberty.
Decentralisation can be understood as a political process whereby administrativeauthority, public resources and responsibilities are transferred from central government agencies to lower-level organs of government or to non-governmental bodies, such as community-based organisations (CBOs), ‘third party’ non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or private sector actors.

Decentralisation of India has changed the governance landscape at the grassroots:

  1. Voter participation: Voter participation is significantly higher (90%) at panchayat and municipality level compared to state or Lok sabha elections (60%(.
  2. Female Participation: The 73rd amendment has opened the way for women to exercise their right to be involved in village governance. Most of the states have female representatives more than the reserved one third seats which augurs well for women empowerment. This makes women issues and programs to be given priority in implementation. Contrastingly, Women constitute only 6.7 per cent of the total seats in Parliament. 
  3. Effective Implementing body: PRIs help implement the government programs effectively by identifying beneficiaries, distribution of benefits etc. For example, its role in MGNREGA is commendable. 
  4.  Gram sabha is the foundation of Social inclusion: The Participation of marginalized sections such as SCs/STs have increased and hence their problems at grassroots level are well addressed by their respective representatives.

Decentralisation of India has not  changed the governance landscape at the grassroots:

  1. The World Bank study goes on to argue that although Indian States and the Union government have been willing to recognise the Panchayats, to hold elections and to respect stipulations governing reservations for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and women, they have been unwilling to vest them with sufficient ‘administrative control over significant functions or fiscal autonomy. For instance, Panchayats at all levels have inadequate powers of taxation and panchayats lack autonomous budgeting powers.
  2. The transfer of various governance functions —like the provision of education, health, sanitation, and water was left to the state legislature to actually devolve functions. There has been very little devolution of authority and functions. 
  3. States reserve the right to assign or withdraw functions to and from the Panchayats by
  4. ‘executive fiat’.
  5. With the exception of Kerala, Karnataka and West Bengal, Panchayats lack discretionary powers over spending and staff.
Decentralization is recognized as a largely positive aspect of political development. It isan ideological principle associated with objectives of self-reliance, democratic decision making, popular participation in government, and accountability of public officials to citizens. Thus, decentralization is a political decision, and its implementation, a reflection of a country’s political process.
So in our opinion, decentralisation of power in India has changed the governance landscape at the grassroots. However certain lacunae remain which we believe overtime will get resolved and grassroots further strengthened.

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