Deepening democracy and strengthening decentralised governance from the ground level is key to bringing a change in the life of the people. The argument for greater devolution is based on the demonstrated experience that transfer of funds, functions and functionaries is central to successful decentralisation.
The emergence of strong, democratic sub-national governments is a precondition for successful planning and implementation of economic development programmes in any country. Therefore, decentralisation is viewed as essential by community, governments and international partners in most countries, especially in a big democracy like India.
Further, effective and responsive local governments that are engaged with empowered communities need to ensure accountable, transparent and efficient uses of public monies and effective delivery of local public services. Their creation and consolidation should be supported by Central government institutions that adhere to the ‘principle of subsidiarity’ without sacrificing national fiscal balance or overall policy coherence.
Decentralised governance presupposes decentralised planning process, which is meant for effective implementation of programmes, delivery of services and thereby enhancing the quality of life of the people. It is important to examine the levels of participation of community in the development process — be it preparation of plans, ensuring gender equity or monitoring the implementation of programmes.
Hence, the preparation of Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP), which is mandated based on the 14th Finance Commission recommendations, would reflect transparency and accountability while resulting in a holistic approach that ensures people’s participation at the local level.
Given the multi-level planning at the district level and the implementation challenges, one needs to consider convergence between different departments and schemes while adopting an integrated approach to the development process. Further, considering social determinants in the context of rapid economic growth and ensuring inclusion of the most vulnerable and marginalised sections is critical.
It has been demonstrated in some States like Kerala that strengthening decentralised governance is the answer to all challenges. Therefore, GPDP assumes significance not only for the utilisation of fund flow from the Centre but also for undertaking people-oriented development.
Planning without fund flow is meaningless. While grassroots level planning is key to development, it is equally important to guarantee real devolution of functions, funds and functionaries wherein the three-tier Panchayat Raj system would be able to deliver the services efficiently. Therefore, the implementation of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment and concomitant State Acts is essential in letter and spirit without any deviation or dilution.
Given the opportunity of 14th Finance Commission award directly to Panchayats, they are supposed to be strengthened with necessary skills and techniques. However, the focus should be on village-level planning, especially the preparation of GPDP in a convergent mode involving the elected representatives and officials of line departments at the local level, women (SHGs) and other marginalised sections. Secondly, judicious utilisation of funds — both basic and performance grants — given by the 14th Finance Commission should be ensured.
Finally, the training should provide some orientation on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to Panchayats, more importantly, preparing them towards realisation of SDGs is need of the hour. Besides, the State governments should allocate some portion of the Budget for Panchayats following the recommendations of SFC which is part of fiscal decentralisation that is scrupulously adopted in Kerala.
Besides, aligning State schemes with that of national goals and preparing Panchayats with necessary tools and techniques for the implementation is critical in the achievement of SDGs. Alternatively, if the Panchayat is devoid of capabilities, the translation of goals may not be feasible. In this context, it is worth mentioning that the UN agencies are encouraging the State governments in the achievement of SDGs by providing technical and financial support.
SDGs into Action
On September 25, 2015, the UN member states committed to SDGs with a slogan of transforming our world – the 2030 agenda. The SDGs, which are being formulated by the United Nations with the widest possible range of stakeholders, are intended to galvanise action worldwide through concrete targets for the period 2015-2030 for poverty reduction, food security, human health and education, climate change mitigation and a range of other objectives across economic, social and environmental pillars.
In fact, all these subjects are handled by gram panchayats at the grassroots level and they are part of 29 subjects listed in the Eleventh schedule (Article-243G). Hence, capacity building of GPs is critical for preparing GPDP and operationalisation of SDGs, which ultimately will result in ‘transformative change’. Besides, following the ‘principle of subsidiarity,’ it is equally important to prepare GPs with necessary capacity building in view of huge fund flow from the 14th Finance Commission and SDGs implementation with monitorable indicators. Because the principle says that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralised competent authority. In fact, political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a Central authority.
The road map should ensure awareness generation and capacity-building of stakeholders, especially the elected representatives of Panchayats and officials, people’s participation and convergence at the GP level while practising transparency and accountability to all. Compulsory social audit and ensuring Panchayats function on outputs-and-outcome basis are essential.
Hence, an integrated approach to implement SDGs is required. This calls for close coordination of policy efforts and responsibilities between various departments and local authorities. Finally, state institutions should become gender responsive, inclusive, accountable and decentralised for improved service delivery and realisation of rights, particularly of the most excluded groups.
(The author is Consultant, Centre for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Hyderabad)