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‘Panchayats are yet to be empowered,incompetent bureaucrats to blame’

Mani Shankar Aiyar,head of an expert panel on panchayat bodies,explains why outcome doesn’t match government outlay

Written by Ruhi Tewari | New Delhi |
May 13, 2013 3:01:53 am

It is not a lack of political will but the absence of bureaucratic desire and understanding that has led to the failure to empower panchayats,says former union minister for panchayati raj Mani Shankar Aiyar. “The argument that there is no political will seems to be an easy escape for a much deeper problem,” Aiyar tells The Indian Express.

Aiyar had headed the Expert Committee on Leveraging Panchayat Raj Institutions constituted in August 2012. The committee’s report,“Towards Holistic Panchayat Raj”,submitted last month,says the Centre has failed to ensure the “centrality” of panchayats in centrally sponsored and other schemes,despite providing a bulk of the funding of over Rs 2.5 lakh crore a year for social sector and poverty alleviation programmes that are the domain of PRIs.

According to Aiyar,centrally sponsored schemes should make it obligatory for panchayats to be brought in as a third partner in “what today is a contract between the Centre and state” and this should be done by the Centre. The former union minister believes the lack of involvement and empowerment of the third tier of governance is why there is a gap between outlays made by the government on central schemes and the final outcome.

The expert committee’s report says ensuring devolution of power to panchayats through central government schemes can promote efficiency in the delivery of public goods and services. However,according to Aiyar,the country has failed to do so,hence a skewed pattern of growth has emerged.

“In the early nineties,we thought there would be two wheels of progress — economic reforms and grassroots governance,” he says. “While the first has moved relatively smoothly,the latter has been punctured so often that it has resulted in a skewed pattern of development. The 12th Five Year Plan confessed while the economy grew at over 8 per cent annually on an average,the rate of poverty alleviation ran at under 0.8%. The causal connection between growth and equity has not been established.” He adds development has to be redefined to include not just GDP growth but also neighbourhood economic and social conditions. “We can’t have India prospering while Indians don’t.”

The country celebrated the 20th anniversary of the implementation of the Panchayati Raj Act last month.

In an indictment of the way the third tier has been dealt with in the last two decades,the expert committee report says panchayati raj institutions have been relegated to the margins in almost all centrally sponsored schemes. By way of a solution,the committee has put forth three sets of activity maps relating to functions,finances and functionaries.

“If our politics is based on equality of votes,how can we sustain an economy based on growing inequality of notes? We have to ensure effective delivery of public goods and services to those whose income growth has not kept pace with the rate of growth of GDP,” Aiyar says.

He believes the process of empowerment has been hampered by the union government’s schemes which,“instead of co-opting panchayats,have established registered societies that are not accountable to anyone except those line departments that have established them”. “The point of delivery has no responsibility towards those whom it is supposed to serve,and those being served have no sense of ownership,” Aiyar adds.

He slams the bureaucracy,saying it is its “incompetence and obdurance” that has led to such a situation. “Non-representative tyranny combined with fierce turf battles in the delivery system has made the whole system dysfunctional,” says Aiyar. Attacking the Planning Commission,he says it ignores its own manuals and puts the blame on anonymous state governments.

Aiyar,who claims Congress president Sonia Gandhi has lauded his committee’s report,says that “for a responsive administration,we need a representative administration”.

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