Journal Articles

Decentralization in limbo and decline

T R Raghunandan

Centre for Policy Research

March 6, 2023

THE silver jubilee of the coming into effect of the 73rd Amendment was observed in April 2018. The official speeches, after their perfunctory obeisance to the idea of decentralization, were all about implementation of priorities set by higher level governments. However, in reality, nothing has changed; arguably, institutional mechanisms to promote true democratic decentralization have gotten worse. The devolution of flexible grants to the Panchayats has marginally improved on paper, but the actual use is hemmed in by a plethora of conditionalities. Programmes and schemes continue largely as before, implemented by parallel structures and their purpose-built user groups. In many states, Panchayat elections continue to be postponed indefinitely, as states find ways and means of disobeying the Supreme Court’s orders that the elections should not in any circumstances be delayed.

A consideration of these trends against the background of theoretical conjecture, clarifies how forces of centralization never really disappeared and indeed, gained strength over the years. The Balwant Rai Mehta Committee1 justified the need for decentralization based on the vast size of the country, the infinite variations that existed across it and the difficulties of communication and coordination faced. It suggested that elected bodies be established at the district and subdistrict levels to supervise and monitor community development programmes. The imperative for this suggestion was the need to foster more peoples’ participation in the nationally crafted community development programme.

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