Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in India, established under the constitutional provisions of the 73rd and 74th Amendments, represent a significant facet of democratic decentralization.
Effectiveness of PRIs:
- Democratic Decentralization: PRIs exemplify the devolution of power to the grassroots level, fostering a more democratic and accountable governance structure.
- Inclusive and Participatory: The system promotes inclusivity through the reservation of seats for vulnerable groups such as Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and women, ensuring their active participation in local decision-making.
- Effective Public Service Delivery: PRIs employ mechanisms like social audits and a bottom-up approach, enhancing the quality and accessibility of public services.
- Need-Based Approach: PRIs prioritize development projects tailored to the specific requirements of their constituents, fostering a sense of ownership and relevance.
- Deepening of Democracy: Local-level elections and institutions like Gram Sabha promote active political participation, fostering a deeper connection between citizens and governance.
Challenges and Ineffectiveness:
- Limited Funds: PRIs often grapple with inadequate financial resources, relying heavily on state governments for funding.
- Limited Functions: The progress of devolution of powers to local governments has been uneven, with several crucial subjects not made mandatory under the 73rd and 74th Amendments.
- Capacity Deficit: Insufficient capacity building has resulted in a deficiency of skills and expertise among elected representatives and bureaucratic personnel at the local level.
- Sarpanch Pati Culture: The prevalence of a “Sarpanch Pati” culture, where male family members dominate decision-making even when women are elected as Sarpanchs, limits the effectiveness of gender-based empowerment.
- Enhanced Funding: To bolster PRIs, they should be granted access to a share of the consolidated fund of states, along with the power to collect local revenue.
- Expanded Functions: More subjects and responsibilities should be devolved to local levels to make PRIs truly self-reliant and autonomous.
- Capacity Building: Comprehensive training and capacity-building programs for both elected representatives and local bureaucracy are essential to improve the functioning of PRIs.
- Transparent Norms: State Finance Commissions should establish objective and transparent norms for the equitable distribution of funds to PRIs.
Addressing these challenges and implementing the suggested reforms can transform India’s local self-government system into a more people-centric and accountable mode of governance.
PRIs, with enhanced powers, resources, and capacity, have the potential to realize the principles of democratic decentralization, inclusive governance, and effective public service delivery, thereby contributing significantly to India’s overall development.