- Explain the persisting challenges in the working of local bodies.
The framers of the Constitution of India included Article 40 among the Directive Principles: “The state shall organise village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government”.
Eventually, the local Governance was given Constitutional Status with the 73rd/74th Constitutional Amendment Acts in 1992. The Amendment Acts of 1992 added two new parts IX and IX-A to the Constitution. Two new Schedules 11 and 12 were also added which contain the lists of functional items of Panchayats and Municipalities.
The new system of local governance has proved to be remarkably beneficial in some aspects. Yet, there are some lacunae, especially in the implementation of several provisions, which has limited the effectiveness of these reforms.
Challenges in working of Local Government Bodies ?:
- Functional Challenges: The power to devolve functions to local governments rests with the State Government. Most States have not devolved adequate functions to local government bodies. This has severely affected the system’s efficiency and effectiveness. State Governments have created parallel structures for the implementation of projects around agriculture, health, and education, which undermines the status of local bodies. According to a study by the India Development Review, a think tank, District Planning Committees are non-functional in 9 states, and failed to prepare integrated plans in 15 states.
- Financial Challenges:
- Local government expenditure as a percentage of GDP is only 2%. This is extremely low compared to other major economies like China (11%) and Brazil (7%).
- Most local bodies, both rural and urban are unable to generate adequate funds from their internal sources, and are therefore extremely dependent on external sources for funding.
- The volume of money set apart for them is inadequate to meet their basic requirements. The Union Finance Commissions have made desirable recommendations, but the actual devolution of funds has been very poor.
- The devolution of funds is associated with conditionalities that bind them to specific uses. (i.e., top driven schemes of Union/State Governments, rather than based on local needs).
- State Finance Commissions are not established as per Constitutional requirements (constitute every 5 years). By 2019, when 6th State Finance Commission should have been constituted, some States were yet to create 3rd or 4th Commissions. J&K had created only 1 SFC by April 2019.
- Some experts argue that Local governments are reluctant to collect property taxes and user charges because of fear of backlash from public. They are happy to implement top-down programmes because they know that if they collect taxes, their electoral prospects will be hampered.
- Functionary Challenges: Staffing of local governments is scanty. Many panchayats share a single secretary, who is often overburdened. Technology has been used to centralize the delivery of local services which has been detrimental to local decision-making.
- Other Challenges:
- Criminal elements and contractors are attracted to local government elections especially in urban areas.
- Elections to the local bodies are often delayed.
- While women have been empowered with representation through reservation of seats, the ‘Sarpanch Pati’ syndrome limits the effectiveness. (‘Sarpanch Pati’ syndrome: Women Sarpanch is only nominal head, the male relative, generally husband, wield actual power).
Empowering the local bodies for Local Governance has been one of the most progressive reform since Independence. It has envisioned to place the governing power in the hands of the general populace. Just like every other reform, this one has a few loopholes in it. Nevertheless, if these gaps are removed, the present local governance system can truly empower the citizens and support the inclusive growth.