The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts (CAA)were enacted in 1993 to confer constitutional status upon local government bodies, aiming to establish a robust framework for decentralized governance through the empowerment of Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs).
Devolution of powers under 73rd and 74th CAA:
- Three-tier structure: The amendments mandated the establishment of Panchayats at the village, intermediate, and district levels, along with Urban Local Bodies in urban areas. Additionally, the creation of Gram Sabhas, comprising registered voters in the Panchayats, was made obligatory.
- Devolution of functions: The 11th and 12th Schedules specified 29 and 18 subjects, respectively, to be entrusted to Panchayats and Urban Local Bodies.
- Independent election body: The establishment of the State Election Commission as an autonomous entity ensured the fair and regular conduct of Panchayat elections every five years.
- Financial empowerment:
o Creation of State Finance Commissions (SFCs) at five-year intervals to assess the financial status of local bodies.
o Authorization for PRIs to impose, collect, and allocate taxes, duties, and fees following prescribed procedures.
o Provision of grants-in-aid from the consolidated fund of the State to support local bodies.
- District Planning Committee (DPC): DPCs were instituted to consolidate plans prepared by local bodies and formulate comprehensive development plans for the entire district.
However, despite these provisions for devolution, several challenges have impeded its effective implementation:
- Ambiguity in functional jurisdiction: The absence of clearly defined jurisdiction has left the assignment of functions subject to the discretion of state legislatures.
- Persistence of bureaucratic control: Village Pradhans still depend on block offices for technical and financial approvals, undermining their autonomy.
- Insufficient administrative empowerment: Limited control over personnel and budget allocations hampers the effectiveness of PRIs, even in areas where responsibilities have been transferred, such as health.
- Limited participation of local bodies: Local bodies have had restricted involvement in decision-making processes and the selection of welfare programs.
- Financial dependency on states and the central government: Due to the limited capacity to generate resources, local bodies rely heavily on transfers from the state and central governments to meet their financial requirements.
To enhance the devolution process and realize the intended objectives of the 73rd and 74th CAA, it is crucial to undertake the following measures:
- Clearly define functional jurisdictions to avoid ambiguity and empower local bodies to fulfill their designated roles effectively.
- Promote greater administrative autonomy for PRIs, enabling them to exercise control over personnel and budgetary matters.
- Encourage active participation of local bodies in decision-making processes, ensuring their valuable input in the selection and implementation of welfare programs.
- Strengthen the resource-raising capacity of local bodies through capacity-building initiatives, enabling them to generate funds independently.
- Foster cooperation between the central and state governments to provide adequate financial support and technical assistance for the successful implementation of devolution.
By implementing these measures, the devolution process can be significantly improved, promoting participatory democracy and facilitating local welfare and development as envisioned by the 73rd and 74th CAA.