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Introduction Line

Mahatma Gandhi envisioned that a free India would rest on a foundation of gram panchayats, village republics that governed locally and epitomised Swaraj in practice.

Locally relevant initiatives and issues

  • The 73rd Constitutional Amendment mandates the constitution of panchayats at the district, intermediate and village levels as devolved institutions of self-government and provides for the endowment of powers and responsibilities to plan and implement programmes for social justice and economic development.
  • In many states, the substantive spirit of the constitutional design has been obstructed by politicians and bureaucrats, who fear the loss of their patronage powers.
  • Panchayats are not given enough funds and are bypassed by State-controlled line departments that continue to implement programmes falling within the rightful domain of the former.

Kerala’s Success and Panchayati Relevance

  • Nearly a third of Kerala’s plan funds have been given to the panchayats as flexible development and maintenance funds, a policy that the government follows even though it suffers from chronic fiscal stress.
  • The Kudumbashree system, which encourages women to form self-help groups and their federations, acts as an organised civil society counterpoint to the panchayats, collaborating with and yet holding to account the latter for their performance.
  • Kerala’s panchayats were COVID-19-ready because years ago, they stepped in as caregivers for the old, the weak and the marginalised.
  • Governance abhors vacuums, and that prompts the revival of democratic decentralisation.

The five-year terms of the panchayats will come to an end and an election is impossible in the current circumstances.

Whether the governments appoint officials or their chosen political representatives to take charge or continue with the current elected bodies functioning as administrators will determine where the government stands on its commitment to democratic decentralisation.

­-Source: The Hindu

December 2023