Local Governments And Citizen Empowerment

Posted on August 23, 2012 in Society

By Neeraj Ramchandran:

Gandhiji had envisaged an India where each village would be a complete republic, independent for its vital wants and yet interdependent for many others, in which dependence is necessary. Today, as the nation grapples with forces, both internal and external to maintain a healthy growth rate, we are forced to have a relook at how effectively the pillars of our democracy, the “Local self Governments” are performing.

Local self government in India had its humble beginnings after the 73rd and 74th amendments, in the backdrop of the failure of top-down approach of decision making (also called centralization of power). It is based on the credo that local people have a better understanding of their problems than someone who is probably miles away in a different city and have the motive to solve them, if the means are provided. In a country where the share of Local Governments in GNP is a meagre 2%, questions arise as to whether our institutions of self governance are equipped to deliver the goods. Going by statistics, there are contradictions abound. On one hand, we have exemplary work being done in social innovation such as Bhagidari scheme of Government of Delhi and MGNREGA for naxal affected areas and on the other hand Khap panchayats are proving to be a menace by meting out arbitrary and unconstitutional diktats. Thus in its modest journey, Self Governance has had quite a few stumbling blocks. But that by no means can be used as a reason to undermine all the good work that has been done at the grassroots level which has had fruitful but intangible results.

The rural junta has moved ahead from the “They-are-not-doing-anything-about-it” mode to the “We-should-do-something-about-it” mode, which is indeed something to cheer about. The advent of technology has also made a thing or two more convenient for citizens. Recently Google in collaboration with some NGOs launched the Google India Elections Centre, which is an online interface through which a voter can confirm his/her registration status, discover the exact location of the polling booth on a map, evaluate the status of development of his/her constituency and even do a background check for the MP from his constituency.

Going back to the same question at the beginning of the passage; have we or haven’t we succeeded in living up to Gandhiji’s vision? The answer is no, if we are ready to call a spade a spade. The fact that this has happened, in spite of having a strong institutional setup in place, points to two probable reasons — corruption in the ranks and/or insufficient resource allocation to self governments. The way ahead clearly mandates the Government to play more of a facilitative role rather than a controlling role in governance and have a strong constitutional watchdog like Lokpal to check corruption. The heart and soul of India is in its villages, we must do whatever it takes to keep that heart beating.