Aiyer favours Norwegian experience to make panchayati raj vibrant

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | New Delhi, Nov 4 | Updated: Nov 5 2007, 04:52am hrs
Empowerment of the rural people and allowing them to decide their own destiny is the way to achieve inclusive growth in a growing economy, says Union minister for panchayati raj institutions Mani Shankar Aiyer.

Aiyer also regrets that devolution of powers, functions and functionaries to the panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) by the state governments as mandated under the Constitution has been very slow, since the enactment of the provision in 1992. About 29 items have been identified for transfer to the village local bodies (panchayats) by the state governments, but there is no such binding provisions in the Constitution. The state governments needs to be persuaded and given incentives to do so, he says.

Aiyer has now come out with a new approach for generating awareness by comparing the Norwegian example. Last week Aiyer and his counterpart Norwegian minister for local government and regional development, Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa agreed to a joint mechanism for exchange of ideas and experiences. The joint mechanism would facilitate inter-ministerial exchanges, exchanges of views between institutions, researchers and elected representatives of local governments of both the countries.

We have lot to learn from the Indian experience too. It is the largest democracy in the world in terms of population, said Kleppa.

Norway has a vibrant local government system. It has two-tier system of local government municipal and county levels integrated with the national government. The legislation for local self government dates back to 1837.

However, the recently Norway passed a legislation in 1992, the same year of Constitutional enactment in India, to strengthen the local government system. The Local Government Act of September 25, 1992 determines the uniform ground rules for municipalities and county authorities' work and relationship with the supervisory bodies of the Union government. The Act gives municipalities and councils wide options for organizing their political and administrative functions.

In Norway there is a division of functions between the municipalities, counties and the national government. For example in some basic services, the municipalities have the responsibility of providing primary and secondary education, after-school programme, kindergartens, child welfare services, primary health care, school health services, preventive measures in health, short-term welfare benefits. Counties are responsible for high school education and public health activities. The local bodies are allowed to mobilize their resources. The national government is responsible for university and college education, child welfare institutions, foster homes, specialized health care, health insurance, disability and unemployment benefits.

Unlike in India the devolution of powers in Norway was bottom-up in some cases. In 2002 as part of the reform process, the responsibility for maintaining hospitals was transferred from the counties to the national government. The reform process is on in Norway further making the governance at all levels more effective and meaningful.

Norway has initiated pro-active measures for greater gender equity in governance. It has 36% women members in Parliament, 37% in local councils and 41% in county councils.. The legislation of 1992 provides for 40% minimum quota for each sex in municipal standing committees and executive boards.

Aiyer says We have lot to learn from the Norway experience. We also need to provide greater employment opportunities at the village level.