Towards a grassroots democracy

The nation-building process must begin at the bottom of the pyramid; to transform rural India, people at the grassroots must be empowered

Over 224 districts in 10 states—Madhya Pradesh (51), Uttar Pradesh (50), Rajasthan (33), Karnataka (27), Jharkhand (22), Maharashtra (21), Odisha (12), Telangana (8) and some in Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh—are suffering from drought, and many districts in Gujarat, West Bengal, Haryana and Bihar face acute water shortage. Hence, the government must ensure that the Budget allocation of R2.87 lakh crore in 2016-17 earmarked for agriculture and farmers’ welfare is effectively utilised, bringing 28.5 lakh hectares of land under irrigation. Initiatives for farmer welfare, healthcare, education, skill development, employment and infrastructure development must be implemented to reach India’s 678 districts, 5,767 blocks and 6 lakh villages, where 2,38,617 gram panchayats are expected to function as third-tier government.

The nation-building process must begin at the bottom of the pyramid; we have to transform rural India and people at the grassroots must be empowered. Even after more than two decades of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment of 1992—aimed at creation of a three-tier panchayati raj structure at district, block and village levels—most states and UTs except Kerala have not devolved all the 29 subjects listed in the 11th schedule of the Constitution along with adequate devolution of funds and functionaries to panchayats at district, block and village levels as mandated in the 73rd Amendment. The third-tier government must be enabled to function focusing on good governance, equality, socio-economic justice and all-round welfare of the villagers.

People must be empowered to participate in decision-making processes, enjoying equality, liberty, fraternity, fundamental rights and basic human needs. Constitutional provisions must be supplemented by adequate checks and balances, led by vigilant, responsible and dedicated political leadership. There should be people’s participation in designing appropriate village development plans, preparation of people’s budget, with prioritisation and allocation of resources based on their needs. There must be simple, robust and easy-to-follow bottom-up development planning process by the people, supported by proper accounting and social audits at all the three levels of panchayats. Such a system can safeguard against fraud, waste, misuse of resources and proper execution of programmes.

Periodical elections at panchayati raj institutions must be conducted with reservation of seats for SCs/STs, backward castes and women in all the three tiers. People’s participation in planning, budgeting, resource mobilisation and decision-making is indispensable for bringing social, political, cultural and financial inclusion. Good governance can happen only when its essential attributes like accountability, transparency, rule of law, participation of stakeholders in decision-making and development process are facilitated. The grassroots democracy must truly reflect the rule of the people. Panchayat election process has to provide the people power to change elected representatives periodically.

E-Panchayat is a one of the Mission Mode Projects being implemented by the Centre. Computerisation is in full swing at panchayat levels by Kerala, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Goa. The application of ICT for governance will help build a digitally-inclusive society that can access and share information and services freely.

Another significant step is combining social audits with community-based monitoring, which can strengthen the state’s planning and oversight processes. As social audit is carried out by the people who must reap the planned benefits of government programmes, the implementation gap can be bridged to a great extent by eliminating leakage, diversion and misuse of funds. Social audit done at planning stages can ensure that the plan is need-based and drawn up in consultation with the people; social audit conducted during the preparation stage of a scheme can ensure that estimates are proper, taking into account the priorities and aspirations of the community; social audits carried out during implementation stage can ensure that the scheme is implemented as planned; social audits after completion of a work can ensure that quality of the work is in tune with quantity and estimated cost, the planned outputs and outcome are achieved, and benefits are reached to the targeted sections of the society.

If people are encouraged to participate in the development agenda, most of the apprehensions expressed by the father of Indian Constitution, BR Ambedkar, about the dominance of the affluent and the upper caste politicking and the dynamics of power relations in rural areas would disappear.

The author, a former director-general in the office of the CAG, is working as advisor and consultant to the Institute of Public Auditors of India

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First published on: 02-06-2016 at 07:21 IST