2005. Perils of Participatory Democracy. Economic and Political Weekly. Vol XL No 46

2005. Perils of Participatory Democracy. Economic and Political Weekly. Vol XL No 46
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  Economic and Political WeeklyNovember 12, 2005 4857   Perils of ParticipatoryDemocracy representationin the same region is seenas a threat to the power, influence and cloutexercised by both bureaucracy and en-trenched power elites. The delegation of a lot of responsibilities to GPs in manystates has led to rivalries cropping up withinthe political leadership. These have assumeddifferent shapes and dimensions,dependingupon the political sympathies of GP repre-sentatives. This could take either the shapeof intra-party squabbles or inter-partyconflicts leaving their imprint on smoothfunctioning of development activitiesatgram, block and district panchayat levels.Even if we assume that the top politicalleadership of parties in power is seriousand wants to make participatory demo-cracy a reality, it can be said that a lot moreof strategic thinking and planning is neededto make PR institutions function on theirown and not as an agent of bureaucracyor other politicians. The first step in thisregard is strengthening of GPs. Participa-tory democracy in terms of participationof people in planning, execution andmonitoring of activities meant for themleaves a lot to be desired. A roadmapoutlining appropriate systems and proce-dures needs to be put in place, whichwould gradually help GPs negotiate thepower for local level planning, executionand superintendence of whatever is publicand meant for them – not only legally, butalso administratively and socially.The villagers in north India (based onmy experience of Rajasthan and UP) arenot yet enamoured by the potential andpossibilities of gram panchayats. Thisshould more or less hold true for all Hindi-speaking states. The turnout of villagersfor gram sabha meetings is mostly lowunless they are meant for some directbenefits. Gram sabhas rarely discuss is-sues related to superintendence of develop-ment works such as working of school oranganwadi centres or food for work programmes, the public distributionsystemand drought relief work, etc. Onmany occasions, gram sabha meetings arenotionally held and signatures of membersare taken by visiting their houses to com-plete the formality. Peoples’ apathy is, toa great extent, due to the lack of powersand resources available at the disposal of panchayats. The village developmentworkers (VDWs), patwari and lekhpalcontinue to be the powerful functionariesin the local political set-up in ruralIndia.The block development officer(BDO) still enjoys a significant clout atblock level. Procedural Constraints The GP is constitutionally acknowledgedas the third tier of the government struc-ture. It, however, does not exercise theautonomy and influence it ideally should.Political supremacy in the governancestructure is the rule for the parliamentarysystem that we follow. The decisions atthe GP should also be left to a group of local politicians, but it is, however, adifferent story at the field level. It is thebureaucracy which calls the shots.Recently I had an opportunity to see therelationship between the GP and thebureaucracy very closely in UP. It is thepradhans who undertake the work,arrangefor labour, assign tasks to them,supervise them, take measurements andkeep a “kachcha” record. On many occa-sions the pradhans make payments out of their own pocket or otherwise and wait forthe VDWs to come tothe village to monitor.They also take measurements or enter therecord of labour and material for admin-istrative purposes. The pradhan has toconvince the VDW regarding the numberof bricks used or number of trolleys of soilused. On many occasions the paymentmade by the pradhan to labour would notconvince the VDW and he would makeentries in records only that convinces him.The pradhan’s subordination to VDWs/ lekhpal is actuated by two reasons. One isan illicit relationship, of taking a share of public money, which the pradhans arecajoled, coerced or persuaded to agree to.In other cases pradhans are either not awareof their rights and responsibilities or notable to exercise them for lack of adequatesupport in their village, region or caste.A combination of both leads to this situ-ation in rural UP. The bureaucracy, from M UKUL  K UMAR A recent article on the status of panchayati raj (PR), ‘Local Gover-nance without Capacity Building: TenYears of Panchayati Raj’ (June 25, 2005),compares the situation in the three statesof Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.The findings of the essay are fairly consis-tent with the overall status of PR in India.The article, however, misses some struc-tural features   of the PR phenomenon thathave affected the growth of participatorydemocracy in the country in general andnorth India, in particular. These structuralfeatures are broadly the same all over Indiawith some variations in degree and kindacross states, which are exceptional. Keralasymbolises some of these changes of kindand stands out to some extent among thethree states. I outline here some of thestructural and procedural constraints grampanchayats (GPs) grapple with. Structural Constraints Just as participation became an importantrequirement to dwell upon for any discourseon development, participatory democracyhas become one for politics. Politicalcommitment in support of the mechanismof participatory democracy abound, butthey lack the necessary vision and roadmapfor making it successful. The steps under-taken to strengthen GPs are mostly workedout in excitement and haste. Decisionsregarding delegation of the powers of planning, execution and monitoring to PRinstitutions are not clearly thought out.There are instances of delegation of eithertoo little or too much to GPs, which remainincapable to handle them.Many doubts are expressed regardingthe seriousness of the intent of the changesthat are usually envisaged by the politicalleadership. Most of these doubts relate tothe creation of a parallel stream of politicalrepresentation in addition to MPs andMLAs.This pluralisation of political  Economic and Political WeeklyNovember 12, 2005 4858   Indian Institute of Banking & Finance (IIBF) ANNOUNCEMENT FOR JAIIB/CAIIB CANDIDATES‘LIVE’ CLASSROOM Indian Institute of Banking & Finance, in tie-up with Hughes, will be conducting live classes across the countryof 15 hours duration each for JAIIB and CAIIB preparation. The sessions will be conducted LIVE from Mumbaiand classrooms at 35 different centers of the country effective from Saturday, 19.11.2005 between 2 to 5 p.m.Details of the Centers/Schedule and subject coverage are available on website of IIBF www.iibf.org.in  and HECL www.hughes-escorts.com .The objective of this Pilot Project is to prepare the students for the ensuing JAIIB/CAIIB Examinations. ThisInteractive On-Site Contact Programme will include lectures by faculty/experts, student interactions, presentationsthrough PowerPoint slides and Question & Answers. The Live Sessions offer unique opportunity to candidatesappearing for JAIIB/CAIIB (online/offline mode) examinations to clear their doubts more particularly throughinteractions of Experts. Hughes has classrooms at many locations wherein the candidate can listen to andparticipate simultaneously. This mode of education is being adopted by leading MBA institutions of the countryand being introduced by IIBF particularly because bank officials are hard pressed for time and this will helpthem in the self-study. Based on the feed back of this, the Institute will offer more such classes in future ataffordable prices.Though the Institute is spending a substantial sum for the project, for the time being, it has been decided tocharge the candidates a nominal fee of Rs.250 per paper, subject to a maximum of Rs.650 for all the threepapers of JAIIB or CAIIB. Thus those who have only one or two papers can also take advantage of these classes.Demand Draft favouring “Indian Institute of Banking & Finance, Mumbai” as nominal fee may be handed overto the Programme Co-ordinator at the respective HECL DirecWay Fusion Centers. In all 15 hours for JAIIB(2 sessions of 2.5 hours each papers/subjects) and 15 hours for CAIIB has been planned.Since each center has only limited seats candidates are requested to register early. Further details/informationin this regard may be sought via email at iibgen@vsnl.com  or ftshroff@iibf.org.in . TM TM  Economic and Political WeeklyNovember 12, 2005 4859 its own end, also ensures that the pradhansdo not ride over it.The stratagems employed are asfollows:(i) The secretariat/office of the grampanchayat is an elusive phenomenon.Hence, the pradhans do not have accessto many information and circulars, whichare meant to be shared with them.This lack of information on the part of the pradhanis used by the VDW to outsmart and furthersubordinate pradhans.(ii) Since financial resources are mostlyavailable at the block or zilla panchayatlevels, block officials have a say in sanc-tioning proposals made from villages. Asresources are scarce in comparison toproposals, allocations are done in favourof such pradhans who would dance to theblock level officers ’  tunes.(iii) Monitoring and superintendance isanother tool to question, negotiate andfinalise the bureaucracy ’ s share of the cakein the name of quality and the volume of work done in many instances. Resourcesare withheld or delayed to make pradhansagree to their terms and conditions. Manypradhans accept impositions such as anindefinite delay in their work and hencetheir commitment to their constituenciesare not met without agreeing to thesebureaucrats. To get work done pradhansneed to be either politically/economicallyor socially powerful to counter all thesestratagems or ready to collude with them.The majority of them are, however, subor-dinated to the operating system of bureau-cratic supremacy at least up to block level.At this stage, I would like to make it clearthat it ’ s not that pradhans are always honest.I am discussing here the system that en-capsulates the relationship between thefield arm of the bureaucracy and pradhansin north India, which is likely to corrupteven the best newcomers to local politicseither through persuasion or coercion. Conclusion We have to be aware of field realitiesto plan intervention for effective function-ing of GPs. I must admit that, though sadly,we are not.We need to be assured of the following:(i) Political supremacy should be the car-dinal principle for operations at the GPlevel. Systems and procedures should beworked out in such a manner that thepradhan of the GP is the supreme authorityand all relevant/local government employ-ees should be available to carry out instruc-tions/decisions of the GP.(ii) The resources need to be made avail-able at the panchayat level to makepanchayat discussions meaningful and theagenda meaty enough for people to par-ticipate. A significant minimum level of resources for the gram panchayat shouldbe disengaged from resources for block and zilla panchayats, and these should beallocated directly to GPs as in Kerala.(iii) The secretariat of GPs need to be madefully functional and not just on paper. TheVDW and lekhpals should compulsorilybe based at the headquarters, i e, the villageto which she/he is attached. This wouldmake all documents, records and informa-tion accessible to sarpanchs/pradhans, wardmembers and other villagers, therebybuilding moral pressure on him to remainaccountable to the pradhan, in particular,and the village, in general. Functionariesof other departments like extensionworkersof the agriculture or animal hus-bandry departments, etc, should also bebased there.(iv) The capacity-building of pradhans iscritically important. This should prefer-ably be done by some good voluntaryorganisations that could apprise him/hernot only about rights and responsibilities,government schemes, panchayati raj struc-tures and functions, but also teach him/hersome bit of activism, i e, involving peoplein meeting the requirements of effectivefunctioning of panchayats and using themas a resource. Training organisations meantfor panchayati raj in many of the statesneed to be reoriented as they tend to remainstatus quoist in orientation, teaching theirclients mostly the “ letter ”  of capacity-building, but not the “ spirit ” .The GPs in some states have been giventoo much responsibility without preparingthem to handle it. This would discredittheGPs and other PR institutions. Theload will take its toll. There would bemistakes in both approvals and executionof projects. The system would be happy toblame it on GPs and small-time politi-cians. Corruption related to panchayatworks is on many occasions cited as thereason for not extending the cause of decentralisation any further. There is,however, little evidence to prove that thebureaucracy is a good substitute for theGP. Even if some corruption persists in thepanchayati raj structure, we should risk itas we have given enough of a chance topolitical supremacy at the union and statelevels in India.Email: mksm_raj@rediffmail.com 
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