General Studies Paper 2

Context: Decentralized governance has gained importance in the development paradigm with over 123 countries, including India, amending their legislations. This involves transferring authority and responsibility for public functions from central government to subordinate organisations.

India has a historical background of decentralised governance, but the legal framework was established through the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments in 1992. The 73rd Amendment made it mandatory to establish a three-tier Panchayat system in rural areas. This is expected to enhance human development and improve the welfare of the rural population through administrative and political devolution.

What is human development?

  • Human development refers to the process of improving people’s lives by expanding their freedoms, opportunities, and capabilities, enabling them to lead lives they value. It encompasses a wide range of factors such as health, education, economic growth, gender equality, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability.
  • The goal of human development is to create an environment where people can fully realise their potential and participate in the decision-making processes that affect their lives.

How is Human Development brought within the ambit of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in India?

  • Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) was first recommended by the Balwantrai Mehta committee in 1957, and their role in rural development has been emphasized in subsequent government plans and committees. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment formalized PRI as a three-tier system in rural areas and mandated citizen participation in the planning process.
  • PRI is also responsible for implementing plans related to economic development, social justice, service delivery, infrastructure development, and livelihood development for rural people. The 11th Schedule of the Constitution specifies 29 subjects to be placed under the purview of PRI.
  • This decentralization of power to PRI has helped to promote participatory governance in rural areas and improve human development indicators. PRI can also play a crucial role in addressing climate change and disaster risk management in rural areas.

How do Panchayati Raj Institutions contribute to decentralized governance?

  • Public Participation in Decision-Making: Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) foster public participation in decision-making processes at the local level. By involving community members in planning, monitoring, and evaluating various schemes and service delivery programs, PRIs ensure that governance becomes more responsive to the needs and priorities of the people.
  • Promoting Social Equity and Inclusiveness: PRIs promote social equity and inclusiveness through the reservation of seats for women and weaker sections of society. This ensures that traditionally underrepresented groups have a voice in local governance, contributing to more equitable and inclusive decision-making. In the case of Madhya Pradesh, the involvement of PRIs in managing education led to a narrowing of the gender gap in primary school enrollment.
  • Empowering Local Communities: PRIs empower local communities by transferring responsibilities and decision-making authority from higher levels of governance to the grassroots level. This allows for better-tailored policies and services that address the specific needs and concerns of rural populations.
  • Addressing Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management: PRIs can play a crucial role in addressing climate change and disaster risk management at the local level. As immediate providers of public services and natural connectors to local communities, PRIs can raise awareness about climate change, foster disaster preparedness, and help train communities in adaptive and mitigation strategies. This approach to community preparedness can sometimes be more effective than costly public investments in disaster risk reduction.

What is the role of PRI in human development, particularly in rural areas?

In India, PRI plays an important role in enhancing human development, like

  • Improvement in education: Panchayats play a vital role in improving access to quality education in rural areas. They collaborate with Village Education Committees to monitor and enhance educational services at the village level. For instance, in Madhya Pradesh, the transfer of school management responsibilities to Panchayati Raj Institutions led to increased enrollment, especially for girls and disabled children, between 2003-04 and 2006-07.
  • Healthcare and Social Welfare: Panchayats contribute to the improvement of healthcare and social welfare services in rural areas. They participate in the implementation of health and family welfare programs, such as maternal and child health initiatives, which directly impact human development outcomes. Panchayats also support the implementation of social welfare schemes targeting marginalized communities, including scheduled castes and tribes.
  • Livelihood Enhancement and Poverty Alleviation: Panchayats are involved in implementing livelihood enhancement and poverty alleviation programs, such as the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). These programs aim to provide self-employment and wage employment opportunities, helping to improve the economic well-being of rural populations.
  • Community Participation and Empowerment: Panchayats encourage community participation and empower local communities by organizing Gram Sabha and Ward Sabha meetings. These spaces enable villagers to voice their concerns, influence policies, and hold local authorities accountable. For example, studies have shown that Gram Sabha meetings in South India allowed disadvantaged groups to influence resource allocation in their favor.

How do PRIs contribute to education in rural areas?

  • Decentralization of School Management: PRIs have enabled the decentralization of school management in rural areas, empowering communities to make education more responsive to their needs. In Madhya Pradesh, the management of school education was transferred to Panchayati Raj Institutions, leading to the creation of Standing Committees on Education and Parent-Teacher Associations with administrative and financial powers.
  • Increased Enrollment: The involvement of PRIs in education management has led to a significant increase in enrollment, particularly for girls and disabled children. In Madhya Pradesh, girl enrollment at the primary stage rose from 46.6% in 2003-04 to 47.5% in 2006-07, demonstrating the impact of PRIs on education accessibility.
  • Community Participation: PRIs encourage community participation in school management, fostering local ownership and accountability. Through Village Education Committees and Parent-Teacher Associations, community members can provide valuable input on how to improve educational outcomes in their area.
  • Addressing Out-of-School Children: Despite the progress made through PRIs, challenges remain, such as the issue of out-of-school children. However, PRIs are well-positioned to identify and address the barriers that prevent children from attending school, ensuring that no child is left behind in their pursuit of education.

How has the shift towards decentralized governance impacted India’s rural development strategies?

  • Increased Participation: Decentralized governance through PRIs has led to greater community participation in the planning, monitoring, and evaluation of various schemes and service delivery programs, resulting in improved service quality tailored to local needs.
  • For instance, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, Village Education Committees were established at the Gram Panchayat level, promoting community involvement in managing school education and leading to a significant increase in enrollment rates.
  • Enhanced Accountability and Transparency: The shift towards decentralized governance has promoted better accountability and transparency in local decision-making processes, ensuring that public resources are utilized effectively and efficiently for rural development.
  • A prime example is the creation of Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) in Madhya Pradesh, which were granted administrative and financial powers to manage schools, leading to more effective resource allocation and improved educational outcomes.
  • Empowering Women and Marginalized Groups: The reservation of seats for women and marginalized groups in PRIs has helped increase their representation in decision-making processes, giving them a voice in shaping policies that directly affect their lives.
  • In Kerala, the Kudumbashree initiative empowered women by involving them in PRI activities, which led to improved access to resources and increased economic opportunities for women.
  • Local-Level Planning and Implementation: Decentralization has facilitated local-level planning and implementation of development projects, enabling PRIs to address specific needs and priorities of rural communities more effectively. In the context of climate change and disaster risk management, PRIs have been instrumental in raising awareness and promoting community preparedness.
  • For example, in Odisha, PRIs played a crucial role in disaster management during Cyclone Phailin, which helped save countless lives and minimize property damage.
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