When the admission of a governance crisis comes from no less a person than Rahul Gandhi himself, we must pause and think twice. Addressing annual general meeting of industry body Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in New Delhi, he declaimed that the clogged political system is holding India back. He stressed the importance of ideation to spur inclusive growth and creation of fresh opportunities to kick start the growth momentum.
Though the speech tried to paper over lack of substance with philosophical platitudes, the rediscovery of Panchayati Raj by him was a refreshing change from a total ignoring of decentralisation by successive governments. In this issue, statesmen and experts cutting across ideologies are converging on Panchayati Raj as an answer.
I remember being part of a high-level committee set up by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj to study e-governance in local bodies under UPA-I. In the first meeting itself, we were presented with a report written by technologists on how technology would solve all problems. Many of us pointed out that in the absence of a true empowerment of local bodies envisaged in the 73rd Constitutional Amendment, how preposterous the wisdom is. Six-years hence and billions of worth of technology deployment later, the lot of Panchyats has not shown an iota of improvement!
Rahul said, “Democracy and technology have created a chain reaction in India.” Of course, the inference here is the direct benefit transfer (DBT) that is a definite possibility by virtue of technology implicit in the unique identification platform. It was all hunky-dory until the rollout stage. Now, the Prime Minister himself admitting that scheme has run into “operational issues” and its first phase has exposed the “poor nature of tracking and monitoring systems we have in departments”. Isn’t it a case of technology hopelessly hog-tied by the bureaucratic red-tape? In the modern age, one cannot function without the other, but making a fetish out of technology will not bail us out of the governance quagmire is also true.
In this issue of INCLUSION, we debate on getting the fundamentals right on governance. The core issue is that few in the central or state governments actually believe in decentralisation. “Maximum democracy and maximum devolution”, as Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi characterised decentralisation, continues to elude us because there has been no meaningful transfer of funds, functions and functionaries (3Fs) to local bodies. Most centrally sponsored schemes had taken a detour to parallel systems of bureaucratic and NGO-aided delivery to the detriment of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), and states are either hamstrung or not willing to part with powers when implementing schemes sponsored by them. This is in contravention to the letter and spirit of scientific devolution contained in the Constitution.
For, through the fog of endless policy papers and political debate, some fundamentals are clear — especially now that the conviction at the top levels of the UPA government and Congress Party makes it plausible that a meaningful progress will hopefully be made on this front. The Fourteenth Finance Commission under Y V Reddy has the mandate to review the distribution of resources among the Centre, states and local bodies. One hopes, it charts out the path to sustainable and inclusive growth through decentralisation of 3Fs to local bodies. Increase of untied grants to them could be an excellent beginning.
“Until we start pushing the people into the system, into the government, we cannot pioneer the wheels of change,” said Rahul Gandhi. Kudos to him on that!