IASbhai Daily Editorial Hunt | 11th May 2020
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.– Winston Churchill
EDITORIAL HUNT 78:“Responding to COVID-19 at the grassroots“
SOURCES: THE HINDU EDITORIAL/EDITORIALS FOR UPSC CSE MAINS 2020
T.R. Raghunandan is Former Secretary, Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, Karnataka, and Former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Panchayat Raj, Government of India
Responding to COVID-19 at the grassroots
Kerala and Karnataka have shown how democratic decentralisation has worked in their favour
SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 2:PRI
Will the novel coronavirus crisis trigger a reaction of greater faith in the local governments, or will it result in more centralisation? Substantiate -(GS 2)
In this article you will revolve around the issues related to democratic decentralization.
- Nature of devolution of power.
- States performing the best .
- Vision of PRI’s.
Mahatma Gandhi envisioned that a free India would rest on a foundation of gram panchayats, village republics that governed locally and epitomised Swaraj in practice.
- B.R. Ambedkar was sceptical; he described the caste-ridden, unequal village society as a cesspool.
- Yet, he was not unequivocally(in a way that leaves no doubt) against decentralisation.
“Kerala has the most panchayat-friendly fiscal system.” A primary health care centre in Vypeen in Kochi. H.Vibhu
LOCALLY RELEVANT INITIATIVES
73rd CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ACT :
The 73rd Constitutional Amendment mandates the constitution of panchayats at the district, intermediate and village levels as devolved institutions of self-government and provides for the endowment of powers and responsibilities to plan and implement programmes for social justice and economic development.
PATCHY PROGRESS OF PRI :
- This fulfilled the vision of the Mahatma, whilst addressing Dr. Ambedkar’s concerns by providing for reservation in both the elected seats and leadership positions of sarpanches, mukhiyas and adhyakshas.
- Yet, the progress of panchayati raj has been patchy, since its constitutionalisation 27 years ago.
- Some States have walked the talk by devolving untied grants to panchayats so that they can plan flexibly and implement locally relevant initiatives.
- STRUCTURE :However, in most, the substantive spirit of the constitutional design has been obstructed by politicians and bureaucrats, who fear the loss of their patronage powers.
- FUNDING : Panchayats are not given enough funds and are bypassed by State-controlled line departments that continue to implement programmes falling within the rightful domain of the former.
- Past pandemics, apart from decimating populations, have also caused paradigm shifts in the perception of governance.
A CASE FROM KERALA :
- EMPOWERING PANCHAYATS : Administering the lockdown with firmness and compassion and alleviating the distress caused to the poor has also been largely due to Kerala’s empowered panchayats.
- MONETARY FLOW : Kerala has had a head start; no State has such a panchayat-friendly fiscal system.
- DEVOLUTION : Nearly a third of Kerala’s plan funds have been given to the panchayats as flexible development and maintenance funds, a policy that the government follows even though it suffers from chronic fiscal stress.
- THE KUDUMBASHREE SYSTEM : , which encourages women to form self-help groups and their federations, acts as an organised civil society counterpoint to the panchayats, collaborating with and yet holding to account the latter for their performance.
- WOMEN EMPOWERMENT : Kudumbashree has also been an effective incubator for women leaders who have then stepped into the political sphere; nearly 65% of all women elected to the panchayats are Kudumbashree members.
A REVIVAL IN KARNATAKA
- APPROACH : In contrast, Karnataka typifies the stop-start approach of most States to strengthening local governments.
- RESTRICTIONS : In practice the panchayats are tied down through restricted finance and administrative controls, parallel structures, and have deputed officers who owe allegiance to their line departments rather than to the elected panchayat body.
STATE OF REVIVAL :
- First, it would have been impossible to impose the lockdown in the State effectively without the cooperation and support of the panchayats.
- Second, the lockdown has also tied the hands of the government; only essential services of the government, such as the police and the health departments, are functioning without physical restrictions.
- All other departmental staff have stopped travelling to villages, giving instructions and monitoring their programmes and plans.
- Governance abhors vacuums, and that is what is prompting the revival of democratic decentralisation.
- As locked-in senior officials cannot oversee their frontline workers, panchayats have stepped in and are taking charge.
- The panchayat-level task force meets twice a week.
- The primary health centre doctor, auxiliary nurse midwives and accredited social health activists are part of the task force in which all elected representatives and panchayat-level staff participate.
- Decisions taken on COVID-19 related management such as implementing the lockdown, disinfection, providing food to those who need it and ensuring the supply of other essential services are implemented by the village- level task forces.
- Very soon, the five-year terms of the panchayats will come to an end and an election is impossible in the current circumstances.
- A confident and caring government ought to continue with the current elected bodies functioning as administrators.
- If instead they appoint officials or their chosen political representatives to take charge, then we will know where the government stands on its commitment to democratic decentralisation.