Academic journal article Journal of Management and Public Policy

Decoding Rural Governance in India

Academic journal article Journal of Management and Public Policy

Decoding Rural Governance in India

Article excerpt

What are the major governance-related issues at the village level in India that needs immediate attention of the local communities?

At the outset, it is important to explain the meaning of governance. Governance implies those institutions and processes through which government, civil society organizations and private sector interact in shaping public affairs and through which citizens articulate their interests, mediate their differences and exercise their political, social and economic rights1. To understand major governance related issues at village level, we should know how it can be measured. Governance at the village level can be measured against the benchmarks such as delivery of basic services, transparency in functioning of Gram Panchayat and local government department, level of corruption and opportunities for citizens to participate principally to ensure accountability2.

Measured against these benchmarks, one can find that villagers have poor access to public distribution system, Indira Awas Yojana, Swachh Bharat Mission and Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Act. Such problems are there in several government programmes. Villagers have to pay bribes to get benefits under the government programmes. Corruption hits people especially the poor in a big way in villages. Opportunities for citizen participation such as Gram Sabha, social audits and community monitoring are mostly absent in most parts of India. So participation of citizens has been limited to elections and different avenues of participation after elections are largely dormant in rural landscape.

Local bodies such as Gram Panchayats do not have enough funds, functions and functionaries except in four-five states of India, so people regard it as symbolic institution, a 'vehicle without engines'. Hence they do not take much interest in its functioning which is cause of serious concern in democracy. Greater participation of citizens in local affairs might strengthen their belief in democratic processes and inculcates a culture of solving issues democratically. However, motivating rural folks to participate in deliberations of local bodies or collectively influence decision-making is a bit challenging due to traditional marginalization and presence of strong power brokers.

Are the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) able to tackle the key issues at the grassroots levels effectively?

Within the context of limited administrative and fiscal decentralisation in India, PRIs have to meet huge expectation of people. PRIs have been able to take up issues of villagers to line government departments and they have been able to make substantial contribution in improving the village infrastructure.

PRIs have very crucial role in monitoring of government programmes such as Public Distribution System, Mid-Day Meal, Integrated Child Development Services and schools. Any complaint by PRIs on poor functioning of the government departments is taken very seriously by district administration. In MGNREGA and Swachh Bharat Mission, PRIs have very important role in monitoring and implementation.

PRIs are bridge between citizens and government which helps in channelizing demands of citizens to government and government message to citizens. PRIs through its platform such as Gram Sabha offer opportunities to citizens to participate in governance regularly. Otherwise, citizens participate just once in five years for electing government at local, state and national level -making India an electoral democracy lacking features of citizen participation.

Iwould say that within the administrative, fiscal and capacity constraints, PRIs have worked quite well.

What are the reasons behind apparent failure of Panchayati Raj Institutions in living up to the expectations of its primary constituency?

PRIs have not failed in India but they seem to be failing or underperforming due to various reasons. The primary reason for outward failure of decentralized units such Panchayati Raj Institutions (elected local bodies) is design failure except in some states of India. …

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