Design of devolution

  • 30/01/2007

For mani shankar aiyar, Union minister of Panchayati Raj, the biggest obstacle with decentralisation is not a lack of political will but not getting the design right. Excerpts from an interview to richard mahapatra and sandip das

On being India's first minister of Panchayati Raj
Being the first minister of panchayati raj in the independent India, is a rare privilege. It is also a culmination of a fantasy for me.

On panchayats being treated as the lowest implementing agencies, and not elected governments
These are teething problems. It is a consequence of media regarding, by definition, the aberrant as newsworthy and the routine as not newsworthy. Tikamgarh, where NREGS funds have not been released, in not the typical case.All the information coming from the ministry of rural development indicates that NREGS programme is one of the most successful poverty alleviation programmes in the country. There is a lot one can do to improve all aspects of panchayati raj, including their involvement in the implementation of NREGS. There are three million panchayat representatives across the country. The mere establishment of panchayati raj and making it ineluctable, irremovable and irreversible... is a historical achievement.

On being "responsible but without authority', much like a panchayat head
The constitution exclusively mandates the state governments to undertake devolution. It does not design devolution; it leaves that to the state legislature. Thus the state of panchayat is uneven. We have a state like Kerala, where panchayats were in dreadful mess until 1996, adopting decentralisation with a big bang.
The state is emerging as the most advanced panchayati raj state. On the other hand, there is a the state like Andhra Pradesh, which under N T Rama Rao made more progress on panchayati raj than any other state. And then his son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu initiated a programme like Janmabhoomi that undermined his father-in-law's work. As the Union minister, I needed to create a national consensus on panchayati raj .
To secure such as roadmap, I convened seven roundtables within a space of 150 days (July to December, 2004), covering all the identified 18 dimensions of panchayati raj and arrived at 150 points of action. The chief ministers have accepted these recommendations.

On only seven states devolving all 29 functions, and the prospect of states behaving in the future
Your language is not consistent with the constitution order. I cannot talk of making states behave. I have to work along with the states. I am encouraged so much by the fact that some states have devolved all the 29 subjects. Because these states have devolved the subjects only through legislation, not executive order.
What I want to see is a design for devolution that begins with the activity mapping. The activity map is the critical document which would explain activities each of the three tiers of panchayati raj system. Thus I am much less concerned about devolution covering all the 29 subjects than with even one subject being properly devolved in terms of an activity map, which provides clarity and avoids confusion and overlapping relating to the role of each of the three tiers.
Once such a map is in place, you have basis on which a scientific devolution of finances can be made or inadvertently there will be a Panchayat sector window in the budgets of line departments whose functions are being devolved. And it is through this panchayat sector window that the finances will actually reach that tier of panchayati raj system at which they are expected to planned and implemented.
The functions and finances are the flies which will settle on the jar of honey. Then you will find that functionaries are ready to go where their job would be supposed to be done and where the finances are also available.

On when panchayats will be effective
With this design in place, we are able to move to the crucial fourth step that is district planning. Therefore once you get an activity map, thereby securing effective devolution of functions

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