Power 'em

More power for villages and people will ensure better governance and less corruption

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015 | 02:50:09 AM

if states like Madhya Pradesh and Kerala showed the way, Maharashtra appears to have taken it a step further. And that's good news for the people. By bringing out an ordinance to amend the Gram Panchayat Act, thus ensuring empowerment to the gram sabha (village assembly) and right to information, the state has scored some firsts. Undoubtedly, the change was bulldozed by Anna Hazare, with his five day Gandhian protest of 'maun vrat' (silent penance) (see " Gram sabha empowered"). But the state government's decision is nevertheless a landmark one for making government officials accountable to gram sabha, spelling out a disciplinary regulation and setting a timeframe for action. In Anna's words, placing the power in the people's hands and accountability in the government's is real democracy.

It is in this same vein that prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's assurance to amend the Panchayati Raj Act to give greater fiscal control to the panchayats, in the coming winter session of parliament is commendable.

It's been a painfully slow process but nevertheless one that is taking place as a centralised state gives way to an increasingly decentralised form of governance. Certainly, the bureaucracy will resist this change as this takes the power away from them. But then the politicians, being more accountable to the electorate, would certainly see the merit in devolving more power to the people. The challenge to make this transition work is thus to target a stubborn Indian bureaucracy. Just as the civil society has pressurised the politicians, it must now deal with the babudom. Till this is achieved, decentralisation may for all purposes remain just on paper.

On the other hand, if politicians want to overhaul India's governance, and bring more powers to the villages, they need to turn to the people, not the vast bureaucracy, nor the academic or research bodies.

As dte founder editor Anil Agarwal had said, "Even though democracy is the one element that is totally missing in the functioning of the government, democracy remains the biggest strength of this otherwise poor and wretched country. Democracy gives citizens the right to mobilise and organise themselves to fight and bring about change." It may be a long haul, but surely there is light at the end.

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