Recently, a World Bank Working Paper Called for Greater Devolution to Panchayats.

Key Highlights

  • The working paper titled ‘Two Hundred and Fifty-Thousand Democracies: A Review of Village Government in India advocates for granting greater authority to Panchayats and strengthening their local fiscal capacity. 
  • This is seen as necessary to counteract what the paper identifies as “recentralization” resulting from the widespread adoption of digital systems in governance.

Empowerment of Panchayats

  • The paper argues that this empowerment is crucial for enhancing local governance effectiveness, countering inefficiencies where Gram Panchayat (GP) council members currently act more as intermediaries than empowered decision-makers.
  • The working paper also advocates for reducing the power of unelected bureaucrats, reducing ward sizes, and introducing ward sabhas for direct citizen engagement.

Fiscal Strengthening

  • Enhanced fiscal capacity and broader decision-making authority are deemed essential for improving governance at the local level. 
  • The paper suggests that greater devolution to Gram Panchayats can also reduce the workload on higher-level bureaucrats.

Empowerment of Ward Members

  • The working paper recommends empowering ward members within village councils by allocating them financial resources. This could significantly improve the functioning of Panchayats, where ward members often currently serve as mere rubber stamps.

Building Local Tax Capacity

  • Building local tax capacity is highlighted as vital for Panchayat autonomy. 
  • The paper proposes measures such as filling vacancies for bill collectors, digitizing property records, and granting Gram Panchayats more autonomy in levying taxes and cesses.

Strengthening Gram Sabhas

  • The paper stresses the importance of strengthening Gram Sabhas by increasing their frequency and expanding their powers in village planning and beneficiary selection.
  • It underscores the role of Gram Sabhas as a platform for actively listening to citizens.

Improving Administrative Data Quality

  • Improving administrative data quality and ensuring its public availability in accessible formats is another key recommendation of the working paper. 
  • It advocates for the use of effective visualizations and interactive tools to enhance community understanding and analysis.

Grievance Redressal:

  • The working paper recommends establishing formal and effective grievance redressal systems to hold Panchayats accountable, allowing citizens to report issues to higher authorities.

About Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRI)

  • The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992 granted constitutional status to Panchayati Raj Institutions by adding Part IX (Articles 243 to 243-O) and the Eleventh Schedule (29 subjects) to the Indian Constitution, thereby establishing a three-tier (Gram Panchayat at Village level, Panchayat samiti at Block level and Zilla Parishad and District level) system of decentralized self-governance.

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