Integrating institutional reforms in local governance with economic reforms was Gandhiji’s far-sighted vision of ‘Poorna Swaraj’. Economic reforms and local government empowerment were the two great initiatives launched in the 1990s. While economic reforms have taken roots and have yielded dividends, local government empowerment, as envisaged, has not taken place.
The key reason behind such a situation is lack of political will and initiative to appropriately and legally devolve functions, functionaries and funds to the local bodies.
The 2nd ARC has given the following recommendations to realize the objectives of democratic decentralization in India:
- Article 243G and Article 243W be amended to make it mandatory for States to vest the local bodies with powers and authority
- Union may invoke Article 252 to legislate a model Panchayati Raj Act for the States. With political and public pressure, States may adopt.
- Principle of subsidiarity be adopted.
- Legislative Council be constituted in each State to consist of members elected by local governments.
- State governments must undertake capacity building efforts for local bodies.
- The MPC/DPC be constituted by all States and strengthened for decentralized planning.
- Local Body Ombudsman be created (for elected and appointed functionaries).
- Expand the tax domain of local bodies with certain/all taxes being mandatory.
The local bodies continue to function at the will of the state governments. Lacklustre functioning of Gram Sabhas, inadequate tax base for local bodies, lack of autonomy for planning, implementation and evaluation of projects at the local level exacerbate the situation. Ever increasing demand on the resources of the urban areas due to expansion of urbanization in India has further added to the woes of ULBs.