DECENTRALISED GOVERNANCE AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT 149
Thrissur district), people’s planning would not have been
able to do the considerable amount of preparatory work it
has done, as for example, in mobilising people, conducting
seminars and camps, working as resource persons, drawing
up projects and development reports, organising training
programmes and the publication of a large number of
books, manuals and guidelines.
But this invited considerable criticism on the ground that
it resulted in a politicisation of the PRIs, reﬂected in the
selection of experts and nature of mass organisations
inducted into the campaign as also in muting the
development of in-house capacity of PRIs and the difﬁculty
of sustaining such an arrangement. Despite the substantial
number of training programmes undertaken, however,
what remained lacking, as brought out by some micro
studies was a strengthening of capability for effective
utilisation of resources. The expert committees have been
recently abolished. With respect to the functioning of the ﬁnancial and
accounting systems of panchayats under the campaign,
3.3 Decentralised Governance where more effective action should have been taken by
and Human Development the state government to support the local governments in
enhancing their capabilities, the situation was unsatisfactory.
Whether decentralisation in Kerala, a sincere attempt at While the amended Panchayat Act (1999) exhorted
“bringing government closer to the people” and eliciting local bodies to present integrated budgets including plan
their participation, has resulted in enhancing well-being grant-in-aid, state and centrally sponsored schemes, own
of the disadvantaged groups is a question, the answer to revenues, institutional ﬁnance and voluntary/beneﬁciary
which is mixed- problems and successes abound (see Box contribution, very little of this was found in practice.
9.4 and Box 9.5). Its effectiveness can be gauged in terms A substantial number of panchayats have still to complete
of physical achievements or through beneﬁciary assessment their accounts for the Ninth Plan period.
of public expenditures and tracking improvements thereof
in individual/collective well-being. In terms of physical Two important questions here are regarding a perceived
achievements, spelt out in the ofﬁcial sources, the transformation in the quality of service delivery, since
performance is impressive in the areas of agriculture related quantity as we know has been less of a problem in Kerala;
activities, self-employment generation, and in providing and second, to what extent has it resulted in greater
minimum needs infrastructure like housing, water supply, horizontal equality. There has been a general view that
sanitation and connectivity. The local bodies are also quality of such services as education and health has not
credited with reasonably good performance in natural undergone any signiﬁcant change, nor have disadvantaged
resource management, particularly in utilisation of water groups like STs derived much beneﬁts in public service
resources for productive purposes. However, there have delivery (Vijayanand, 2001; Eapen and Thomas, 2005).
only been a few isolated success stories in the productive However, a recent study spread over a fairly large number
sectors, where agricultural production and productivity of panchayats (72 in number) yields different results
have increased signiﬁcantly. Similarly, one does not hear (Chaudhuri et al 2004). Based on responses from ‘key
of many innovative schemes for skill development of respondents’ in each panchayat (selected to capture a
the large numbers of educated unemployed with 10 or range of opinions across the socio-economic and political
12 years of general schooling, who constitute the hard core spectrum of Kerala society), the study highlights that the
of the educated unemployed; perhaps this is a function to be evaluation of change, before and after the campaign was
performed at a higher tier of local governance. The outreach positive, having moved from a predominantly ‘below
of health services as well as remedial coaching for laggard average’ service delivery before to ‘average’ after the
students has deﬁnitely improved and the infrastructure for campaign. The range of services included primary
health and education has been upgraded. health care, child care, primary education, drinking
Box 9.4: Decentralisation: Initial Challenges
Notwithstanding its physical achievements, the experiment has abounded with problems and further challenges
(Vijayanand, 2001: 23-24):
i) No staff increase has been provided for, and exemption made only in a few cases of professionals and highly
skilled technical personnel and in special schemes with assistance for staff.
ii) The outliers like Scheduled Tribes are still to gain from decentralisation. In scenarios where one section of the
poor lives off another section, decentralisation has certain inbuilt limitations.
iii) The poorest among the poor need social safety nets particularly for food and health emergencies. This cannot
be provided by local governments.
iv) The management of services particularly health and education have not been more efficient
than before and these services have direct implications for local development especially poverty
v) The flow of bank credit into local schemes has been limited resulting more from bankers’ reluctance to
deal with local governments than from inadequacies of project formulation. This has resulted in higher
vi) In a State like Kerala where the number of educated poor is very high there is an inherent limitation in local
government action. Linkage with job markets through skill up-gradation or identiﬁcation of self-employment
opportunities or small-scale production activities with assured markets are all functions which can be done
better at higher levels.
vii) There is a tendency to spread resources thinly with preference being given to every electoral constituency
whenever a development scheme is taken up. Distribution of assets and inputs, not necessarily productive,
has been common.
viii) Vertical integration of local level programmes has proved difﬁcult to achieve.
ix) Participatory aspect of planning is often limited to airing of needs and sharing of beneﬁts. There is need for
enhancing the quality of participatory planning so that there is a healthy discussion by all sections of the
population based on data and norms, generating a prioritised list of developmental needs.
water, sanitation, roads, irrigation facilities, housing for 3.3.1 Women’s Empowerment
poor, support for cultivators, income and employment
creation for women, SCs and STs. Similarly by collecting Given the tremendous interest generated in Kerala’s
data on social composition of participation (measured decentralised development experience, which
in terms of participants as a percentage of total relevant consciously attempted to address ‘gender’ issues,
population) in grama sabhas, development seminars and with a targeted women’s component plan (WCP), high
project preparation by the task forces, the Chaudhuri expectations had been aroused regarding its impact on
et al study (2004) ﬁnds a fairly consistent representation gender justice. Would it enhance women’s freedom
of SC/ST groups and women over the three stages of the in a society increasingly moving towards patriarchal
participation cycle. In terms of voice and empowerment structures within the family and in the public sphere.?
of these groups through enhancing access to public A number of studies were done to understand the
services, such as housing, assistance to the poor, income nature and content of the WCP in terms of resource
and employment for women and SCs/STs, the response allocations and its impact on women both in terms of
was that there was greater distributive justice for the meeting their practical as also strategic gender needs
disadvantaged groups under decentralised governance. (Isaac and Franke, 2000; Seema and Mukherjee, 2000;
However, it was still not adequate. We take up the gender UNICEF, 2001; Radha and Chaudhury, 2003; Thampi,
question in greater detail. 2004; Eapen and Thomas, 2005).
DECENTRALISED GOVERNANCE AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT 151
Box 9.5: Lighting Up Remote Hamlets – Mini- and Micro-hydel Projects
Despite cent per cent rural electrification, achieved long back, more than 15 per cent of the households
in Kerala still remain unelectrified, most of them being in remote hilly areas all along the Western Ghats.
Electrifying these households from the grid involves problems of accessibility and high costs, on account
of low density and long distance to be covered. The Electricity Act 2003 lays down that the appropriate
government shall endeavour to supply electricity to all areas including villages and hamlets. The Act envisages
formulation of two policies: a National Electricity Policy permitting standalone systems (including renewable
and non-renewable sources), and a National Policy for Rural Electrification for purchase of bulk power and its
local distribution in rural areas.
Micro- and mini-hydel power stations (up to 100 KW capacity) have already proved to be a useful standalone source
for lighting up villages in remote, mountainous terrain in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal,
West Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh as well as in Kerala. About 198 small hydel sites have so far been identiﬁed in
Kerala with a total capacity of 467 mega watts (MW), of which 10 sites (with a capacity of 72 MW) have so far been
set up, most of them in Idukki district, and another 10 (with 73 MW) are under construction (Government of Kerala,
2004). It should be noted that the decentralisation drives have opened up ample opportunities for exploiting the
potential available for harnessing mini- and micro-hydel projects. Given the enabling environment, several local
bodies have taken up initiatives to develop locally available sources of energy with people’s participation.
Most studies found that armed with an understanding of Given the fact that 70-75 per cent of women in Kerala are
gender15 as a crucial parameter in economic and social engaged in household duties, many of the SHG activities
analyses, the proponents of the decentralised planning process enabled women to combine roles and earn some incomes.
made a sincere attempt to address women’s issues with a Mushroom cultivation, poultry, kitchen garden, umbrella
view to 'empowering' them, that is enhancing their choices. making, etc. allow work to be carried out in/near home and
The ‘empowerment approach’ had gained considerable is not full time in nature. Women perceived these activities
popularity and appeal in the 1990s. Although ﬁrst invoked in as a boon and the extra work appeared to be no burden to
the 1980s and envisaged within a 'transformative' tradition them. In fact, these are perceived to be better choices than
of planning, characterised as a political, conﬂictual process, working in the ﬁelds or as casual labour in non-agriculture,
it came to be widely interpreted in very narrow terms in choices that are also dictated by the wide spread of literacy,
the mainstream development discourse of the 1990s. The and social norms/practices which shape job expectations.
analysis of the WCP, through a gender lens reveals that
in Kerala too, despite the well meaning intentions of the While such an approach certainly enhances the
policy-makers on mainstreaming gender into the Plan choices and productivity levels of individual women,
process, at the level of implementation the approach tied up we have to see how this collectivity of women backed
much more with the narrow interpretation, relying heavily by a feminised political leadership can generate a
on ‘empowering’ women through self help groups. While larger agenda of changing the social environment for
the mandatory 10 per cent appears to have been more or women. It was here that the strategy failed as far as
less achieved for the ﬁve year period as a whole, some items gendered planning was concerned. The difficulty of
of general expenditure were really ascribed to the WCP like translating innovative ideas into concrete projects for
anganwadi feeding, toilets, drinking water and roads, thereby women to achieve greater gender justice, lay in the
cutting down on resources intended primarily for women.. absence of a gender analysis framework. Discussions
There was hardly any difference in the nature of projects in within such a framework (which also requires the
the women headed panchayats. This is not to undermine presentation of gender statistics in a manner teasing
considerable efforts by some panchayats to move into new out the underlying causes of unequal gender relations
areas such as IT, auto rickshaw driving, women’s transport and the consequences) in the task forces (now working
cooperatives, etc. groups) would have helped in the formulation of more
15 That is the social relationship between men and women through which women have been systematically located in an inferior
position in society.