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>> Research (]T\§Ä) / Towards Time Bound Panchayati Raj Tenth Anniversary Plan of Action

 



GOVERNMENT OF KERALA

STATUS OF PANCHAYAT RAJ IN KERALA

February 2000

I. Post 73rd Amendment HISTORY

Kerala was rather slow in enacting the concomitant legislation in accordance with the Constitution. It was at the eleventh hour that the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act, 1994 was brought into effect. This Act was basically a mixture of the provisions of the old Kerala Panchayat Act and the provisions of the Constitution. The only significant feature was the provision that the Government shall, after the commencement of the Act, transfer to PRIs all institutions, schemes, buildings and other properties connected with the subjects listed in the respective schedules dealing with these functions.

The first elections to the three tier Panchayat Raj set up were held in September 1995 and the Panchayats came into being on the 2nd of October. A significant event was the issue of a comprehensive government order in September 1995, transferring various institutions and staff to the three tier PRIs (see Annexure I). Another noteworthy event was the budget of 1996 which had a separate document known as Annexure IV, which detailed the grants-in-aid, and the schemes transferred to the local bodies. Thus the allocation for the local bodies was seen as an independent subset of the State Budget giving it the stamp of legislative approval and protecting it from the vagaries of executive decision-making.

There was a change of Government in May 1996 and the Left Democratic Front Government embarked on a policy of massive decentralisation. Two landmark events in enlarging and deepening the process of decentralisation need to be mentioned. First is the launching of the People's Planning Campaign on 17th of August, 1996. This was spearheaded by the State Planning Board in partnership with the Department of Local Administration (now appropriately renamed as the Department of Local Self Government), with the full association of political parties, non-government organisations, professionals and elected members. It went beyond a government sponsored programme and soon assumed the nature of a movement resulting in an alliance of all those who reposed faith in decentralisation. It succeeded in harnessing public action for participatory planning at the grass roots level and created not only a favourable environment for genuine decentralisation but also built up a powerful demand for radical reform in the legislative, administrative and developmental systems, thereby helping to formalize and institutionalise the paradigm shift to a people-centered, bottom-up approach to planning and development giving a direct and continuing role to the people.

Simultaneously the Committee on Decentralisation of Powers under the late Dr. S.B.Sen was set up. The Committee laid down clear and coherent first principles in its inception report in August 1996 and they have been accepted as the guiding light of government policy. Later the Committee on Decentralisation of Powers interacted closely with the People's Planning Campaign and this synergy resulted in recommendations for basic restructuring of laws of local government. These recommendations were incorporated in to the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act in February 1999, providing the legal foundation for healthy and accountable institutions to local self-government. These and further recommendations of the Committee (still popularly known as the Sen Committee) have contributed immensely in institutionalising the gains of People's Planning Campaign into a solid foundation for local self-government.

II. The vision about decentralisation.

Decentralisation as it is being attempted in Kerala is not a political fad or an ad hoc gesture of tokenism or an administrative ritual. It is informed by a rare clarity of vision about the nature of local governments and the process of empowering them. This vision is best captured in the words of the Committee on Decentralisation of Powers:

"A. What is Local Self Government?

Local Self-Government is essentially the empowerment of the people by giving them not only the voice, but the power of choice as well in order to shape the development which they feel is appropriate to their situation. It implies maximum decentralization of powers to enable the elected bodies to function as autonomous units with adequate power authority and resources to discharge the basic responsibility of bringing about "economic development and social justice". It is not enough to formally transfer powers and responsibilities to the LSGIs. They have to be vested with the authority to exercise them full which requires concordant changes not only in the appropriate rules, manuals, government orders and circulars governing development administration, but also in the conventions, practices and even, the value premises of the governmental agencies. Decentralisation does not mean just deconcentration where a subordinate is allowed to act on behalf of the superior without any real transfer of authority, or delegation where powers are formally conferred on a subordinate without any real transfer or authority. It implies devolution where real power and authority are transferred to enable autonomous functioning with the defined areas.

Decentralisation in its true sense would be democratic decentralisation. With the constitutional recognition accorded to Grama sabhas and Wards Committees, the necessary condition for genuine participatory democracy has been created. The greater the involvement of these people's bodies and the more effective their functioning, the fuller would be the realization of the objectives of LSGIs. So power should flow through the elected bodies and its members to the people and should not be blocked at any level, as power ultimately belongs to the people and it is only legitimate that it is handed over to them.

Thus LSGIs would facilitate exercise of legitimate and legal authority by the people and the elected bodies. It should put an end to the various extra-constitutional power centres influencing the development process at the grass roots level. Often power is seen, felt and recognized by its abuse at times, arbitrary discretionary exercise of power is found attractive. Power denotes separation and distance from the powerless and is distinguished by typical symbols and trappings. It is not this 'power' that is to be transferred to the LSGIs. It is the power to build capabilities increase production reduce inequalities and promote harmony that is to be vested in them a facilitative power. Development is basically enhancing the capabilities of people and enlarging their choices.

And the transfer of power has to be more in the vertically downward direction that in the horizontally sideways direction. In other words, the powers of the State to bring about development are to be handed over to the LSGIs and not just the powers now exercised by the functionaries of the State at the corresponding level. Horizontally, the power to decide what to be done, how to be done, and the priorities of doing, will move to the elected institutions. The officials will retain their professional power to advise but they have to act as per the decisions of the elected bodies. The role of the departments henceforth would be, not to take decisions by themselves, but to help the people to take decisions and then carry them out. Their professional role would expand while their administrative role would shrink.

Decentralisation is a process and cannot be achieved in one stroke. It has to undergo a continuous process of redefining, adapting and adjusting. So it is essential to closely monitor the working of the new system and to take measures to improve it as and when required.

B. Empowering of Local Self-Governments.

Some basic principles should govern the transfer of functions and powers to the LSGIs and their exercise by them. The salient among them are explained below:

(i) Autonomy. - The SLGIs should be left to function freely and independently. Government supervision should be limited to the obligatory and regulatory functions of the LSGIs. In development matters only national and State priorities and general guidelines need be indicated to help them take their own decisions. Of course autonomy does not mean sovereignty. A multi-level exercise of developmental functions implies the existence of a sphere of independent action at each level, a sphere of co-operative and co-ordinated action a sphere of delegated agency function and a sphere of guidance from above, in the descending order of magnitude.

Autonomy has three basic aspects:

1. Functional autonomy

2. Financial autonomy

3. Administrative autonomy

LSGIs have to be assigned clear functional areas with the required resources staff and administrative infrastructure and enabled to raise resources and to take independent decisions and implement them. Autonomy implies that various levels of LSGIs especially the Panchayats should not be seen as hierarchically organized with one unit controlling the others below it. However there is need for active co-operation, co-ordination, complementation and integration. These could be attained by an interactive process of consultation and the system should be so designed as to facilitate such a process.

ii. Subsidiarity. - It means what can be done best at a particular level should be done at that level and not at a higher level. If this principle is applied, the process of transferring functions and powers should start from the level of the Grama Sabhas and Wards Committees and go up to the Union Government. Only residual functions need get allotted to the higher level.

iii. Role clarity. – This would govern the exercise of autonomy. Decentralised development implies unity of vision and diversity of means. This calls for a clear perception by the various levels of their role in the developmental process so that the sub-systems can support each other and do not work at cross-purposes. There must be clarity at the conceptual and operational level about what each tier of local self-government can do in each area of development. Of course neat divisions are not possible nor are they desirable. Yet functional clarity should be there. Only this can facilitate proper devolution of powers, their creative exercise and a meaningful monitoring of the whole process.

iv. Complementarity. – This is closely related to the principle of role-clarity. While functions should not be overlapping and repetitive they should merge into an overall unity through a process of horizontal integration. This would mean that the activities of higher levels should complement those of the lower levels and the programmes implemented by all agencies in a given LSGI would be consistent with local needs and priorities and would converge into an integrated local plan.

v. Uniformity. – This implies that the norms and criteria for selection of beneficiaries sites or prioritization of activities and pattern of assistance within a given LSGI would be the same for all programmes implemented within its area irrespective of the agency sponsoring such a programme.

vi. People's participation. – It is necessary to involve the people fully particularly those sections hitherto excluded from the development process. And participation should not be limited to mere information giving or consultation or contribution or even seeking prior concurrence. It would reach the level of empowering the people to take their own decisions after their analysing their situation. Genuine participation is not the same as mobilization.

The LSGIs provide the institutional structure to facilitate participatory democracy.

The reservation of seats for women Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the various LSGIs is meant to ensure greater participation of vulnerable sections in the process of development. People's participation should be there in all stages of a development programme right from identification of a need and formulation of a scheme through its planning, implementation, operation and maintenance as well as monitoring and evaluation phases. The Grama Sabhas and Wards Committees are ideal vehicles for promoting direct decision-making and mobilizing local resources in cash, kind and labour.

vii. Accountability. – The LSGIs are accountable to the people within their jurisdiction and in certain respects, to the whole nation. The accountability to the people is not to be left to the elections alone to be settled. There has to be provision for continuing social audit of the performance of the LSGIs in the Grama Sabhas and Wards Committees as well as by special groups. The accountability to the nation can be ensured through objective audit both concurrent and post-facto.

viii.Transparency. – Every decision taken has to be based on norms and criteria evolved on the basis of social consensus and the rationale behind each decision has to be made public. There should be freedom to the people to know every detail of how money is going to be spent, before a scheme is taken up and how it was spent, after its completion. The procedures and the language of the administration need to be demystified and made people-friendly."

Objectives of decentralisation.

The Kerala economy had been facing severe constraints to growth since mid '70s. In fact the economy of the State was being kept afloat mainly from remittances from abroad, particularly from the Gulf countries. The sharply adversarial political relations in the State further complicated the economic problem. It was in this context that decentralisation was recognised as a probable way to break the impasse. Seen again this background the objectives of decentralisation could be summarised as follows:

1. To improve the quality of investment by allocating resources for priorities fixed by the local people.

2. To facilitate emergence of local solutions to developmental problems through improved planning, better implementation, use of traditional knowledge and appropriate technology etc.

3. To exploit local production possibilities.

4. To enable people's participation leading to better vigil in execution of schemes followed up with better upkeep of assets.

5. To provide the enabling environment for people to make contributions in kind and cash for development programmes identified by them for priority action.

6. To bring about a convergence of resources and services to tackle development problems with greater vigour.

7. To unleash public action resulting in a demand led improvement in the delivery of developmental and welfare services.

In the process of realising these objectives it was felt that it would lead to a new politics of development emerging out of dialogue and consensus rather than conflict and collusion and help forge a realistic approach to development based on a clearer understanding of problems and issues at the grassroots level.

III. Towards creation of Institutions of Local Self Government.

A. Background.

There are certain peculiar Socio-political features, which need to be clarified for a clear understanding of Panchayati Raj in Kerala. First is the relative size of the three tiers. The Grama Panchayats (990 Nos) are very large in size – their distribution according to population (1991 census) is as follows:

Below 10,000 -   

 15

10,000 to 20,000 -   

 288

20,000 to 30,000 -   

 426

30,000 to 40,000 -   

 180

40,000 to 50,000 -   

 60

50,000 to 60,000 -   

 18

60,000 to 70,000 -   

 1

Above 70,000 -   

 2

(It is interesting to compare this with the Municipalities (55 Nos) of Kerala.

Less than 20,000 -   

 1

20,000 to 30,000 -   

 13

30,000 to 40,000 -   

 12

40,000 to 50,000 -   

 9

50,000 to 60,000 -   

 8

60,000 to 70,000 -   

 6

70,000 to 80,000 -   

 3

Above one lakh. -   

 3

This has several implications. It provides the natural “right size” for several development services, especially viable service areas for PHCs, Veterinary Hospitals, Krishi Bhavans and so on. Of course it makes it difficult for direct participation by people for the whole village and the problems can be surmounted only by limiting it to the ward level -–i.e. the constituency of a Grama Panchayat Member. With large village Panchayats and relatively compact Districts (14 Nos), it becomes difficult to earmark exclusive functions for Block Panchayats (152 Nos.) which they alone can perform better than others.

Next is the rural-urban continuum, which exists in the settlement pattern in Kerala. This is reflected in the functional responsibilities of rural and urban local bodies. PRIs especially the Village Panchayats have several civic and regulatory functions and the municipal bodies have several developmental and welfare functions.

Another feature is the influence of the political milieu. All elections are fought on party basis and there is considerable polarization in the political composition of local governments. This had led to the policy decision to treat PRIs as non-hierarchical – i.e., the District Panchayat has no control over Block or Village Panchayats. This arrangement while it keep the system free of political victimisation and strengthens local government autonomy and instills a sense of responsibility, creates operational problems in monitoring, reporting, financial supervision, passing down of information and even in integration of plans across tiers.

B. Legal Framework of the Panchayat Raj System.

The Kerala Panchayat Raj Act particularly through the amendments brought about in 1999 has several innovative features laying a strong legal foundation for building up strong local self government institutions. The salient features are described below:

Grama Sabha. The Kerala model of decentralisation aims at empowerment of the people particularly the common man. It envisages power flowing to the people through the Panchayat Raj Institutions, which are to serve as a vehicle for participation. The policy aims at giving not only voice to the people but the power of choice as well. Though Kerala does not have traditional villages which are natural sociological units marked by a compact spatial cluster of settlements with a social pattern in their lay out. It has made a bold attempt to induce people's participation by creating a fourth tier in the form of Grama Sabhas equated with the electoral constituency of a Village Panchayat Member, as all the electors of the Ward are members of the Grama Sabha. In the modern period, meetings of the village have been very rare and what is now being attempted is a kind of Socio-political engineering to create an entirely new set up for direct democracy. It is because of this that the Kerala Act dwells at length on the powers and responsibilities of the Grama Sabha so that these fledgling institutions are able to develop with a clear idea of their role. The powers of the Grama Sabha as defined in the Act are :

"3 A. Powers, functions and rights of the Grama Sabha,-- (1) Grama Sabha shall, in such manner and subject to such procedure, as may be prescribed, perform the following powers and functions, namely:-

(a) to render assistance in the collection and compilation of details required to formulate development plans of the Panchayat;

(b) to formulate the proposals and fixing of priority of schemes and development programmes to be implemented in the area of Village Panchayat;

(c) to prepare and submit to the Village Panchayat a final list of eligible beneficiaries in the order of priority relating to the beneficiary oriented schemes on the basis of the criteria fixed;

(d) to render assistance to implement effectively the development schemes by providing facilities locally required;

(e) to provide and mobilise voluntary service and contribution in cash or in kind necessary for the development plans;

(f) suggesting the location of street lights, street or community water taps, public wells, public sanitation units, irrigation facilities and such other public utility schemes;

(g) to formulate schemes to impart awareness on matters of public interest like cleanliness, environmental protection, pollution control and to give protection against social evils like corruption, illicit and clandestine transactions;

(h) to promote harmony and unity among various groups of people within the area of the Grama Sabha and to organise arts and sports festivals to develop good-will among the people of that locality;

(i) to monitor and render assistance to the beneficiary committees engaged in the developmental activities within the area of the Village Panchayat;

(j) to verify the eligibility of persons getting various kinds of welfare assistance from the Government such as pensions and subsidies;

(k) to collect information regarding the detailed estimates of works proposed to be implemented in the area of the Grama Sabha;

(l) to make available details regarding the services to be rendered and the activities proposed to be done by the concerned officials in the succeeding three months;

(m) to know the rational behind every decision taken by the panchayat regarding the area of the Grama Sabha;

(n) to know the follow up action taken on the decisions of the Grama Sabha and the detailed reasons for not implementing any of the decisions;

(o) to co-operate with the employees of the village panchayats in the sanitation processes and rendering voluntary service for the removal of garbage;

(p) to find out the deficiencies in the arrangements for water supply, street lighting etc. within the area of the Grama Sabha and to suggest remedial measures;

(q) to assist the activities of parent-teacher associations of the schools within the area of the Grama Sabha;

(r) to assist the public health activities especially prevention of diseases and family welfare, within the area of the Grama Sabha;

(s) to perform such other functions as may be prescribed from time to time.

(2) The Grama Sabha shall, in its ordinary meeting or in a special meeting convened for the purpose, discuss the report referred to in sub-section (6) of section (3) and it shall have the right to know about the budgetary provisions, the details of plan outlay, item-wise allocation of funds and details of the estimates and cost of materials of works executed or proposed to be executed within the area of the Grama Sabha.

(3) The Audit report or the performance audit report placed for the consideration of the Grama Sabha shall be discussed in the meeting and its view, recommendations and suggestions shall be communicated to the concerned Village Panchayat.

(4) The quorum of the Grama Sabha shall be ten percent of the number of voters of its area and the procedure for convening and conducting meetings of the Grama Sabha shall be such as may be prescribed:

Provided that the quorum of the meeting of a Grama Sabha which was adjourned earlier for want of a quorum shall be fifty when convened again.

(5) The officers of the Village Panchayat shall attend the meetings of the Grama Sabha as may be required by the president and an officer nominated by the Village Panchayat as the co-ordinator of the Grama Sabha shall assist the convenor in convening and conducting the meetings of the Grama Sabha and in recording its decisions in the Minutes Book and also in taking up follow up action there on.

(6)The Grama Sabha may appoint, elect or constitute, general or special sub-committees for the detailed discussion on any issues or programmes and for the effective implementation of the schemes and its decisions and in furtherance its rights and responsibilities:

Provided that such committees shall consist of not less than ten members of whom not less than half shall be women.

(7) Resolutions may be passed on majority basis, in the meetings of the Grama Sabha in respect of any issue within its jurisdiction, however, effort should be made to take decision on the basis of general consensus as far as possible.

(8) When beneficiaries are to be selected according to any scheme, project or plan, the criterion for eligibility and order of priority shall be fixed by the panchayat subject to the terms and conditions prescribed in the scheme, project or plan and such criteria shall be published in the manner prescribed and intimated to the Grama Sabhas.

(9) The priority list prepared by Grama Panchayat after inviting applications for the selection of beneficiaries and conducting enquiries on the applications received, shall be scrutinised at the meeting of the Grama Sabha in which the applicants are also invited and a final list of the deserving beneficiaries, in the order of priority, shall be prepared and sent for the approval of the Grama Panchayat:

Provided that the village panchayat shall not change the order of priority in the list sent by the Grama Sabha for approval."

The responsibilities assigned by the Act are:

"3.B. Responsibilities of Grama Sabha.- (1) The Grama Sabha shall have the following responsibilities, namely:-

(i) dissemination of information regarding developmental and welfare activities;

(ii) participating in and canvassing of programmes of Health and Literacy and such other time bound developmental programmes.

(iii) Collecting essential socio-economic data;

(iv) Providing feed back on the performance of development programmes;

(v) Resort to moral suasion to pay taxes, repayment of loans, promote environmental cleanliness and to maintains social harmony;

(vi) mobilise local resources to augment resources of the panchayat;

(vii) supervising development activities as volunteer teams and

(viii) make arrangements for reporting urgently incidence of epidemics, natural calamities etc.

(2) The Grama Sabha shall make periodical reports to the village panchayats in respect of matters specified in section 3.A."

Though Kerala has only a very small tribal population (just about a percent of its total population) it provides for separate Grama Sabhas for tribals wherever their population is 50 or more in a ward. Such Grama Sabhas have the same powers and responsibilities of the general Grama Sabhas.

Definition of functional domains. The 11th Schedule of the Indian Constitution actually does not carve out the functional domains of local governments. It only lists developmental areas where such local governments could have a role in planning for economic development and social justice and in the implementation of such plans. Unlike many State Acts, Kerala has attempted to define the functional areas of the different tiers of PRIs as precisely as possible. In areas related to infrastructure and management of public institutions, the functional differentiation is sharp and clear, but in productive sectors it is difficult to clearly earmark functions separately for each tier. Only through experience can the natural functional area in such sectors get marked. There is a clear recognition that there is a role-range for local governments – Agent, Adviser, Manager, Partner and Actor – with the objective being to reduce the agency role and expand the autonomous – actor role. The Kerala Act classifies functions as mandatory functions, general functions and sector-wise functions. The functions assigned to the three tier Panchayat Raj Institutions are given in Annexure II.

Committee System. All Village and Block Panchayats have three Standing Committees and the District Panchayat five Standing Committees. The Standing Committees are constituted in such a way that every Member of the Panchayat gets a chance to function in one Standing Committee or the other. Each Standing Committee is assigned certain subjects and these Committees are expected to go into the subject areas both at the planning and implementation stage in great detail.

For the purpose of co-ordination a Steering Committee is constituted consisting of the President and Vice President of the Panchayat and the Chairpersons of Standing Committees. In addition, there are Functional Committees for different subjects which can include experts and practitioners and the Panchayats are free to constitute Sub Committees to assist the Standing Committee or Functional Committee. There is also provision for constitution of Joint Committees with neighbouring Local Governments.

Control by Government. The amended Kerala Panchayat Raj Act drastically reduces the powers of direct governmental control over Panchayat Raj Institutions. While Government can issue general guidelines regarding national and State policies it cannot meddle in day to day affairs or individual decisions. The Government can cancel resolutions of the Panchayat only through a process and in consultation with the Ombudsman or Appellate Tribunal according to the subject matter of the resolution. Similarly a Panchayat can be dissolved directly by government, only if it fails to pass the budget or if majority of its members have resigned. In all other cases a due process has to be followed and the Ombudsman has to be consulted before dissolution takes place. This is a unique feature which does not exist even in Center-State relations.

Setting up of independent institutions. In order to reduce governmental control and in order to foster the concept of self government, the Act provides for creation of independent institutions to deal with various aspects of local government functioning. They are listed below:

a) The State Election Commission. The Election Commission has been given powers which go beyond those required for the conduct of elections. It is empowered to delimit Wards which were formerly done through the executive and it has been given powers to disqualify defectors.

b) The Finance Commission. This has been given the mandate as required by the Constitution. The first SFC was constituted in 1994 and the second SFC in 1999.

c) Ombudsman for Local Governments. This is a high power institution (it is the name given to an institution rather than an individual as is the conventional practice) consisting of seven members – a High Court Judge, two District Judges, two Secretaries to Government and two eminent public men selected in consultation with the Leader of Opposition. This institution has been given vast powers to check malfeasance in local governments in the discharge of developmental functions.

d) Appellate Tribunals. These are to be constituted at the Regional/District level to take care of appeals by citizens against decisions of the local government taken in the exercise of their regulatory role like issue of licence, grant of permit etc.

e) Audit Commission. Though this has not yet been legislated a policy has been taken to set up an Audit Commission which would be independent of governmental control and would function on the lines of Comptroller and Auditor General of India and would be able to set its own standards of audit.

f) State Development Council. This is headed by the Chief Minister and consists of the entire Cabinet, Leader of opposition, Vice-Chairman of the State Planning Board, the Chief Secretary, all the District Panchayat Presidents who are also Chairperson of District Planning Committee and representatives of other tiers of local governments. This institution is expected to take the lead in policy formulation and in sorting out operation issues.

Supremacy of the elected body. The President of the Panchayat Raj Institutions has been declared as the executive authority. The senior most officials of various departments brought under the control of the Panchayat Raj Institutions have been declared as ex-officio Secretaries for that subject. The Panchayats have full administrative control including powers of disciplinary action over its own staff as well as staff transferred to it. In order to ensure a healthy relationship between officials and elected Members, the Act prescribes a code of conduct, which lays down certain directive principles of polite behaviour, respect for elected authorities and protection of the freedom of the civil servant to render advice freely and fearlessly.

Responsible governance features. In order to promote people's participation and make the PRIs agents of good and responsible governance, certain special features have been laid down in the Act. There is a chapter on right to information. The Act mandates publishing of a Citizen's Charter by every PRI describing clearly the entitlements of a citizen vis--vis a Panchayat with respect to the quality and standards of various services rendered by the Panchayats.

OTHER FEATURES OF RELEVANCE

There is a separate Act – ‘Kerala Local Self Government (Prevention of Defection) Act, 1999 (Act 11 of 99)’ - dealing with defection in Local Governments. Defection is punishable by termination of Membership of a local government and barring from contesting election for six years. The State Election Commission is the authority to decide on such disqualification.

Another path breaking step to broaden the legal entitlements of local governments is the decision of the Government to amend 44 Acts which deal with subjects which have some thing to do with the functions allotted to local governments. The list of Acts for which the amendments have been cleared is kept as Annexure III. (Formal amendments are to be made in March 2000). These amendments are again based on the recommendation of the Committee on Decentralisation of Powers. The rationale behind the amendments as stated by the Committee in its report submitted to Government in October 1997 is very relevant and needs to be quoted.

“In sum, the objectives governing the proposed amendments which essentially create the necessary legal frame work for the smooth functioning of the third tier of governance are the following:

(i) Demarcating functional domains more clearly;

(ii) Increasing autonomy;

(iii) Harmonizing by removing contradictions;

(iv) Updating to meet present requirements;

(v) Facilitating a supportive legal framework for exercise of local government functions; and

(vi) Creating new institutions and systems.

(vii) Dropping anachronistic legislations.

With these amendments it is expected that the Local Governments would emerge as a well-defined tier in Government working more as a partner than as a subordinate functionary. It is also hoped that this legislative exercise would be a trend-setter for the future when the local government implications of most of the legislations would be significant and would have to be taken into account in the legislative process.”

The Committee has also made a far-sighted recommendation. This recommendation is to be operationalised by the Legislature. Now every Bill when it is presented to the Legislature has to be accompanied by a financial memorandum enabling the Legislature to know the financial implications of the provisions of the Bill. On this analogy the Committee on Decentralisation of Powers has suggested that in future all Bills should be accompanied by another memorandum dealing with the local government implications of the proposed legislation. This would help the Legislature to take a balanced view and take precautions against the powers listed out by one legislation being taken away by another legislation through general “notwithstanding” clauses.

C. Decentralised planning. As mentioned earlier decentralised local level planning has been used as the engine for harnessing public action in favour of decentralisation. In order to shake the system and force the process, a campaign approach has been followed. This campaign has succeeded in setting the agenda for decentralised development.

The People's Planning Campaign has succeeded in providing a concrete methodology for participatory planning for local level development. The roots of the methodology can be traced back to an experiment carried in Kalliassery Panchayat of Kannur District in the early 90s. In 1996 it was modified and adapted for large-scale application. The salient features of this methodology are described below, stage by stage.

1) Needs identification: Through a meeting of Grama Sabha, the felt needs of the community are identified. There is a period of environment creation to mobilise maximum participation in the Grama Sabha. Statistics reveal that about 10 – 12 % of the rural population has participated in the Grama Sabhas held as part of the People's Planning Campaign. The Grama sabha meetings are held in a semi structured manner with plenary sessions and sub group sessions dealing with specific developmental issues. The decisions are minuted and forwarded to the Panchayats.

2) Situation analysis: Based on the demands emanating from the Grama Sabha and based on developmental data, both primary and secondary, exhaustive Development Reports have been prepared and printed in the case of every Panchayat Raj Institution in the State. These reports describe the status in each sector of development with reference to available data, analyse the problems and point out broad strategies for further development.

3) Strategy setting: Based on the Grama Sabha feed back and the Development Report, a one day seminar is held at the PRI level in which participation of experts, elected members, representatives nominated by Grama Sabhas, practitioners from among the public is ensured. The development seminars decide the broad priorities and general direction of developmental projects to be taken up for a particular year.

4) Projectisation: The ideas thrown up by the above three stages are translated in the form of projects by Task Forces at the PRI level. For each PRI there are about 12 Task Forces dealing with different sectors of development. Each Task Force is headed by an elected member and is convened by the concerned government official. The Vice Chairman of the Task Force is normally a non-government expert in the sector. The projects are prepared in the suggested format outlining the objectives, describing the benefits, explaining the funding and detailing the mode of execution and phasing of the project.

5) Plan finalisation: From among the projects based on the allocation communicated, the concerned PRI finalizes its plan for the year and this plan is submitted to the DPC through the Expert Committees.

6) Plan vetting: The Expert Committees at the Block and District level vet the projects for their technical viability and consonance with the government guidelines on planning and costing and forward them to the District Planning Committee.

7) Plan approval: The DPC gives the formal approval to the plans after which the PRI can start implementation. It is to be noted that the DPC cannot change the priority of a PRI. It can only ensure that government guidelines are followed. Administrative approval for implementation is given project-wise by the PRI. Every PRI has unlimited powers of Administrative sanctions subject only to the limits of its Financial resources.

The most noteworthy feature of the decentralised planning process is the freedom to plan and prepare projects according to local priorities for which a huge grant-in-aid, practically untied, is evolved to the PRIs. The only restriction on the PRI is that they have to spend at least 40% on the productive sector – meaning agriculture and allied activities, industries, self-employment etc., and not more than 30% on infrastructure. A general stipulation that 10% of the funds have to be spent on women development projects is also there. The Special Component Plan/Tribal Sub-Plan component for each local government is indicated clearly. Also upper-limits subsidy for beneficiary oriented schemes is stipulated by the Government largely in consultation with the PRIs. Thus one third of development schemes in the State are conceptualized, formulated and implemented by local governments.

A remarkable feature of the People's Planning Campaign has been the effective capacity building efforts taken up. In the first year a cascading system of training was introduced to enable quick outreach to the cutting edge level. About 600 Key Resource Persons (KRPs) were identified at the State level both from Government and outside representing various disciplines. At the district level about 10,000 District Resource Persons (DRPs) and at the local government level about 100,000 Local Resource Persons (LRPs) were selected. All the DRPs and LRPs and a good number of KRPs were selected by the Local Governments themselves from government officials, professionals and activists. The massive training programme ensured that at the level of the Village Panchayat, there would be nearly 100 persons sensitized on the objectives and methodology of decentralised planning. These Resource Persons took active part in spearheading the campaign as well as intervening in critical stages of the Plan preparation and implementation cycle.

In order to fortify and simplify the training system in the second year, handbooks on various development sectors were prepared by expert panels and circulated widely among the local governments and Resource persons. These handbooks outline the problems and possibilities of the sector and contain model projects, which can be adapted according to local needs. Sixteen such handbooks were prepared.

Now the focus is on strengthening the capacity of the Task Forces on various sectors. Institutions like Medical College, Agricultural University, Centre for Water Resource Development and Management (CWRDM) etc., are being utilised to provide high quality technical training to members of Task Forces in their respective disciplines. In addition, local governments which have evolved successful models are now utilised to train fellow local governments by exposing them to the models evolved.

All these training programmes are getting consolidated and institutionalised around the Kerala Institute of Local Administration, one of the few institutions of that kind existing in the country. It was set up by pooling the funds of various Village Panchayats and Municipal bodies and this institute is perceived as one owned by the local governments and has excellent credibility in reaching out to them. The experience from the training programmes is being utilized to strengthen the Kerala Institute of Local Administration which is expected to grow into a national centre of excellence for capacity building for local governments.

D. Finances of PRIs. Only the Village Panchayats are given the power of taxation. The establishment cost of Block and District Panchayats are met by a non-plan grant-in-aid from Government. The major taxes levied by Village Panchayats are Property Tax, Profession Tax, Entertainment Tax and Advertisement Tax, the last one practically not exploited. The assigned taxes by the State Government consist of Land Revenue and Surcharge on Stamp Duty and the shared tax is the Motor Vehicle Tax. The per capita collection/share of these taxes for the year 1998-99 in Grama Panchayats is given below.

Property Tax :: Rs.20.4

Profession Tax :: 11.3

Entertainment Tax :: 3.2

Surcharge on Stamp duty :: 16.5

Land Revenue :: 0.6

Motor Vehicles Tax :: 16.3

This shows the tax base of the Grama Panchayats is quite good. The Kerala Panchayat Raj Act provides for levy of user charges and also availing of institutional finance by Panchayat Raj Institutions.

State Finance Commission. The first State Finance Commission was constituted in May 1994 and it gave its report in February 1996. This Commission did not have the benefit of knowing the full extent of decentralisation as powers were transferred only in September 1995 and even this was a general transfer and did not clearly indicate the quantum of responsibilities assigned to local governments. However, the Commission did commendable work in analysing the resource mobilisation aspect in local governments and suggested fundamental changes to ensure rationalisation and to control tax evasion. Some of the salient recommendations of the Finance Commission accepted by Government are :-

(a) The basis of calculation of property tax, which was hitherto relatively subjective assessment of rental value, has been changed to the transparent system based on the plinth area of the building assessed.

(b) A provision has been made for assessing entertainment tax based on tickets sold or on gross collection capacity.

(c) The profession tax slabs have been rationalised and enhanced.

(d) The Land Revenue has been doubled and the additional revenue generated is being divided among the Block Panchayats and District Panchayats.

(e) The licence fees prescribed in various rules have been enhanced.

(f) A rural pool has been constituted by merging various grants in aid formerly given to the village panchayats and adding 25% of the surcharge on Stamp duty to it.

(g) Freedom has been given to the local governments to utilize non-plan grants for the purpose decided by them.

(h) The Vehicle Tax Compensation has been fixed at 20% of the net collection.

(i) Cable television has been brought under entertainment tax.

(j) A new provision for service tax as an independent tax has been incorporated.

(k) Discretion in allocation of grants has been removed.

(l) In order to ensure prompt payment of dues to local governments a 2% penal interest per month has been stipulated for over dues.

(m) The Chief Secretary has been made as statutory authority to give annual reports to the Governor showing the quantum of statutory and non-statutory grants due to local governments and the amount actually paid to them.

Though the Finance Commission recommended one per cent of the net revenue of the State to be devolved to local governments, the Government went far beyond and decided to devolve 35 to 40% of the Plan Funds to local governments. The details of grant-in-aid from Plan to the PRIs is given below:

PLAN GRANT IN AID TO PRIs
(In crore rupees)



  S. M. VIJAYANAND
MEMBER SECRETARY
State PLANNING BOARD & SECRETARY (PLANNING & ECONOMIC AFFAIRS) GOVERNMENT OF KERALA
  Copyright 2003 by Information Kerala Mission , A-23, Jawahar Nagar, Thiruvananthapuram - 695041, Tel:-91-471-2313835, Email:ikm@eth.net
 
  Economic Review
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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and P.V. Aniyan
 
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  Moving the State - Patrick Heller
 

 

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