The Niceties of District Planning: An Operational Framework, Dr Bedprakas Syam Roy, Kalpaz Publications, Pp 291, Rs 725.00
DECENTRALISATION is the theme of the book and how it is necessary in chalking out a district’s development plan.
Democracy and democratic governance have become the order of the human civilisation and of the modern state. Gone are the days when the citizens of a state looking for amenities of life depended on the benevolence of the dictator or the ruler. The traditional system of governance by remote control from distant locations is also no substitute for a system of local governance and local participation.
Local participation enables not only selection of locally relevant schemes with its bearing on living environment, but also promotes cost efficiency by subjecting openness to public scrutiny and by institutionalising accountability to the stakeholder community and other individuals. Here the author advocates that involvement of local people results in investment in socially desirable schemes like provision of drinking water, health care and primary education, subsequently leading to development of the locality or the district. He suggests division of decentralised governance both horizontally as well as vertically. Horizontal decentralisation is characterised by disbursement of power among institutions at the same level, that is, decision of any government to “concurrently empower its line departments to take spending decisions, like those of its finance department, belong to this category.” Here financial power is spread across the line departments without keeping it concentrated within the finance department alone. Vertical decentralisation is distinguished by delegation of some of the powers of Central Government to the lower tier of authorities – “to states in federal countries and further down to regional and local governments or even to village institutions.”
Vertical decentralisation can be in three forms – decentralisation, delegation and devolution. Decentralisation is the primary stage where limited power and authority are passed down. Here few decisions are taken without referring to the government. Delegation falls in the intermediate stage of decentralisation where some defined authority and decision-making powers on specified items are passed on to local officials, but the government retains the right to overturn or reject or withdraw the powers given. Devolution is the strongest form of decentralisation, covering local institutions only. Full decision-making powers are granted to local authorities without referring to the government. Such bodies are empowered with financial power as well as authority to design and execute local development projects and programmes.
The author states that as things stand today, the state’s imperfect devolution coupled with assignment of the agency functions of the departments of the state government/central government to the tiers of the panchayat and the municipalities “has made planning rather confusing and complicated. Non-devolved items along with some assigned schemes of the government departments, have forced their presence in the plans of the panchayats or the municipalities,” with the exclusion of the planning efforts of line departments in the districts, making the district plans less wholesome. So he suggests incorporation of the planning efforts in the district plans as “this is a critical area of reforms under the District Plan and needs to be addressed early.”
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