The structure of administration developed during the past century was based upon the district as the principal unit with the district officer (or the DM) as the government's principal representative in touch with the people. Besides being in control of the administration of law and order and revenue in the district, the district officer held a coordinating responsibility for the activities of all departmental agencies within the district. In the hierarchy of administration, he enjoyed status and powers which gave him considerable influence over the local population.
The democratic decentralization through 73rd and 74th CAA, has entrusted the Local self government with the main task of local governance, while the district administration playing an enabling and coordinating role. However, in several cases bureaucratic inertia and lack of empowerment of LSG (local self government) has hindered the objective of decentralized local governance (enshrined in Art 40 of the DPSP), needing immediate reform in this regard.
a) Friction between DM and Zilla parishad:
While Zilla parishad, being the elected representative is entrusted with the responsibility of district governance, the presence of DM and ZP CEO (both from elite IAS), creates an alternative power centre causing friction, ultimately halting developmental programmes.
Solution: Apart from inclusion of this issue in the training modules of these administrative services, clarification of role and greater citizen participation in local governance can lead to empowerment of LSG and better coordination between district administration and LSG. For instance under new land acquisition act, the DM can take active help of LSG to spread awareness and garner consensus.
b) Lack of financial autonomy of municipalities:
Municipality and other LSG, are still cripplingly dependent on fund transfer from state, which not only is inadequate (ARC 2 report) but also is routed through different developmental schemes (the authority of which lies with District administration), making the LSG perpetually dependent on District administration.
This is against the principle of “Subsidiarity”.
Solution: The Economic survey 2016 emphasizes on making property tax buoyant and making use of immovable property under municipality to mobilize resources. Apart from devolving finances regularly by the state, the state can encourage and support in prudent fiscal administration at local level (e.g helping in disbursing municipal bond.)
c) Political rivalry with state Government:
Many a times where the LSG leadership is from opposition party (as in state ruling party), the district administration (under the administrative control of state) is used against the LSG to gain political mileage, which is against constitutional ethos.
Solution: MLAs and MPs must directly take part in local governance in garnering consensus and mobilizing people’s support. The involvement of national level and state level leaders will not only bring broader perspective but also will make District administration more responsive towards demands of LSG.
d) Public service delivery & Lack of capacity:
Rapid urbanization, growing aspiration of people had put immense pressure on LSG (municipality in particular) to deliver services efficiently, effectively in timely manner. However lack of infrastructure and trained staff has led to poor service delivery.
Solution: In this context the ARC 2 recommends greater use of ICT for faster delivery of services in a transparent manner. (example: disbursement of birth and death certificate)
e) Position of Parastatals:
Parastatals are institutions/organizations which are wholly or partially owned and managed by government (e.g. DRDA) have come directly in conflict with district panchayats as an alternative centre of decision making.
• Some States like Kerala, Karnataka and West Bengal, the DRDAs have already been merged with the District Panchayats.
• Parastatals should not be allowed to undermine the authority of the PRIs
• The Union and State Governments should normally not setup special committees outside the PRIs. If set up, they should work under the overall guidance of PRI.
The democratic polity of India mandates the relationship between the District administration and popularly elected local government to be that of political executive and it is implementing arm. The district administration must cooperate and coordinate with the LSG in ensuring Good Governance and efficient public service delivery. While the government at state and Centre must devise ways to empower and build capacity (skills, infrastructure and financial autonomy) to enable these institutions to act as units of self government as envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi.