Packing a punch

Arguably a more effective method of governance at the local level, the Panchayat Raj advocated by Mahatma Gandhi and adopted by the Government of India in the 1950's and 1960's works, and works well. However, such decentralization- each village as an autonomous unit- can only be as effective as the overall machinery will allow it to be in a country of over a billion people. And as more people migrate to the cities, there is only so much left to govern in India's villages.

The Union government amended the Constitution in 1992 so as to provide a national level institutional framework to the units of local self-government, both rural and urban. And in 2004, the formation of the Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj in was an important step in establishing an effective national level monitor.

But how well does it really work?

The National Institute of Rural Development, based in Hyderabad, has recently brought out a report on the state of these affairs, PANCHAYATI RAJ AND LOCAL GOVERNANCE. Edited by B K Sinha and K Gopal Iyer, this is essentially the proceedings of a three-day workshop of writers and thinkers convened by them in June 2006. In the words of the editors, “it was a workshop with a difference where the floor spoke and the dais listened.”

In our Governance Section. Rs 600 for both volumes.

Functioning of Panchayat Raj System, edited by Yatindra Singh Sisodia (Rawat) is another attempt to review this state of affairs. "Functioning of Panchayat Raj in India has been a matter of debate and speculation about its performance and impact. In almost all states, two or three rounds of elections for Panchayats have been completed. The sizeable presence of underprivileged and poor in the grassroots political institutions is a landmark development in the rural politics of the country. This is also a matter of serious debate as to how this excluded lot after their inclusion in active politics at grassroots would effectively tackle local power equation and set the agenda for development. The responses of state governments to the implementation of Panchayat Raj varied significantly and it is very difficult to generalise about this issue on the basis of their functioning for the last one decade or so. A perusal of functioning of Panchayat Raj puts forward a mix scenario with enough evidences of positive movements and several hurdles, nevertheless a hope for the best can be expected at this juncture."

Also in our Governance section. Rs 675,
356 pages. ISBN: 9788170339687

In Courts, Panchayats and Nagarpalikas, K C Sivaramakrishnan
undertakes a comprehensive study of the Panchayat Raj. "The 73rd and the 74th Constitutional Amendments became law more than a decade ago but their implementation in different states of India has been tardy and uneven. The course of implementation has also been marked by numerous disputes, both political and legal. It is estimated there are more than 500 cases which have been adjudicated during the period in the various High Courts and the Supreme Court.

This book ... seeks to bring out the genesis, the points of jurisprudence and what can be regarded as settled law common to both the panchayats and the municipalities pertaining to issues like elections, delimitation, reservation, planning and functional domain."

Writing about in The Hindu, V K Srinivasan says the book is a "handy reference that needs to be in the hands of not only those at the helm of Panchayats and municipalities, but also district collectors and judges, who are called upon to settle issues. This book is a must for the libraries of state governments, high courts and law colleges and judicial academies."

In our Governance and Law sections, 342 pages, Rs 995. ISBN: 9788171886883