In 507BC, Rome witnessed the emergence of a political system that would continue to govern the world in 21st century. Democracy has evolved from a modest show of hands to today’s elaborate multi-party system, preserving the value of people’s participation at its core. Today, as the world faces complexities of governance, India shoulders a higher burden of realising the true meaning of a democracy as the world’s largest democracy. India, as the land of diversity should labour to realise the value of democracy in letter and spirit by decentralisation, multi-sectoral collaboration and citizen participation in governance.
Policies are a primary tool of governance. An efficient policy relies on its ability benefit the first and last stakeholder alike. To ensure benefit reaches the last stakeholder, decentralisation is imperative. The rationale of decentralisation is to propel participatory governance and realise the true meaning of democracy. With the 73rd and 74th Amendment of the Constitution reinstating the significance of decentralisation in a successful democracy, there is a need to empower local governments with necessary funds, resources and trained manpower. For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic reiterated the need for a collaborative approach and need for decentralised actions to address the issue comprehensively.
The Government should strive to enhance local governance at the block and panchayat level by promoting multi-sectoral collaborations. Steps should be taken to integrate local governments via technology platforms. This integration is essential to maintain speed with the rapidly evolving world of technology, while also improving access to information and resources for local governments. Technology platforms will allow real-time information sharing and exchange of domain knowledge and data between different governments and stakeholders. Furthermore, avenues of collaboration with academia and civil society with local government should be explored.
Collaboration with academia provides an opportunity to augment citizen participation in governance. While conventionally, governments are known to collaborate with national and international universities, collaboration at the local level remains untapped. Policies will significantly benefit from local government colleges that are situated in the midst of its stakeholders. The physical proximity allows these colleges to access real-time information and on-ground data regularly. This information aids dedicated research and evaluations, which can be further deployed in aiding governance in the area. Subject experts, academicians, scholars and students can be engaged to design road-maps and other strategies of implementation in a specific area. Not only will these local government colleges add to the academic exercise of policy design and implementation but will also provide an academic perspective in tandem with ground realities. Collaborations should be encouraged by incentivizing research at local universities in the form of funding and dedicated budget allocations by governments at national and state levels.
Another route to achieve effective governance and enhance participation, is to engage with members of civil society including NGOs, retired government officers and public intellectuals. Members of civil society are pivotal in ensuring that welfare reaches the most vulnerable stakeholder. Owing to its diverse population, India is home to a multitude of robust civil societies. Numerous NGOs and organisations employ resources and research to dedicated fields- several work for the cause of child education, while others champion the cause of climate change and air pollution. As an organization outside the traditional governance system, they are able to lend a different lens to view conventional problems. This perspective is instrumental in designing innovative solutions to common challenges. Furthermore, local administration will significantly benefit from the experience of retired government officers and other public intellectuals. It is imperative that members of civil society be engaged with the local administration at panchayat and block level to address the specific needs of a region. Partnerships with members of civil society should be encouraged to effectuate policies and ensure benefit to all stakeholders at the grass-root level.
Moreover, it is essential to account for efficient implementation on ground to ensure that benefits reach all stakeholders a policy seeks to benefit. As government officers at the panchayat, sub-division and district level play a crucial role in effectuating policies, it is essential that regular capacity building exercises be conducted. Given the size and diversity of India’s population, there is a demand for diverse and dynamic policies which may often require specialised knowledge. Capacity building exercises have the ability to equip government officers with the relevant information and expertise. Specialised fields such as air pollution, wildlife conservation, etc. demand technical know-how and specific skills for coherent governance. For instance, Word Wildlife Fund collaborates with forest enforcement agencies to provide expert assistance and training of government officers. Capacity building exercises are a regular feature at the national and state levels, there is a need to extend this framework to panchayat, sub-division and district administration. Understanding the value of grass-root change and policy implementation, it is necessary to engage experts from the academia, national and international organisations with governments at these levels. This will boost exchange of ideas and expertise while also ensuring increased citizen participation in governance.
The far-reaching benefits of powerful local governance are undisputed. To ensure effective decentralisation and strong local governance, steps should be taken to enhance local governments’ access to funds and resources, in form of collaborations with academia, civil societies, technology integration while also extending capacity building framework for a robust workforce. In strengthening local governance and incentivizing citizen participation, the federal structure of India will be fortified and the principles of democracy will be reinforced.