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Decentralization and Empowerment


Amita Singh

LOCAL DEMOCRACY IN INDIA, INTERPRETING DECENTRALIZATION
By Girish Kumar
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 326, Rs. 450.00

EMPOWERING PEOPLE, INSIGHTS FROM A LOCAL EXPERIMENT IN PARTICIPATORY PLANNING
By M.P. Parameswaran
Daanish Books, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 208, Rs. 150.00

EMPOWERING SOCIETY, AN ANALYSIS OF BUSINESS, GOVERNMENT AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT APPROACHES TO EMPOWERMENT
By Usha Jumani
Foundation Books, Delhi, 2006, pp. 263, Rs. 495.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 1 January 2008

The three books for review are part of the post 73rd mendment discourse on decentralization and empowerment which transcend debates on its empirical justification as a principle of democratic development which was the academic trend of the sixties. These writings validate the fact that the debate on decentralization will never fade till the inadequacies of participation and poverty eradication efforts infest public institutions. This debate inadvertently settles on service delivery, capacity building and institutionalization of participatory local bodies. Two significant shifts are visible in most writings on decentralization, first is the need for pro-poor governance and secondly the indispensability of a bottom-up approach to development. Lately the impact of entrepreneurial governance and constitutionalization of panchayats has supported its transcendence from a mere empirical justification of the concept to an economic indispensability in times of global onslaughts over less informed citizens inhabiting the peripheries of well supplied cities. The three books mentioned above generate similar ideas about the impact of decentralization on people but in different paradigms wavering into distinct methodologies to suit their priorities of approaches. While Girish focuses upon participatory action research in political economy, Parmeswaran inclines towards entrepreneurial demands of democratic decentralization and Jumani prefers to shape lives of ordinary people through increased play of partnership models of state and the market. ‘Access’ has remained an important determinant of decentralization for maintaining the flow of projected benefits and services to people. In all efforts following the 73rd Constitutional Amendment, development has been stymied by the failure of States to fully comply with the requirements of the amendment both in deed and in spirit.   In the first book Girish Kumar makes an effort to focus upon and bring together findings of a decade long research project on panchayats in India and subsequent action taken by States to strengthen and advance the participatory democratic propensity of change at the local level. The author has succinctly highlighted some of the intractable dilemmas of decentralization in rural governance through well selected case studies which unfold before a policy maker a long list of challenges one is likely to encounter as the percolation of power and responsibilities occurs in rural regions. The two broad questions which have remained the major concern of this book are borne out of the author’s empirical research. First question entails an investigation into the nature of certain regimes which support or oppose panchayats. The second question surveys ...


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