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Himalayan Odds to Decentralization

L.C. Jain

Edited by Satya Jit Singh and Pradeep K. Sharma
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 441, Rs. 650.00


In recent past there have been several publications on Decentralization for good reason. One that it is an emerging dimension of our polity which is bound to change both the political and social order. Besides, it seeks to alter the character of economic growth so as to make it edible for all, that is, ensure to every adult equitable earning opportunities and access to its fruits. There is however a big IF. If it can succeed in raising its head against Himalayan odds.   The latest account of its current health is brought to us by DECENTRALIZATION: INSTITUTIONS AND POLITICS IN RURAL INDIA edited by Satya Jit Singh and Pradeep K. Sharma. It puts together an account of the variations on the decentralization theme as has unfolded in select States notably Kerala, West Bengal, Karnataka. It also brings forth problems of fiscal decentralization, the state of local finances and takes a sectoral look in relation to water.   Moreover, it claims to provide a view of the impact of reservations of seats for the disadvantaged sections. Specially reservation of seats in rural panchayatraj institutions for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and women. These reservations are admittedly the hallmark of the 73rd, 74th Amendments. They go beyond the general notion of decentralization confined to development activity and administration. All that is commendable effort. But much of the ground the authors have covered in the 441 pages is familiar – covered by earlier publications. It is more of the same. And, that is a lost opportunity.   On impact, it does no more than describe the scheme of reservations – i.e. percentage of seats reserved for different disadvantaged groups, as also that in some states the proportion of seats won by women is higher than the minimum reserved for them. That is by now common knowledge. The authors claim to tell us about the ‘impact’ of these reservations, but in that they disappoint. One fails to find it captured in their volume. Regrettably, they have missed out one of the most valuable study of what can rightly be called impact of reservations by Professor Sandeep Shastri.   Shastri reports that due to these reservations a revolutionary churning is taking place in the democratic base. Unprecedented changes of social significance are in evidence. Shastri refers to the dislodging impact of Panchayat elections, unleashed by the 73rd Constitution Amendment of 1992 on the entrenched power in rural Karnataka of the two dominant ...

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