The autonomous functioning of Local Self-Government (LSG) bodies in the state was threatened by the political and administrative leadership, which was not willing to accept these as units of local-government rather than mere institutions, Santhigiri Research Foundation vice-chairman K Narayanan Nair has said.
Delivering the valedictory address at the seminar on ‘Democratic decentralisation in Kerala: Prospects and challenges’ organised by the Santhigiri Social Research Institute (SSRI), he said that though nearly 17 institutions were transferred to the LSG bodies from the state departments, the control over their officials was vested with the state government and not the local bodies.
The LSG bodies in Kerala are having enough funds from the state as well as Central government sources. What was needed to ensure effective decentralisation are autonomy, accountability, transparency and people’s participation, he added.
The Central government-sponsored schemes were not fine-tuned to address the local needs. Now, there are no social audit mechanisms in the state to monitor the expenditure and activities of the LSGs.
While the ‘gram sabhas’ were expected to monitor the working of the local bodies, there was no statutory provision for this. Also, the participation of grama sabhas in the local self-government bodies was declining.
Nair suggested that neighbourhood groups could be formed as a sub-set of grama sabhas and there should be sufficient discussion in these groups before the convening of the grama sabhas. Representatives of neighbourhood groups could attend the grama sabha meetings, he added.
On the disbanding of expert committees by the state government, Nair said that there was a need to avoid bureaucratisation of the planning process. He feared that the dissolving of these committees could lead to more bureaucratisation and corruption.
More than 100 delegates from economic, social and political research institutions and academicians participated in the two-day seminar, which focused on several key themes, including the need for further reforms, performance of local self-government bodies, impact of decentralisation on poor and marginalised groups, civil society interventions and grassroots institutions, financial reforms and the governance of Centrally-sponsored schemes.
The delegates said that financial decentralisation alone is not the panacea for effective grassroots democracy in Kerala and it is essential to safeguard the autonomy of the local-self government bodies while strengthening the mechanisms to ensure accountability. The recent decision by the state government to dissolve the expert committees for the evaluation and sanctioning of projects of the local bodies had hampered the planning process for the current year, the delegates said.