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It's testing times for panchayats


Arijit Sen,CNN-IBN
Sep 17, 2006 at 07:20pm IST

New Delhi: According to Union Cabinet Minister of Panchayati Raj Mani Shankar Aiyar, there's a silent revolution happening in all of India's 2,50,000 panchayats.

To take it forward, the Panchayati Raj Ministry has decided it's time to give more teeth to administration at the grassroot-level.

So, the ministry has now come up with an index to measure decentralisation with the help of the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER).

"It's inspired by the Human Development Index, but its aim is to check how far the devolution of the three Fs - functions, finances and functionaries - has actually taken place," says Aiyar.

Basically, the index measures the health of a panchayat. If it gets the go ahead, there will be clarity on how much money villages will get and what role the village-level local bodies could play in governance.

It will also clarify who has the power to take disciplinary actions, suspend officials, dissolve bodies and cancel resolutions. The index also takes into account collection of taxes, duties, tolls in villages and how successful that has been.

All states might not agree to come under the same measure of decentralisation because it takes different forms in different states. The challenge, thus lies as to where the Panchyati Raj minstry should step in to convince everyone from all political sides to agree to this unique index of devolution.

There are also questions of bias within this index that economists are posing. "It is a good first look. But I think that more needs to be done to really construct an index of decentralisation," says an economist, Dr Sujoy Chakraborty.

But many like Senior Research Counsellor at NCAER, Dr Shashanka Bhide, say they are aware of the pitfalls behind this index. "Yes, there are shortcomings. But they can be debated on and improved over time."

The Union Cabinet Minister of Panchayati Raj knows this, but insists that one must wait till the index is up and running in its final form this winter before passing judgement. But for now, it seems governance in India has turned a new leaf.

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