Monday, May 23, 2011

Bifurcation may hit local governance

by C. Gouridasan Nair
Placing urban and rural self-government institutions under two Ministers
State has a well evolved decentralisation process
Operational difficulties in governance feared

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The United Democratic Front (UDF) leadership may have reasons of political expediency for placing urban and rural local self-government institutions under two Ministers, but the decision is likely to hit the well-evolved local governance mechanism in the State.

The State currently has a local governance system that has won praise from far and wide for its foundational strengths, its highly integrated institutional framework and its ability to thrash out most of the emerging challenges at the grassroots on its own without too much intervention from the State and Central governments.

The State government had, over the last five years and more created several institutional entities that helped the local self-government institutions to stand on their own. These entities have been performing diverse functions in respect of both the urban local bodies and the panchayats.

Those who have been observing the State's decentralisation process over the last nearly two decades feel that the decision to place the urban and village local bodies under two Ministers, unless accompanied by sufficient safeguards, has the potential to jeopardise the coordinated governance and oversight functions at the third tier.

Prominent among these institutional entities are the State Election Commission, which is charged with the job of conducting elections to the local bodies, the Ombudsman for Local Self-Government Institutions, Kerala, an independent quasi judicial authority which investigates the complaints against local governments or the functionaries working under them; the Tribunal for Local Self-Government Institutions, an innovative initiative of the State to adjudicate on disputes between local self-government institutions and citizens; the Suchitwa Mission, aimed at achieving total sanitation in the State; and the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), the nodal centre for training elected representatives to the urban and local bodies.

The fear is that with two Ministers presiding over or being pivotal to the functioning of these institutional entities, these local governance mechanisms are likely to experience directional and operational difficulties. Worse, the State now has a Town and Country Planning Department which looks after preparation, processing, continuous monitoring, review and revision of State spatial development plan, district development plans, regional development plans, urban development plans, and detailed town planning schemes for thrust and priority areas.

As its name suggests, the department's functioning is closely linked to both urban and village local bodies in the State and the consequences for it when two different Ministers administer them could be serious.

Equally serious is the implication of the new administrative regime for the performance audit system which has been cited as a praiseworthy innovation by many, the observers say.