by Mini Muringatheri
Making the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), one of the few such centres in the country, fit for the deemed university status is top on the agenda of its new director P.P. Balan.
Talking to The Hindu , Mr. Balan pointed out that the deemed university status would help KILA transform itself into a South Asian centre of excellence in local administration with quality research and training programmes.
Mr. Balan, who was earlier the director of the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development, Chandigarh, said that over the past few years Kerala had become a role model for the Panchayati Raj system in the country.
Delegates from across the country and even from outside visit KILA to get a first-hand experience of the three-tier administrative system. The Kerala-model of Panchayati Raj system, he noted, had become a mass movement that empowered local bodies to prepare plans for local development through transparent processes and innovative people's ideas.
A narrow concept
“Despite these impressive achievements, Kerala's decentralisation process is missing out on public participation,” Mr. Balan said. Even after 15 years of decentralisation, the concept of development lacked a wider perspective and still meant construction of ‘roads, bridges and buildings,'” he noted.
“The development plans failed to reflect people's needs. A radical change is needed in development approach. An overdose of political interference mars the effective functioning of local bodies.”
For women, children
Mr. Balan said that the decentralisation process should have a significant impact on the lives of women and children. “Even after 50 per cent reservation in local bodies, women's issues in grassroots are not addressed properly. Jagratha Samithis and Bala sabhas have huge potential in checking violations of rights of women and children.”
KILA would take initiative in encouraging panchayats to take up gender-sensitive projects, he added. The democratic decentralisation needed a booster dose in the form of empowered gram sabhas, Mr. Balan noted.
“Decentralisation is a bottoms-up approach for democratic deliberation and decision-making. But panchayat authorities feel the gram sabha meetings are ‘unavoidable nuisance'. Neither the authorities nor the public take them seriously.”
Power for grama sabhas
Rejuvenation of grama sabhas was vital for bringing decision-making process closer to people, he said. Mr. Balan said KILA would also try to involve MLAs in strengthening the Panchayati Raj system.
Mr. Balan was panchayat president of the Chapparappadavu grama panchayat in Kannur district in 1995. During his tenure as president, Chapparappadavu set a model for sustainable development under the People's plan.