ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Political Decentralisation and Development Models

The proposed 87th Constitution amendment bill and its countrycousin the Andhra Pradesh Ordinance have highlighted once again something which has characterised the entire history of political decentralisation in India: the link between decentralisation and the model of development pursued at a given point of time.

This note addresses itself to the proposed 87th Constitution amendment bill. This and its correlate, the Andhra Pradesh ordinance dated February 5 have been incisively commented upon in EPW of April 29 in the editorial ‘Democratic Decentralisation at Stake’ as also by D Bandyopadhyay in his article ‘Constitution Eighty-Seventh Amendment Bill, 1999: A Sinister Move’. It is difficult not to agree with the concerns voiced in these two pieces. Undoubtedly both the amendment and the ordinance are motivated by a horrifying lack of concern for nurturing panchayat raj institutions (PRIs). This, however, is not a recent phenomenon. The history of PRIs is an unending saga of ups and downs, a fact which prompted the Ashoka Mehta Committee to identify three phases in their history – ascendancy, stagnation and decline. Even the 73rd amendment has been unable to check attempts to subvert the intentions with which constitutional status was conferred upon PRIs and ULBs. The AP Ordinance and the proposed Constitution amending bill have attempted to put a legal face on this subversion.

Bandyopadhyay points out that the proposed bill is an attempt to “test the waters regarding the limits to tinkering with the basic features of the Constitution”. This is probably true. But it is instructive to relate this move and its more blatant country-cousin, the AP Ordinance, to the model of development currently evolving. AP is a full-fledged example of a thoroughly technocentric approach to development. Bandyopadhyay is correct in describing Chandrababu Naidu as the CEO of AP. But a scrutiny of the oscillating fortunes of PRIs over the past four decades reveals a nexus between their state of health and the prevailing approach to development. At every turn an accent on technocentrism has led to a decline in the thrust towards decentralisation.

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