The main features of democratic decentralization in India, is to make constructive contributions to improvements in governance. Several issues arise here.
When the power to make decisions is transferred to elected lower-level authorities, both decisions and the decision making process become more visible and intelligible to people at the grass roots. The proceedings of decentralized authorities are often publicized, and when they are not, discontented members of those bodies often criticism them publicly, so that news spreads widely.
Elected members of such bodies, who usually live locally, are also better able than those higher up to explain decisions in terms that ordinary people will understand. Thus, transparency is usually greatly enhanced.
This can, however, produce a curious irony. Once they can see how decisions are reached, ordinary folk sometimes regard the process as less. healthy than that which occurred (invisibly) before even when this is not true, This can act as a drag on the more general tendency for government to appear more legitimate in the eyes of most citizens as a result of democratic decentralization
Democratic decentralization lends strongly to increase the speed, quantity and qualify of responses to citizens and groups at the grass roots. Decentralized institutions deliver response with greater speed, because they can act without seeking approval from higher authority.
The quantity of responses also increases because decentralized bodies prefer to undertake many small scale development projects; rather than a few expensive larger projects often favored by higher ups. And the quality of responses increases if ‘quality’ is measured by the degree to which responses from government institutions conform to local preferences.
Increased transparency and responsiveness also make government more open in the sense that citizens and groups at the local level find it easier to gain access and influence. That is true not only when the previous system was undemocratic, but also when it was democratic but centralized.
Democratic decentralization enables citizens to contact a much larger number of elected representatives than when the only elected leaders sat in distant, high-level legislatures. And when citizens see that elected members of decentralized bodies have influence over bureaucrats, they also contact and lobby bureaucrats more often.
Since elected members of decentralized councils usually live check by jowl with the people who elected them, they are under much greater pressure than politicians higher up to behave accountably. These elected Councillors worry not only about the next election, but also about displays of discontent between elections. Their (and government’s) accountability is thus enhanced. So is the accountability of bureaucrats to citizens and groups. Ordinary people quickly perceive that their representatives especially in intermediate-level bodies have contact with and some influence over field officers from line ministries. Citizens therefore apply more direct pressure on bureaucrats, whose accountability is thereby enhanced.
Enhancing the flaw of information:
Democratic decentralization almost always triggers a huge increase in the flow of information between government and citizens in both directions. Ordinary people suddenly find That they have a large number of elected representatives through whom to pass information to government about their problems and preferences. Bureaucrats, who have worked in such systems. who had thought that they were well-informed before decentralization often report vast increases in the amount of information reaching them.
Many of them feel empowered by this, and derive greater job satisfaction from it Elected representatives also provide governments with many new conduits for information to citizens. And as locals, they can often explain the rationale behind government programs far more convincingly than can bureaucrats.
This often enhances the uptake on important government services. When elected councilors especially women explain the utility of ante and post-natal care services to rural women in terms that the latter can grasp, snore mothers come forward, and illnesses and even deaths are thus prevented.
Curbing absenteeism by government employees:
There is evidence from a few countries that decentralization can make at least modest inroads into a serious problem the tendency of government employees at and near the local level to fail to turn up for work. Elected councilors often hear complaints from citizens about absenteeism by teachers or local health center, and if they are adequately empowered, councilors have the clout to force these people to work properly. This can produce improvements in service delivery at no extra cost to the exchequer.
Encouraging greater probity Democratic:
Decentralization has usually done little to curb corruption. But in a small number of cases it has done so and there are realistic chances. of it’s doing so more often in future. When power is decentralized, the number of people involved in corrupt acts always increases, because the number of people with political influence soars.
But the overall amounts of Honey stolen seldom increase, and sometimes decline. Because decentralized systems are so transparent, acts of malfeasance are very visible, and this severely limit’s the amounts that individuals can pocket in a small number of cases in two or three Indian states and to an extent the Philippines the overall amounts have fallen significantly. Two main things explain this:
- These systems are unusually transparent and
- Civil society and opposition parties are unusually alert politically.
For example, before decentralization in one Indian State, a large minority of development funds were stolen behind closed doors at the sub-district level by handful of politicians and bureaucrats.
This was invisible to citizens because only the thieves knew how much development Money had been passed down to them. after decentralization, in each sub-district, hundreds of elected councilors (and many citizens) knew the total development budget so grand theft became impossible. There are signs that in many other countries where decentralized bodies have been operating for some time, transparency and the awareness and assertiveness of civil society and opposition parties are increasing. There is thus some hope that the overall amount of corruption will, over time, decline there too.
Easing political alienation:
Democratic decentralization can ease potentially dangerous political alienation in two ways. First, activists at lower levels who were once frustrated because they had little hope of gaining elected posts at the national level can realistically aspire to the many new seats on decentralized bodies. This lessens the chances that their frustration Will incline them to act destructively.
Second, parties that lose in national elections need not wait four or five years until the next opportunity to win a share of power at a subsequent national election. They need only wait until the next election for decentralized And smaller parties which have support only in certain parts of a country and which therefore cannot hope to gain power at the national level can realistically aspire to gain control of some decentralized bodies.
Decentralization makes it more likely that such parties will remain engaged with the democratic process, and not turn against it.
Promoting political legitimacy:
All of the things noted above greater transparency, responsiveness, openness, accountability, and some decreases in absenteeism and corruption tend strongly to make government institutions appear more legitimate to ordinary folk. This is especially true of their perceptions of decentralized institutions, but it usually extends to government in general and to the political leaders who decided to decentralize. This is a welcome change, both in itself and as we see below in terms of its impact on society and on development.