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`Poll results can make or mar decentralisation'

T. Ramavarman

THRISSUR: The results of the just-concluded local body elections vesting the Left with the control over 75 to 80 per cent local bodies have the potentials for both advancing or impairing the much-debated decentralisation process in the State, according to experts.

The landslide victory of the Left can be seen as an approval for decentralisation initiatives as it was they (the Left) who were "seen as more committed to decentralisation than the UDF." But this can also create a situation where the partners of the rival UDF have no stake in the affairs of local governance. In the long run, this may sabotage the true ideals of decentralisation, points out Jose Chathikkulam who is the director of the Centre for Rural Management, Kottayam.

Experts warn that the present UDF regime will be doing a serious damage to the prospects of decentralisation if it adopts a `master-child attitude' to the local bodies in the wake of the drubbing it had received in these elections. Similarly, the decentralisation process can take a severe beating if the Left continues to get bogged down by the nearly two-year-long controversies on the decentralisation programme.

``Now that the Left has achieved a landslide victory in the local bodies they can very easily blunt the decentralisation or work wonders for advancing decentralisation, depending on its level of commitment,'' experts point out.

The CPI(M) ideologue of decentralisation Thomas Isaac, MLA, and director of the COSTFORD T. R. Chandradutt says that the LDF will make all efforts to ensure that a consensus is built up in local bodies on developmental issues through sustained discussions.

According to the noted economist K. P. Kannan, the elections have demonstrated that political parties have become more serious about local bodies. Now they all want to be seen as doing something for the people when they are in power. People have also become very alert and they will vote out those who are not able to deliver results in the next elections. So it is unlikely that those who have won a landslide victory this time will strive to reverse the decentralisation process against the interests of the people, Dr. Kannan says.

The noted health activist B. Ekbal says that the new local bodies will have to achieve the twin tasks of completing the unfinished programmes of earlier phase of decentralisation and formulating a new agenda by taking into account the social transformations that have taken place in the State. Evolving schemes for water-shed management, waste disposal, protecting the traditional resources, improving the health care delivery systems at the lower level and many other issues are the remaining unfinished agenda. But the decentralisation process also faces the problem of `deficit attraction' of the rising middle class which has the distorted perception that local bodies are only agents of poverty alleviation programmes, Dr. Ekbal says.

Apart from completing the unfinished agenda, the new local bodies will have to evolve fresh programmes to draw the participation of the new sections in society, Dr. Ekbal says. In the health sector, for example, there will have to be schemes for early detection, management and prevention of life-style diseases. Issues such as geriatric care and trauma care will also have to be addressed by them, he says.

Challenges

The experts point out that the Left, particularly the CPI(M), will have to refine its understanding and articulation on how to reconcile with their centralist organisational principles and decentralised governance.Similarly they will have to make a lot of clarifications on their positions favouring mega-centralistic projects such as `Smart City' and the professed love for `local self-governments' which will work mainly by relying on small projects that are based on local-level needs and resources. The State-level mega projects and the local-level micro projects need not be incompatible. They can be properly integrated through a multiple-level planning process. But this can be achieved only if the State planning process is also overhauled by taking into account the emerging local-level planning,'' Dr. Kannan says. He, however, concedes that there can be the dangers of `ad hochism' if the promises for integrating the micro and mega projects are not well defined from a people's perspective.

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