The Tribune - Spectrum

, March 17, 2002

On Panchayati Raj
Jai Narain Sharma

Decentralised Governance by S. N. Mishra and Sweta Mishra,
Shipra Publications, New Delhi. Pages 210. Rs. 495.

"ONE of the tasks of nation building and development," writes Milton N. Esman, "is to bring members of the national community into network of relationships and institutions which enable them to participate actively in decisions affecting their lives." This is accepted by most of the persons charged with the responsibility of shaping the destinies of these new nations. Various countries have, therefore, started experimenting with different types of politico-administrative institutions which would provide opportunities to people to take part in nation-building; the nature, character, and scope of such institutions has varied, depending upon the attitudes of their national elites and level of development of the country concerned. However, their capacities for mobilising the effective participation of rural material and human resources have been dependent on the governmental processes and structures.

In Decentralised Governance, an attempt is made to systematically analyse the functioning of democratic intuitions at the grassroots level in their historicity, functioning and work of decentralised administrative set-up as also the nuances of development mechanism.


Panchayats in India are an ancient heritage. Generally, the panchayat then used to be the arbitrator in intra-village and, sometimes, inter-village level feuds. Panchayat also used to be the main organisational forum for the village-level cultural functions. For a long time, Metcalfe's classical phrase 'village communities are little republics' used to enlighten as well as reflect the spirit of scholars and political leaders who laid stress on the autonomous and self-regulating character of the little communities. Even Karl Marx, with his economic approach, would treat the little communities as 'units of production', and show surprise at the resilience and self-dependent character of the village communities in India.

There can be two approaches to the study and formulation of the concept of Panchayati Raj normative or empirical. The normative theorist would like to construct an ideal conceptual model according to his own vision and aspirations. The empiricist, on the contrary, would be interested in studying the concept in operation, in identifying the gap between the ideal and the real, in indicating the operational trends that appear to influence or modify the concept in practice or even to push back new conceptual horizons and finally, in projecting an empiricist's view of the emerging concept of Panchayati Raj.

A stage may, thus, be reached when the empiricist may come to press for an altogether new conceptual model, or at any rate, to make a serious plea for re-orienting the ideal construct in the light of emerging operational trends.

In the present work a serious attempt has been made to assess and examine as to whether any such ailment is diagnosed at the micro level and if at all it is diagnosed, to suggest remedial measures for the better and effective functioning. However, before we could directly jump on the micro analysis, the attempt has been to present a theoretical-analytical as also the empirical analysis as prevailing at the macro level. The present work has not followed the beaten track.

The present study is also an attempt towards judging the effectiveness of rural development programmes and whether the benefits of these programmes are reaching the target groups. Besides, the volume also attempts to study as to why the two institutions of decentralised development i.e. Panchayati Raj institutions and decentralised planning, failed in achieving their goals and to what extent they have become capable of overcoming the past problems within the new constitutional framework. To support their findings, the authors have taken into account both the macro and micro picture of the system as it operates. While the microanalysis deals with the scenario of two districts only, the findings have the scope of generalisation for the whole of the country as the human nature and political-administrative set up remains almost the same through out the country.

A useful book for those who are interested in the study of functioning of grassroots institutions vis--vis development programmes. It may equally be liked by the general readers interested in studying the rural scenario as also the academics, public administrators and practitioners.