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

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Democratic Decentralisation and Citizenship

This article discusses the scope of democratic decentralisation to deepen democracy for the poor. While processes and platforms for citizen engagement like the gram sabha have been incorporated into policy and operational guidelines, the capability of the poor and marginalised to access them is severely compromised, leading to a subversion of development initiatives meant for the poor. The article attempts to understand the local citizen space and governance space as distinct from and complementary to each other, and demarcate the role of panchayats and community-based organisations with respect to these spaces.

This article seeks to answer the question whether democratic decentralisation can pave the way for the alleviation of poverty. It also addresses the question of whether panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) and community-based organisations (CBOs) have become parallel institutions which are fighting for the same development and political space. Finally, the article also attempts to understand how it would be possible to realise the mandate of deepening democracy through a government-led initiative to build institutions of the poor.

Development practice over the years has attempted to build self-reliant local communities of the poor through CBOs. CBOs come in various guises – as user groups, management committees, or as self-help groups (SHGs) and their federations. This article discusses the CBO primarily in its manifestation as federations of SHGs of poor women. In India, the ascendance of the SHG and its federation has coincided with the space and importance formally given to PRIs as local governments. The onset of the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY), the centrally-sponsored scheme for poverty alleviation, which set great store by livelihood activities through SHGs, followed close on the heels of the 73rd and 74th amendments and the institution of elected panchayats in the states. The programme was later restructured as the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM), which went one step further and insisted on federating SHGs of poor women at village and block or cluster levels, capacitating local women’s leadership and routing financial assistance as “capital in perpetuity” for livelihood support through the federated CBO.1 Over time, it is expected that all villages of the country would have CBOs under the NRLM.

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