The devolution of powers and resources from the states and Union Territories to Panchayats remains highly uneven, while some of the provisions mandated by the seventy third constitutional amendments pertaining to elections, reservations etc. have been adhered to in many states.
The Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MoPR) had been making efforts to ensure that all the State Governments/UT Administrations in the longer run would devolve funds, functions and functionaries on the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in the spirit of the Constitutional provisions, where as in the shorter term they hold timely elections, set up State Finance Commissions, implement their recommendations, constitute District Planning Committees and empower them suitably to ensure grass-root level planning to feed into State and Central level Planning effectively.
Capacity Building of representatives and officials of the PRIs, empowerment of the grama sabha as a foundation of panchayati raj and developing systems for transparency and accountability of PRIs had been central to the action plan of MoPR. The end result expected was that PRIs would make plans and implement schemes for economic development and social justice including those functions in the eleventh schedule of the constitution.
In the 5th round table held at Srinagar in 28-29 Oct. 2004, by MoPR, It was agreed upon to undertake the preparation of a Devolution Index (DI). It was subsequent to this that the MoPR decided to put in place an accountability frame-work, which ranks States and provides incentives under the Panchayat Empowerment and Accountability Scheme (PEAIS) in accordance with their performance as measured on the Devolution Index as above computed by an independent institution.
For three years i.e. 2006-2007, 2007-2008 and 2008- 2009, the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) developed DI. For the next four years i.e., 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12, and 2012-13, the Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA) was entrusted to carry out the assessment. Initially, the index used the 3F” framework that is functions, finances, and functionaries. In 2008, another dimension viz. framework was also included to assess mandatory provisions of constitution. From 2010-11, incremental devolution Index was also introduced along with overall DI. Further In 2012-13 two more pillars of performance of states have been added i.e. ‘capacity building of panchayats’ and ‘accountability of panchayats’, expanding the scope of the DI, to a ‘Panchayat Strengthening Index’. During the Twelfth Five Year Plan, a new Centrally Sponsored Scheme -the Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Shashaktikaran Abhiyan has been launched to provide budgetary support to the efforts of the States for strengthening their Panchayats. 20% of available resources under this scheme are linked to States’ performance on criteria related to devolution and accountability.
The MoPR has proposed to entrust the preparation of DI in 2014-15 to Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). During the consultations it was felt that instead of going for a full-fledged devolution index construction during 2014-15 it would be appropriate to look for an illustrative evidence based ranking of the status of devolution in the country. It was also felt that the current DI reporting does not give a clear scenario on the ground. Activity maps prepared by states also do not necessarily capture ground realities. Therefore there is a need to study the ground situation in a few panchayats in each tier across various States to figure out what is the extent of powers they actually exercise. The proposal for a rapid field assessment of the devolution of powers and resources across the States and Union Territories in the country for the year 2014-15 and to develop an indicative evidence based ranking is a continuation of these.
The MoPR has specifically requested TISS to a. Assess the actual outcome of Activity Mapping covering the transfer of functions, institutions functionaries, and finances to PRIs in the subjects listed in the 11th Schedule. b. Look into the implementation of major Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) like National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), Sarva Sikha Abhiyan (SSA), Sakshar Bharath Abhiyan (SBA) and Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) and important State Sponsored Schemes in various states and UTs by the PRIs in terms of actual operationalisation of convergence. c. Look into the segregation of functions across various tiers of panchayati-raj and the mechanisms of inter-tier co-ordination. d. Arrive at an indicative ranking on the status of devolution based on field studies.