Decentralization is a process of transferring power to popularly elected local governments. Transferring power means providing local governments with greater political authority (e.g. convene local elections or establish participatory processes), increased financial resources (e.g. through transfers or greater tax authority) and/or more administrative responsibilities.
Democratic local governance is the process of governing democratically at the local level, viewed broadly to include not only the machinery of government, but also the community at-large and its interaction with local authorities.
When effective decentralization and democratic local governance advances in tandem, local governments and the communities gain the authority, resources, and skills to make responsive choices and act effectively as well as accountably. Advancing the capacity of local governments to act effectively and accountably requires promoting the desire and capacity of civil society organizations and individual citizens to take responsibility for their communities, participate in local priority-setting, assist in the implementation of those decisions, and then monitor their effectiveness.
Strengthening the local self-governments and ensuring secure and sustainable livelihoods for the deprived and marginalized people are inter-linked because only a strong and vibrant local self-government would be able to ensure that the welfare measures of federal and state governments are implemented in such a manner that they benefit the poor and that they are able to secure their livelihoods using these measures.
In 1992, the federal Government of India enacted an amendment to the constitution awarding constitutional status to the local self-government institutions. This amendment was a milestone in the process of decentralization of governance in India. During the past two decades, the positive effect of this initiative is being seen in the rural areas. The process of decentralization has helped in making the government more accessible and transparent. However, in spite of these progressive developments, many problems still remain. By and large the process of decentralization of governance has not benefited the poor and vulnerable sections of the society. The economic disparities among various sections, compounded by the social and cultural hierarchies created by the caste-system have not been reduced. Further, systems of patriarchy, exclude women from public affairs. Thus, the systems of 'class', 'caste' and 'patriarchy' act in such a manner that the systems of governance are controlled by the economically powerful, and socially elite sections within the village community. These sections also subvert and manipulate the electoral process to ensure that 'ruling' sections of the community always continue to hold the offices of the government. These sections often use their official powers in such a manner that the welfare measures of the government are subverted or weakened.
To overcome this barrier, and ensure due representation of women and other underprivileged communities in the elected bodies, the federal government has provided for 'reserved' seats in these bodies to these sections. However, due to their economic vulnerability elected representatives from these sections are not in a position to fully exercise their political power. Hence, it is imperative that not only a few elected members of the poor and vulnerable sections, but the entire community is empowered to demand transparent and participatory governance from the local bodies. Such empowerment process has to begin at the community level.
PRIA, Delhi and Parivartan had started its partnership on this issue in 2001-2002. 63 G.P.s in Guhagar block, 70 G.P.s in Khed and 38 G.P.s in Chiplun block have been intervened. As a result of chain of orientation training programs, the elected representatives from intervened areas were well informed about their role as an elected representative. Gram Sabha Awareness campaigns have developed informal linkages with Community Based Organizations (CBOs) and other Peoples Organizations which has resulted in proactive community participation in Gram Sabhas. Awareness campaign on B.P.L. survey got an immense response from general public, elected representatives as well as the bureaucrats. Multi Stakeholders Dialogue on district level revealed the fact that district lacks a perspective for district plan. Facilitation of village based micro plan has resulted into development of people's own plan and their collective actions for its implementation i.e. formation of Dakshata Samiti of their own, formation of S.H.G.s (B.P.L.), positive results on issues of development. This has further strengthened the process of good governance.
Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra State is almost a part of Konkan region and it is because of 'Chakarmani' (The village youths who go to Mumbai in search of job, settle there and support their families and villages in Konkan are known as Chakarmani). Economy of Konkan can be called as 'money order economy' as for most of the families from Konkan gets money orders from their Charkarmanis at Metropolis which is the primary source of income. These Chakarmanis retain their family and community links with villages of origin. Though, they are away from their villages, they have an organized form of Village Development Organizations. The members are all Chakarmanis or residents of Mumbai and all of them come from particular villages. These are active POs of villagers in Mumbai with live links with their village. In most of the villages all the important decisions right from development of village to renovation of temples take place with the consent of these Chakarmanis.
Mobilization of all the vulnerable sections within a village community has to cut across barriers of caste, class-differences and gender. However, creating solidarity among the weak, cutting across these barriers is a very difficult task. Such organization of solidarity of the vulnerable is always at the risk of being weakened by the deep-rooted structural division of caste, class and gender.
However, one such effort at mobilizing the weaker sections at the village level and forming their community-based organization (CBO) has been successfully made by Parivartan. This CBO is referred to as 'Dakshata Samiti' (DS), which means 'Vigilance Committee'. DS was developed as the mechanism for making the governance of the local bodies more transparent, accountable and participatory. The monitoring of the elected local body by representatives of the civil society through the DS ensured that these bodies did not act against the interest of the poor; rather it began to function to protect the interests of the poor and promote their development.
The uniqueness of the DS mechanism is that it creates a countervailing power to balance the 'official' power which the elected representatives have, and which is prone to misuse and abuse. Thus, it is a mechanism to create a delicate balance of power between the state and the civil society, so that the state (Gram Panchayat) does not exploit the community.
Besides, creating a countervailing balance of power, the most important contribution of the DS is strategy and effort to create a new identity among the community members. This new identity is built around a trans-secular notion of being members and citizens of an eco-community first, and only later belonging to a communities or societies defined by the notions of caste, class, and gender. An eco-community could be described as a geo-political entity which derives its material existence due to its intricate relationship with a given eco-system, and therefore commands and uses the natural resources provided by the eco-system for its livelihoods. Further, this relationship and the pattern of material existence that is derived from it also give rise to a social and psychological identity among its members. This creates a new binding force in the community which slowly tries to erode other divisive identities and forces.
In order to strengthen the DS and the underlying process of organizing the community into vibrant, prosperous, and sustainable eco-communities, it is necessary to articulate the goals and aspirations of the community. Such an articulated manifestation of the communities views and demands regarding its livelihoods and relationship with the surrounding natural resources would provide an effective instrument for both the community members and the activist-facilitator to strengthen the community bonds. The 'Community Livelihood Manifesto' (CLM) is one such instrument prepared with this objective. The CLM is developed through a participatory, negotiated process based on consensus building it infuses greater strength to the community. Further, this manifesto could form the basis for further negotiations and planning with the local government for development activities of livelihoods improvement and also improving governance.
The uniqueness of the CLM approach to micro-planning is unlike the conventional approaches to micro-planning, no external expert agency is involved in the actual process of planning. The community develops a manifesto, which is facilitated by an external agency. However, after this the manifesto, which sets the goals and objectives for the planning process and development plans are used by the community to develop micro-plans. The actual planning process is done by the community by collaborating with the local government. The community through the DS mechanism would then monitor the implementation of the plan. Hence, this is more empowering and sustainable approach to community organization and micro-planning.