M.A. Oommen, economist and chairman of the Committee for Evaluation of Decentralised Planning and Development, appointed by the State government, has said that the democratic decentralisation process in Kerala is faced with serious threats.

Delivering the C. Achutha Menon lecture here on Saturday, Prof. Oommen said that successive governments were guilty of having allowed the gains of democratic decentralisation to atrophy and informed debate, the hallmark of a vibrant public sphere, was increasingly becoming absent in Kerala with dangerous consequences for governance, particularly at the local level.

“Although the decentralized planning triggered several innovative initiatives, I think in the interest of democratic decentralisation and governance, the project needs continued support and fostering by the state and the wider society. Not only that, several vital institutions such as the State Development Council were allowed to sink into atrophy by both the LDF and UDF.”

Today, he observed, although more than 50 per cent of elected representatives in local governments in the State were women, they did not seem to have made any critical impact. “Women empowerment depends on how you define women’s autonomy and foster their functioning. Instead of preparing projects as part of the so-called women component plan, every village panchayat ought to have prepared a women status report and initiated a strategic planning for women based on those reports,” he said.

Unfinished agenda

Prof. Oommen said district planning remained an unfinished agenda. “The trifurcation of local governance and local development may be politically convenient but fails to provide an integrated vision keeping people’s well-being above partisan politics. It is unfortunate that the Technical Advisory Group stands abolished. True, the TAGs were dominated by non-experts, they failed to work as a team, they were routinely regulatory instead of being a source of technical support and indeed became an inane agency. But to abolish TAGs instead of suitably reforming them is like cutting pockets for fear of pick pockets.”

Mute spectators

Prof. Oommen said local governments remained silent spectators to the ecological over-kill of paddy lands, hillocks, river systems, backwaters, forest reserves and the like. The guidelines issued by the government in June 2012 have some positive aspects, but no one can miss the fact that there is a conscious effort towards a process of bureaucratic recapture of the decentralised planning process.

Referring to the conflict between neighbouring local bodies on the issue of waste disposal, he said it was a systemic failure making a mockery of local governance. “Why is it that the pertinent reality that this consumerist state has been producing growing mountains of wastes and need to be managed comes out only as a crisis management issue? We failed to make a perspective plan for a clean environment on a sustained basis.”

Prof. Oommen said that local politics and macro bipolar front politics had failed to help the citizens of the State through perspective and strategic planning. He called for a debate on the prospects of improving local democracy .

  • Says informed debate is becoming absent

  • Stresses support for decentralised planning