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Empower panchayats: economist

Special Correspondent
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Lays stress on need for demographic, geographical and economic information

On development: Economist M. Govinda Rao, member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, delivering the E.K. Nayanar public lecture on the Mangattuparamba campus of Kannur University in Kannur on Thursday.
On development: Economist M. Govinda Rao, member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, delivering the E.K. Nayanar public lecture on the Mangattuparamba campus of Kannur University in Kannur on Thursday.

Decentralisation in local governments can work as a catalyst for development if design and implementation create an appropriate incentive structure for development, according to economist M. Govinda Rao.

Delivering the E.K. Nayanar public lecture organised on Thursday by the E.K. Nayanar Chair for Parliamentary Affairs in the university and the Institute for Parliamentary Affairs (INPA), Thiruvananthapuram, Dr. Rao, member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister and Director of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi, said that policy-makers must have confidence in the ability of panchayats to carry on the developmental mandate.

Stressing the importance of reforms to be undertaken to empower panchayats to be the catalyst for development, he said that an important precondition for implementing grassroots planning was the availability of demographic, geographical and economic information at the village panchayat level. Designing a simple and implementable property tax system required preparation of a property tax code in each panchayat for which a detailed information system relating to the ownership of immovable properties was essential.

Kerala case

Kerala presented the most successful case of panchayats contributing to development in the country. High literacy rate and political awareness of the people in the State enabled greater participation in local governance. A strong and committed leadership also played an important role in rejuvenating panchayats, he said.

Reservation for women and people of Schedule communities made a significant difference in expenditure allocation as they spent more on services they wanted, he said.

Land reforms

Land reforms were an important complementary policy in decentralisation. If rural asset distribution through land reforms was not a feasible proposition at this stage, it was necessary to find alternative measures that would overcome the disadvantages arising from skewed distribution.

Dr. Rao said that in a market economy, panchayats had a role in both ensuring participation of people in governance and markets and in enabling healthy human development. Real empowerment of the local governments required empowerment of the people, he said. Though there were a number of successful experiences of panchayats involved in integrated and sustainable development of the villages, no systematic attempt had been made at any level to put together a compendium of successful experiences which could inspire other panchayats to embark on developmental initiatives, Dr. Rao stated.

He also said that People's Planning introduced in the State during the previous Left Democratic Front government headed by the late E.K. Nayanar was an important innovation in decentralised development strsategy.

Vice-Chancellor P.K. Michael Tharakan presided over the programme. Pro Vice-Chancellor A.P. Kuttykrishnan introduced the E.K. Nayanar Chair.

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