The Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) hosted a dissemination workshop on "Enabling Development through Panchayati Raj in India" on May 27, 2014. The workshop was divided into three sessions.
Welcoming the panellists IRMA's Director, Prof. Jeemol Unni, inaugurated the workshop affirming that IRMA has been doing considerable work on Panchayati Raj over a long period of time, which had led to the evolution of the Centre for Public Policy and Governance- one of IRMA's five Centres of Excellence.
The keynote address was delivered by Dr. SS Meenakshi Sundaram, Executive Vice-Chairman of MYRADA and Former Secretary, Ministry of Rural Development), who laid emphasis on the fact that economic development was the starting point after which self-governance could take place. He also touched upon the importance of community participation in development, decentralization, and the "wide variation" that exists in "performance from state to state."
Ms. Sarada Muraleedharan (Joint Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj) opined that Panchayats held the key to the major dimensions of poverty as well as to the status of women in rural society. She said that it is possible to address both issues "where systems of accountability are pronounced".
During Session 1, which was chaired by Dr. Vinod Vyasulu (Centre for Budget and Policy Studies), Prof. Hari Nagarajan (IRMA) expressed concern regarding the fact that India's villages remained under-developed despite two decades having elapsed since the creation of Panchayati Raj Institutions. Speaking on "The Impact of Restricted and Unrestricted Fiscal Grants on Tax Efforts of Rural Local Governments in India" he said, "Much of this is attributable to linking decentralization solely to administrative reforms."
Session 2, entitled "Social Identity and Education Attainment: The Role of Caste and Religion in Explaining Differences between Children in India", had Prof. Vani Kant Barooah of the University of Ulster (UK) as the main speaker.
Referring to issues concerning malnutrition, hygiene, among other things, Prof. Barooah spoke of education as a "big determinant of poverty and inequality backing his statement with a slide presentation on a study he'd conducted on school performance along caste lines. Speaking about the "reading gap" between scheduled caste and upper caste children he bemoaned the fact that "there is no accountability in the context of discrimination" stressing that the "setting up of institutions is the start of the journey."
Session 3 featured a discussion on "Enabling Service Delivery through Panchayats" and was chaired by Prof. Leela Visaria of the Gujarat Institute of Development Research. Expressing concern over the dropout rate of girl children from schools Prof. Visaria made the point that participation of women had been seen to lead to a lowered dropout rate.
Prof. Amita Singh of Jawaharlal Nehru University, on her part, articulated her unease regarding "Panchayats undergoing a information and knowledge deficit" and lack of knowledge sharing depriving themselves, thereby, of mutual learning. She also stressed the need to revive the Citizen's Charter to improve the quality of public services.
The last session on "Achieving Economic Development through Panchayats" had Prof. Debiprasad Mishra of IRMA speaking about "empirical research running contrary to theory" and of the need to "institutionalize variations", among other things. Panchayats being institutions of state, he said, "What gets designed by the government only creates necessary conditions..." Emphasizing the need for welfare commitments he pointed out that "Welfare states have been implemented through local governments."
Other speakers included Prof. Arti Nanvati (Professor and Head, Department of Economics and Director, Centre for Canadian Studies (UGC Area Studies Programme) at Faculty of Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Prof. G. Palanithurai (Gandhgram Rural Institute), Neeraj Chandra (Sahaj e-Village Limited), and Prof. KV Ramani (IIM, Ahmedabad).
IRMA's Prof. SN Biswas, also Coordinator of the institute's Centre for Public Policy and Governance, concluded the workshop by summing up the discussion thanking the panellists.