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Corruption in Decentralised Governance: A case study of K.G. Halli, Karnataka

Written by: Saurabh Dhawan - Currently pursuing LLM IInd year (HUMAN RIGHTS) from NLSIU, Bangalore. Areas of interest: International Criminal Law, International human rights law and Humanitarian law, Decentralised Governance
Constitutional Lawyers in India
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  • Until the passage of the Constitution (seventy-third) and (seventy-fourth) Amendment Acts, 1992, the only reference in the Constitution to local bodies was in the Directive Principles of State Policy which stated: “The State shall take steps to organize village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government”. The Constitution did not lay down how village panchayats might be constituted. Nor did it prescribe any procedure for determining their powers and authority. The Constitution made no reference to urban local bodies. The 1992 amendments aim at empowerment of local bodies by requiring the state governments to:
    # establish an adequately represented electoral base at local levels with a fixed tenure of five years, and a provision for holding elections within six months in the event of premature dissolution of local councils;

    # set up mechanisms for consolidating and coordinating planning and development initiatives and actions of the panchayats and municipalities; and

    # consider expanding the role of the panchayats and municipalities, and correspondingly strengthen their fiscal jurisdiction and power and authority.

    Empowerment of Gram Panchyat would require efforts at mobilisation of the village community for mass participation in meetings of the Gram Sabha. Further, a massive awareness generation programme needs to be taken up to inform Gram Sabhas about their rights in planning, implementation and audit of development programmes and in control over natural resources, land records and conflict resolution. A key to the success of the Panchayati Raj system is transparency in the way these bodies function. Being closer to the people, the Panchayats’ right to information and accessibility to the Panchayats must be ensured. Central Government circular in 1997 proposed that each State may consider passing orders highlighting three different aspects of transparency.

    Another pre-requisite for the effective functioning of the Decentralized governance is the accountability i.e. To what extent are the village panchayats accountable to the common people and looking after public interest? Do the ordinary masses feel involved and participate? Corruption is defined as exercise of official powers against public interest or the abuse of public office for private gains. Public sector corruption is a symptom of failed governance. Here, we define “governance” as the norms, traditions and institutions by which power and authority in a country is exercised—including the institutions of participation and accountability in governance and mechanisms of citizens’ exit and voice norms and networks of civic engagement; the constitutional-legal framework and the nature of accountability relationships among citizens and governments; the process by which governments are selected, monitored, held accountable and renewed or replaced; and the legitimacy, credibility and efficacy of the institutions that govern political, economic, cultural and social interactions among citizens themselves and their governments.

    The basic purpose of introducing the decentralised governance was to cater to the needs of the poor and bring about social equality so that rural population is interwoven into mainstream. It was also envisaged that with help of devolution of power at the local level a larger interest of the people would be satisfied and henceforth reduce corruption as people would be more close to the system. The main aim of this case study would be to observe whether the concept of PRIs has led to the reduction of corruption and is transparency and accountability prevalent at the local level. The article is based on empirical data collected at the village K.G Halli in Karnataka and as well as the literature available, research aim and objective of the article is to understand the reasons for the existence of corruption at local level, to understand the enthusiasm at which the local population is taking part in the local governance and last but not the least to understand whether decentralised governance has mitigated corruption to some extent or has it aggravated it.

    The article identifies a few research questions which are as follows-
    # Are the citizens well informed about the performance of the representatives?
    # To what extent are people participating in Jamabandhi’s and holding the representatives accountable?
    # Does the long tenure one officials influence the corrupt practices?
    # Has decentralisation led to reduction in corruption?

    Observations, Interpretations and Analysis
    Before putting a foot on the field and visiting the Grama Panchyat K.G.Halli it was very important to collect some secondary data. For this I collected some secondary information regarding the status of present members of K.G Halli. K.G Halli Gram Panchyat comprises 19 members from 22 villages out of which there are 12 men and 7 women members . The president of the gram Panchyat is Ms Lakshmisagra who belongs to the SC category. For the year 2005-2006 the state government gave rupees 5 lakhs as a grant out of which Rs 329155 was the state government grant and Rs 250000 was 12th finance commission grant the total income for this period was Rs 1, 07, 981 . For the subsequent year the total income was Rs 2,47,890 . Considering the amount of income generated by the Gram Panchyat there should have been enough development in the Gram Panchyat but the abuse of the official position is also to benefit the elected representatives’ political party, and a sizable proportion of pay offs to the representative.

    The general understanding was that the representatives retained a part of the money. These were petty cases of corruption and the amounts involved ranged from Rs.150 to Rs.2000, depending on the nature of the problem. The beneficiaries of the housing schemes who were allotted by the houses had to run from pillar to post to get their claims when there was deliberate attempt by the officials to hold back the claims, they (beneficiaries) had no other option but to approach the middle men through whom the officials would ask for bribe or “mamul” as called in local language. While bribes paid by the citizens for getting work done can be categorized as petty corruption, the going rate paid in the case of public works and procurement deals was large scale corruption involving commissions up to 65 per cent of the total cost in Karnataka .In a procurement deal in zilla panchayats which cost 65 lakhs, the president of the panchayat received a proportion of up to 10 per cent, the chairperson of the committee received 15 per cent, officials shared 20 percent and the key individuals (which also included the representative in whose constituency the work was implemented i.e., if it is not a procurement contract) shared 20 per cent . The probability of corruption in the gram panchayats was low than in zilla panchayats by 46 per cent. Among the upper tiers, the perception of corruption was higher by 37 per cent in the taluk panchayats than in the zilla panchayats.

    The PRI has brought about significant transformations in the lives of women themselves, who have become empowered, and have gained self-confidence, political awareness and affirmation of their own identity. The panchayat villages have become political training grounds to women, many of them illiterate, who are now leaders in the village panchayats.

    Considering the data collected through the field work it can be inferred that although women have become leaders but they have no mandate or authority to take any decision as we have seen above that President’s husband is a Taluk Attender who takes all the decisions on her behalf, it is seen that she is not taking part and is not playing the role independently. Decentralisation contributed to the localisation of corruption. While there is evidence of bureaucratic rent-seeking in the centralised system, the influence of the local elites over public resources in local governance is also visible.
    In the panchayats of Karnataka, the client list networks (of local Officials, elected representatives and contractors) contributed to the increase in corruption. Besides there are several other factors contributing to corruption in panchayats.

    These include the paucity of information; inadequate and ineffective institutional mechanisms to check corruption; lack of electoral accountability, and social and political factors (elite dominance of panchayats continues through de facto politics, political parties in opposition support corruption as they are beneficiaries too). The evidences collected from the village reflect rational behaviour where in the president who has come from the poor family will not think twice before laying her hands on the money which is meant for the people as we have seen her husband who is a taluk attender manages all her affairs and she is only concerned with the taking care of her house. Local governance was conceived not only as a means for people’s participation, but also to enhance the quality of governance and development outcomes.

    The 73rd Constitutional Amendment (1992) provided certain guidelines in the basic structure of the institutions of local government, though the actual devolution of powers to these institutions is left to state governments. While interviewing the villagers it was observed that many of them where not aware of the “Jamabandis” being taking place which raises the concern for awareness and providing the basic legal understanding about the Panchyat Raj Acts and the importance of Constitutional Amendments relating to the PRI’s . As we have seen that government should be of the people, for the people and by the people but it is a sad to know that decentralization has failed to deliver what it should have.

    Grama Sabhas were envisaged as deliberative forums where the constituents meet and indicate their preferences and needs on development activities but what has been evident after consulting the citizens and the members is that Grama Sabha has not taken place for a long time which should take place at least twice a year as laid down in the Karnataka Panchyat Raj Act 1993, which further raises the issue that the elite have been taking their decisions and some representatives work as puppets at the hands or those elite.

    One cannot deny the fact that corruption is also three tier and it also works in top down mechanism, but the most important socio-economic aspect of people’s participation is that by raising their voices they can make the officials and representatives responsible and accountable. For instance when those who hold power shirk away from responsibility on pretext of non-availability of funds, then it becomes the duty of people to raise their voice and question as to why the funds are not available and why developmental work is stalled.

    The extent of elite capture at the local level depends on the degree of voter awareness, interest group cohesiveness, electoral uncertainty, electoral competition and the heterogeneity of inter-district income inequality. A key assumption of this model is that the degree of political awareness is correlated to education and socioeconomic position; in particular, that the fraction of informed voters in the middle income class is lower or equal than rich, and higher than that of the poor. Uninformed voters are swayed by campaign financing, whereas informed voters favour the party platform that maximizes their own-class utility.

    On the basis of the field visits made on April 15, 2008 and second visit on May 15, 2008 and while interpreting the data with the help of the existing data and information it can be concluded that the hypothesis that “decentralisation mitigates corruption” has not been proved. As regards the respondents, 7 out of 10 respondents have assured that corruption is taking place in the village Gram Panchyat K.G. Halli.

    It can be said that Localization breeds corruption due to following reasons:-
    (a) Personalism. It is argued that localization brings officials in close contact with citizens . This promotes personalism and reduces professionalism and arms length relationships. Personalism in his view breeds corruption as officials pay greater attention to individual citizen needs and disregard public interest. Further, higher degree of discretion at the local level and long tenure of local officials making it easier to establish unethical relationships.

    (b) Impediments to corrupt practices also decrease as local politicians and bureaucrats collude to advance narrow self-interests while the effectiveness of auditing agencies and monitoring from the central level.

    (c) Opportunities for corruption increase due to a greater influence of interest groups at the local level. Also in this regard, it has been argued that the probability of capture by local interest groups could be greater at the local level if, for example, interest group cohesiveness (fraction of the richest class that contribute to lobby) is higher, or the proportion of informed voters is lower at the local level. Lower levels of political awareness at the local level and less coverage of local elections by media may also impair local democracy and lead to higher capture.

    A few experiences from world over has also suggested that decentralization increases the opportunities for corruption in some developing countries where interference in public administration is the norm, merit culture and management systems in the civil service are weak and institutions of participation and accountability are ineffective.

    Hence Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Localization helps to break the monopoly of power at the national level by bringing decision making closer to people. Localization strengthens government accountability to citizens by involving citizens in monitoring government performance and demanding corrective actions. Localization as a means to make government responsive and accountable to people can help reduce corruption and improve service delivery. However, one must pay attention to the institutional environment and the risk of local capture by elites. In the institutional environments typical of some developing countries, when in a geographical area, feudal and industrial interests dominate and institutions of participation and accountability are weak or ineffective and political interference in local affairs is rampant, localization may increase opportunities for corruption. Thus rule of law and citizen empowerment should be the first priority in any reform efforts.

    Localization in the absence of rule of law may not prove to be a potent remedy for combating corruption. Convention Adopted in 2003 seeks to engage the crime prevention and criminal justice systems of the countries. Corruption improvises countries and deprives their citizens of good governance. It destabilises economic systems as a result of corruption, organized crimes, terrorism and other illegal activities flourishes. Corruption impairs the enjoyment of the human rights in general and in particular the economic, social and cultural rights. Decentralisation was conceived as a down - top phenomenon therefore keeping in mind this phenomenon the problem of corruption can be eradicated by sheer public participation as well as keeping a proper match between powers and functions.

    Also Read:
    Corruption: A Menace In India:
    Everyone censures corruption at a societal stage but that does not mean that anyone has escaped from the flu of corruption. It is not an infection in one country.

    Is Poverty A Cause of Corruption:
    Popular belief suggests that corruption and poverty are closely related to developing country. Corruption has been a constant obstacle for countries trying to bring out the political, economic and social changes desired for their development.

    Right to Information - An Anti-Corruption Tool:
    Basically, this article talks about transparency including right to information and also how it does work as an anti – corruption tool. The motive behind writing this article is to clear some of the concepts of the readers as well as of the author herself.

    Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988:
    "If we cannot make India corruption-free, then the vision of making the nation develop by 2020 would remain as a dream." - Dr. A.P.J.Abdul Kalam
    Corruption is considered to be one of the greatest impediments on the way towards progress for developing country like India.

    Corruption in Governance: Human Rights Dimensions:
    Corruption threatens the rule of law, democracy and human rights; undermines good Governance, fairness and social justice; distorts competition, hinders economic development, and endangers the stability of democratic institutions and moral foundations of society.

    Corruption menace:
    In order to curb the rising monster of Corruption one should not let the seed of Need grow into a Black hole sucking up every thing, but instead limit it to the seedling, which would be beneficial to the society.

    Understanding Corruption problem in India:
    Do you really believe in our Justice system? If somebody asks me my answer will be misleading. It rather depends on the situation what the matter is

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