Applying the Equity Lens - III
Excerpts from the World Development Report on Equity and Development (2006) [Link]. I was skimming through the report, and thought it's a good idea to bookmark, primarily for myself, a few of the several references to India. What prompted me to look at the report today was this Hindu article.
History is not endlessly repetitive and, [as this report documents,] many countries have taken on the challenge of breaking inequality traps with some success. Groups have also changed their circumstances or changed social and political institutions. Consider the civil rights movement in the United States, the democratic overthrow of apartheid in South Africa, the more participatory budgeting practices in some Brazilian cities, and the reforms in access to land, education, and local government in the Indian state of Kerala. The challenge for policy is to ask when and how such changes can be supported.
Democratic deepening in the developing world often begins with the democratization of local government, and that is precisely what two participatory governance initiatives -- in the Indian state of Kerala and in a variety of municipalities in Brazil -- have tried to do.
In 1996 the state government of Kerala launched what is widely viewed to be the most ambitious initiative for democratic decentralization in India: the People's Campaign of Decentralized Planning. The government not only devolved significant resources and authority to Kerala's 1,214 panchayats (village councils) and municipalities, but it also promoted direct citizen participation by mandating village assemblies and citizen committees to plan and budget local development expenditures.
[This initiative was] conceived as direct and conscious efforts to break with the elite dominated and clientelistic politics of local government by promoting redistributive policies through broad popular participation. Thus, [it] shifted the political opportunity structure and involved action to strengthen the agency of subordinate groups. [It], in effect, complemented representative forms of democracy with participatory forms of democracy by opening institutions to the direct engagement of civil society. And [it has] strengthened public authority and public action by increasing both the depth and scope of democratic decision making.
The evidence shows that [this initiative has] deepened democracy, expanding the range of social actors participating in the political arena. [N]early one in four households attended village assemblies in the first two years of the campaign, and despite routinization of the process in subsequent years, these assemblies continue to draw large numbers. Hundreds of thousands of citizens have undergone training in planning and budgeting, and the committees that actually design and budget specific projects have been composed primarily of civil society actors.
A redesign of institutional incentives and new mobilizational efforts saw women account for 40 percent of the participants in village assemblies (a level otherwise unheard of in India) and the participation rate of dalits (scheduled castes) has exceeded their representation in the population. Moreover, both [this has] created a new cadre of grassroots politicians who previously had no powers (the 14,000 elected panchayat councilors in Kerala). The local public sphere -- the sine qua non of any vibrant democracy -- has become more extensive, more inclusive, and more meaningful.
[C]itizens now have a voice in determining how public resources are allocated. [P]anchayats have been given authority for up to 35 percent of the development budget, a fivefold increase in their resources base. Panchayats have ranked, designed, and implemented hundreds of projects a year across all development sectors. These have included housing for the poor, small-scale irrigation, local roads and infrastructure, agricultural projects, support services in health and education, and a range of projects specifically targeted at women and dalits.
[A] large survey of key respondents found that "disadvantaged" groups were the prime beneficiaries of targeted schemes. Case studies show that panchayats have emphasized the need to bring all households up to a certain basic level of well-being, with a heavy emphasis on providing sanitation facilities, decent housing, and safe water to needy families.