2013 marks the twentieth anniversary of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments which ushered in decentralised rural and urban government in India. Like in several other developing countries, decentralisation reform in India was prompted by the recognition that centralised government systems had failed to deliver services efficiently to citizens. 20 years on, the report card is a mixed one. While political decentralisation in India has facilitated the entry of hitherto disempowered groups into the political space, on the administrative and fiscal decentralisation fronts, much remains to be done. One consequence of this is a lingering skepticism over the capacity of local governments to perform the functions mandated under the Constitutional Amendments, which then becomes an obstacle to further empowerment and enablement of the local governments. Which leads us to ask – is Constitutional status alone enough to guarantee the success of decentralisation reform? Or is a bottom-up push for greater devolution a more effective strategy for ensuring institutionalisation of the reform? India and Australia have had markedly divergent experiences on this count; yet despite the obvious differences, we share certain challenges and it may be useful to learn from each other’s experiences.
Susan George is an officer of the Indian Revenue Service, currently posted as Additional Commissioner of Income Tax at New Delhi. Between 2007 and 2012, she worked as Director in the Ministry of Panchayati Raj where she was involved in policy formulation and advocacy for administrative and fiscal empowerment of rural local governments in India. From August 2011 to October 2012, she managed the Backward Regions Grant Fund, under which block grants are given to local bodies for community-driven development. She was also responsible for monitoring implementation of the PESA Act, which enables people-centric governance in tribal areas. Prior to her deputation to the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Susan worked in various capacities in the Income Tax Department in Mumbai, Bangalore and New Delhi.