(i) As “institutions of local self-government”, PRIs at all three levels are required under Article 243G to undertake the “implementation of programmes of economic development and social justice.” Progress in this regard has been most inadequate in most states.
This is partly because paper devolution has not been accompanied by effective devolution, but largely because even where PRIs are involved in implementation they function more as implementation agencies of government programmes than as “institutions of local self-government”.
(ii) A key element of effective implementation must be the restructuring of line departments into no more than secretariat offices as part and parcel of the effective devolution of functions, and related functionaries and finances, to the panchayats.
(iii) Retaining line departments while apparently devolving planning and implementation to the elected local bodies has forestalled panchayats from evolving into “institutions of local self-government”. Worse, the nexus established between the bureaucracy and the chairpersons of the PRIs has fostered widespread corruption, leading to the defaming and discrediting of the Panchayati Raj system as a whole.
The restructuring of line departments for devolved subjects will not only subordinate the bureaucracy to the elected authority, it will forestall implementation being perverted into the chairperson and the bureaucracy sharing the spoils.
(iv) Chairpersons of local bodies must function as chairpersons-in-council, taking the consent of the general body of the panchayat/municipality for all decisions. To this end, not only must the elected local body as a whole, and not just the chairperson, be the implementing authority, the gram/ward/ neighbourhood sabha must be deeply and continuously involved in the process. Concurrent social audit is the most effective check on corruption.
(v) Effective implementation requires the participation of all members of the panchayat at each level through subjects committees that will manage the implementation; jointly call for tenders, examine bids and, with the consent of all concerned, award contracts; and undertake collegiate supervision by the concerned subject committee as a whole of the implementation of works so that there is complete satisfaction before payments are made.
(vi) The role of the gram/ward sabhas in this regard is crucial. Programmes undertaken by panchayats should initially be approved by gram/ward sabhas; utilisation certificates must statutorily require prior gram sabha approval; and beneficiary identification must be done transparently in the presence of all members of the gram/ward sabha.
(vii) States may prepare road-maps for effective time-bound implementation arrangements.