Book Review: Pranab Kumar Das (ed.), Decentralisation, Governance and Development: An Indian Perspective and Satyajit Singh, The Local in Governance: Politics, Decentralization and Environment

Date01 December 2017
AuthorHimadri Chatterjee
Published date01 December 2017
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews 291
a valuable resource for the students of Indian politics as well as for those interested in the study of ethnic
conflict management in India, given the expertise of Kanchan Chandra in this area.
Ritambhara Malaviya
Kamala Nehru College, University of Delhi
New Delhi, India
Pranab Kumar Das (ed.), Decentralisation, Governance and Development: An Indian Perspective. Hyderabad:
Orient BlackSwan. 2017. 282 pages. `995.
Satyajit Singh, The Local in Governance: Politics, Decentralization and Environment. New Delhi: Oxford
University Press. 2016. 261 pages. `895.
DOI: 10.1177/2321023017727989
Pranab Kumar Das’s volume brings together a number of authors to reflect upon themes of decentraliza-
tion, public finance, electoral competition and issues of human development in a three-part structure. The
studies span macro-policy discourse, micro-level studies, electoral politics and institutional practices by
various academics, policymakers and government personnel (p. xix). The volume is significantly focused
on fiscal policies and evaluation of implementation based on data analysis. Nine of the twelve essays deal
with evidence from West Bengal and the other essays present concerns from the states of Karnataka and
Kerala. While these three states have a reputation for having decentralization policies that are widely
considered successful, the essays in the volume offer minute and critical reviews. The book approaches
the issue of a qualitative evaluation of decentralization in India by foregrounding the importance of ‘mass-
based movements’ (p. xvii) in the states where these policies have enjoyed partial success.
The focus is on qualifying the notion of successful decentralization in Kerala and West Bengal with
critical studies of programme implementation and politics. The understanding of institutions of govern-
ance is complicated by the evidence of circumvention of the Gram Sabha in the framing of by-laws for
restructuring user charges (pp. 119–120). Commenting on the situation of Human Development Planning
at the district and Gram Panchayat (GP) level, Manabi Mujumdar demonstrates how in the 1990s ‘the
district planning process did take off but since then has been stalled’ (p. 157). Majumdar’s essay is
certainly a significant contribution in understanding the stalled project of local-level planning. These
readings are presented alongside detailed quantitative evidence indicative of the capture of the lowest
level of the GP by ‘rural oligarchy’ of owner cultivators (p. 241). Essays that delve into the past success
of the [West Bengal] Left Front government in Panchayat elections argue that there was a dual strategy
of ‘selective doling out of political support to prospective voters’ (p. 273) and moving away from radical
initiatives of ‘democratization and “massification” of information’ (p. 223). Evidence of the gap between
the rural mass and the local institutions in Kerala is also demonstrated through a detailed study of wide-
spread ‘non-reporting’ of mortality data (p. 205) despite the long history of the civil registration system.
Analogously the path to ‘administrative decentralization’ (p. 10) in Karnataka that had started with the
Ramkrishna Hegde regime is found to be limited in its ability to extend and democratize civil society
engagement into the discourse of fiscal decentralization. The essays on fiscal devolution bring together
comprehensive overviews and astute observations for the macro-policy level but the details of imple-
mentation are significantly tilted towards studies located in West Bengal. The critical tonality of the

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