Decentralising Democratic Governance in Village India: Looking Back and Beyond


  • Prabhat Kumar Datta St. Xavier’s University, Kolkata


The idea of decentralised governance was conceived in the nineteenth century by some leading European thinkers like Mill, Bryce, and Tocqueville both as a politico-administrative arrangement for weakening power and authority of the national state along with effecting improvement in administration and as  institutions of participatory democracy. During India’s struggle for freedom Gandhi stood for it strongly. In village India it has taken the forms of panchayats. The new Constitution of independent India embodied it in the chapter on Directive Principles of State Policy which is not enforceable in the courts of law.  An attempt was made to implement the concept in the 1950s on the basis of the recommendations of the Balvantrai Mehta Committee. But the experience has not been encouraging as institutions had either lost their momentum leading to the unavoidable decline in course of time or ‘killed before they were truly born’ in almost all the states. The Constitution was amended in 1992 to give the panchayats a new lease of life. But again, the future does not seem to be bright as they seem to stand at the crossroads. The paper will try to look back to trace the historical development of the institutions for the purpose of developing a comprehensive perspective and to assess the current state of affairs with special focus on the challenges being confronted. Another objective of this study is to search for silver lining, if any, and to suggest what needs to be done to strengthen the process of decentralised democratic governance in rural India. The study will be based on the secondary source material including illustrative case studies to build up and sharpen arguments.

Keywords: Decentralised Governance, Panchayats, Constituent Assembly, Balvantrai Mehta Committee, Constitutional Amendment.

Author Biography

Prabhat Kumar Datta, St. Xavier’s University, Kolkata

Former DAAD Professorial Fellow at South Asia Centre , Heidelberg University, Germany.

Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Xavier Law School, St. Xavier’s University, Kolkata

Member of the Mentor Group for Sadhu Chand Murmu University of Jhargram, Government of West Bengal