Local Governments in Rural West Bengal, India and their Coordination with Line Departments
In India, the 73rd constitutional amendment of 1992 decentralises agriculture, irrigation, health, education along with 23 other items to the Panchayats, the village level self-government body. It is envisaged that the three-tier Panchayat system at the District, Block and the Village level would coordinate with different ‘line departments’ of the government for planning various schemes and their implementation. In West Bengal, a state in eastern India, where the Panchayats were revitalised before the constitutional amendment, the initial years were marked by strong coordination between the Panchayats and other departments, especially land and agriculture, making West Bengal a ‘model’ case for the Panchayats. However, where service delivery through the Panchayats has been criticised in recent years, the disjuncture between Panchayats and the line departments is a cause for alarm. In this paper, we search for the causes behind the low level of coordination between government departments and the Panchayat at each tier. We analyse the complex process of organisational coordination that characterises decentralisation, and show how decision making in local governments is nested within various levels of hierarchy. The study focuses on the formal structures of coordination and control with regard to decision-making between the Panchayats and the line departments. We show how these processes work out in practice. These involve lack of role definition, problems of accountability, and politics over access to resources and relations of power within, as well as outside, the Panchayat.