Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

Governing Locally: Institutions, Policies, and Implementation in Indian Cities

A Virtual Book Talk with the Authors

in partnership with the South Asia Center & the Penn Institute for Urban Research

Suraj Jacob & Babu Jacob
Political Economist, Azim Primji University & Former Member, Indian Administrative Service, respectively
Thursday, October 21, 2021 - 12:00
A Virtual CASI Book Talk via Zoom — 12 noon EDT | 9:30pm IST

(English captions & Hindi subtitles available)

About the Book:
India and other countries chose a decentralized mode of delivering public services through elected local governments for increasing public welfare. However, great expectations of effective services, increased accountability, and people’s participation were widely belied in practice. Based on field research in cities of Gujarat, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, the book is a detailed examination of how state and local governments function and why decentralization outcomes vary considerably. It locates the primary reason in governance practices that compromised autonomy and capacity of urban local governments. Governing Locally demonstrates that despite a constitutional mandate for decentralized governance, policy implementation got derailed in processes threading through laws, rules, and administrative actions. It shows how habitual practices create hidden institutional rigidities that thwart policy moves despite good intentions and democratic legitimacy. The book also discusses how to navigate policy to skirt hidden threats to successful implementation.

About the Authors:

Trained as a political economist in JNU, Cambridge and Stanford, Suraj Jacob has taught and researched in universities in the US and India. His interests are in the broad domains of policy, governance, democracy and social practices as well as the cultures and institutions that sustain them. He recently completed a stint as Chief Executive of Vidya Bhawan, Udaipur and is affiliated with the Azim Premji University (APU, Bangalore).

Babu Jacob was trained as a civil engineer and joined the Indian Administrative Service (IAS, Kerala cadre) in 1968. He worked for over 35 years in different governance domains in the Kerala state government and the national government. A Hubert H. Humphrey fellow, he pursued better governance by addressing gaps between policy intent and policy practice. After his retirement as Chief Secretary of Kerala, he was affiliated with the Centre for Development Studies (CDS, Trivandrum) where he researched urban governance.


Nafis Hasan:                      

I'm really delighted to welcome professor Suraj Jacob and Dr. Babu Jacob. And I'm going to give you a brief introduction about them. So Suraj Jacob is trained as a political economist in JNU, Cambridge and Stanford, and has taught and researched in universities in the US and India. His interests are in the broad domains of public policy, governance, democracy and social practices, as well as the cultures and institutions that sustain them. He recently completed a stint as the chief executive of Vidya Bhawan, Udaipur and is affiliated with the Azim Premji University in Bangalore. Mr. Babu Jacob was trained as a civil engineer and joined the Indian Administrative Services, Kerala cadre, in 1968. He worked for over 35 years in different governance domains in the Kerala state department and the national government. A Hubert Humphrey fellow, he pursued better governance by addressing gaps between policy intent and policy practice. After his retirement as chief secretary of Kerala, he was affiliated with the Center for Development Studies, Trivandrum, where he researched urban governance.

Now, let me say something about the book. So India and other countries choose a decentralized mode of delivering public services through elected local governments for increasing public welfare. However, great expectations of effective services increased accountability and people's participation were widely belied in practice. Based on field research in cities of Gujarat, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, the book is a detailed examination of how state and local governments function and why decentralization outcomes vary considerably. It locates the primary reason in governance practices that comprise autonomy and capacity of urban local governments. Governing Locally demonstrates that despite a constitutional mandate for decentralized governance, policy implementation got derailed in processes threading through laws, rules and administrative actions. It shows how habitual practices create hidden institutional rigidities that thwart policy moves despite good intentions and democratic legitimacy. The book also discusses how to navigate policy to skirt hidden threats to successful implementation.

So before I turn it to our speakers, just to remind you, we are going to have a similar format like last time. So if you have questions at the end, could you please use the chat box to send them directly to me, Nafis Hasan, and I will call on you to pose your question to a presenter. Please keep your question brief and to the point so that we can get to as many as possible. Also, please use the chat box only for questions. Finally, please be mindful about muting your mics throughout the duration of the event. And also, please remember that you cannot record the presentation without prior permission from the presenters. Once again, thank you for interest and for being here today. With that, I'm going to ask our authors to please begin the presentation.

Suraj Jacob:                       

Thank you, Nafis. Hello, everybody. We are delighted to be here and thank you to Khasi for hosting this presentation. Our book, Governing Locally, is about to be out and it's a good opportunity for us to discuss some of these issues. Thank you, Nafis, for moderating this. The topic of this book and of this presentation, decentralization and urban governance, hopefully is something which we hope will come back to be a more salient issue than it has been. COVID has shown us the importance of strengthening local systems and in a more generalized atmosphere today of authoritarian tendencies. Rethinking what went wrong with our centralization strategies in India, I think, is very important.

With that said, we are going to begin the presentation. I will be doing the formal presentation and both of us will be there for the discussion part. Let me just get my slides on. Okay. So globally there has been an increasing attention on the urban as the size of the urban and the complexity of the urban has increased. Certainly that is the case also with India. Over a third of the population is in urban areas. That is the emergence of what the census calls census towns, settlements with urban characteristics, and yet whose governance structures are based on the panchayat system, the rural system. So we have an increasing transition into urban areas, even if some of the government systems are lagging behind. The literature on the Indian urban broadly falls into two kinds of categories. There's a lot of interesting and rich set of studies on precarity and poverty in cities intersected with issues of land, cast, gender, and so on, and the situation of migrants, which came back in COVID times, especially last year.

There's another literature on the new middle classes, consumerism and aspirations, and so on. And there have been several interesting kinds of activisms and right to the city kind of movements in several Indian urban spaces. Our focus is on the urban governance part of the literature and by governance, we mean the exercise of public authority in specific ways. And we see the urban governance literature as falling into one of three broad categories. There is literature on the regulation of land and the presence of land mafias and informalities in the regulatory system around land in urban spaces.

There's another literature on citizen involvement, lot of initiatives for increasing participation, skepticism about the hollow nature of some of these participatory arrangements, things of that sort. And there is a third literature, which looks at some of these mega urban projects, typically infrastructure projects, such as JNNURM, AMRUT and so on, which have been around for the last 10, 15 odd years.

Now, one thing which is somewhat missing in this literature, in the urban governance literature, is the question, how is local public authority actually exercised? The governance is about the exercise of public authority. How do Indian city governments actually function? So opening up in some sense, the black box of local government, understanding how they function, how they're able to or not able to exercise authority. Questions of that sort are relatively unexplored in the literature. And this takes on particular importance, given the 74th Constitutional Amendment enacted almost 30 years ago now, which was meant to be a game changer, which promised a genuine kind of decentralization and participatory governance. And so, in the light of all that, we think it's an important question to ask, did city governments really change their functioning following this constitutional mandate? How did they do so? And the constitutional mandate was quite dramatic in the kinds of responsibilities and authorities it conferred to city governments, water supply, drainage, sanitation, street lighting, public housing, and so on. So there was a considerable promise in this 74th Constitutional Amendment. Given all that, our approach is to really examine the question of how city governments function and how have they responded internally to the Constitutional Amendment.

I will not go much into the methodology of underlining the research presented in the book, but simply note that three states were purposely selected, and during the Q and A session, we could get a little bit into why these states, but some of that will become clearer a little down this presentation itself. Gujarat, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, and several cities in each of these states were purposely selected, both big cities and small cities in different regions of these states. And this research has been on for several years and through a set of series of interviews, observations and documents, we drew a considerable amount of empirical material to try to address the question of city government functioning.

So let me get straight to a fairly simple factual question to begin. Who actually provides services, which devolved to city governments by the 74th Constitutional Amendment? Services such as street lighting, water supply, sewerage, and so on. There's a bunch of them given in this table. Turns out that in the city governments of Kerala, most of these infrastructure services are primarily provided by the state government despite the services formally being devolved. By contrast, in the city governments of Gujarat... And by the way, the cities mentioned in this table are municipalities, smaller cities. In the city governments of Gujarat, these services, by and large, are handled by the city governments themselves. Those in Tamil Nadu fall a little bit in between, but somewhat closer to Kerala, if anything.

While we focus on these states, I will also add in passing that secondary evidence and other kinds of evidence suggests that Kerala is actually fairly similar to many other states in terms of formerly devolved services actually being provided primarily by state government and [inaudible] agencies. And so, Gujarat is, in some sense, a little bit of an exception. And so when we talk about Kerala, where our research primarily is located, we are also seeing that as representative of many other parts of India.

So much of the book then goes on to really ask the why question. Why are city governments somewhat marginal in public service provision? And in the book we advance a three-step argument. The first is somewhat straightforward. The proximate reason why city governments are unable to provide public services and state governments continue to do so, has to do with local government capacity. That, of course, straightaway brings up the question what explains the low capacity of city governments, especially after the 74th Constitutional Amendment.

And so, the second part of our argument is to locate the reason for low capacity in the nature of state, local relations, and specifically the lack of autonomy that city governments have despite the droppings of decentralization in actually taking kind control of their own governance systems. There is a still further question to ask, which is, why did state governments continue to control city governments in Kerala and many other states. Why was there insufficient autonomy? Especially following the spirit of the 74th Constitutional Amendment.

And there, that's the third part of our argument. We look at the policy process through which decentralization policy was actually implemented. And we locate the reason in habituated policy practices of the state bureaucracy. Something I'll come back to. So it's a three-step argument, and we are going to elaborate it in a moment. But let me just also mention that there are several other possible ways to explain the reality that city governments are marginal to service provision in urban spaces. Some of those alternative explanations could be along the lines of civic participation, local politics, insufficient finances, inappropriate laws. And maybe a more overarching kind of alternative explanation, the role of big capital and what might be called neoliberal governance, which might potentially reduce possibilities of local governance.

Having said that, in the book we try to address these possible alternative explanations and we don't think that they quite explain the overwhelming presence or rather absence of city governments in devolved services. So our focus is on this three-part argument, located very much in governance and the politics and institutional arenas of governance.

So I'm going to now go a little bit more into this three-part argument, starting with the first and the relatively most straightforward point about local government capacity. By capacity, we mean the ability of local government to take decisions and implement decisions regarding various infrastructure services that we are looking at, such as providing water, by lighting up streets and so on. And the ability to take and implement decisions can be looked at in terms of what kinds of internal procedures are there for decision-making? What is the organizational structure? What kinds of staff are present? How does it all come together as a potentially effective unit for service delivery?

Let's take the case of how decisions are made, decision-making procedures in city governments. And our focus, again, of course, is Kerala. We find that across the city governments of Kerala, internal decision-making regarding things like water and street lighting, and so on, is very roundabout cumbersome, very ineffective with lots of problematic veto players involved. We've put in a quote from a counselor and elected member of the Palakkad municipality in Kerala and it goes, "How can we do anything keeping to a schedule? We have so many working groups. Each one makes a proposal, it goes to the ward subha, which is the assembly of citizens. The working group, the council, a seminar, a planning committee, a council, and so on. And even small proposals have to go to the full council. The procedures take over 10 months and implementation is squeezed into two." So there's considerable frustration and this is quite representative of the positions of many interviews and interviewees and observations that we have regarding the very cumbersome processes of internal decision-making.

When it comes to organizational structure, again, we find that in city governments of Kerala, and this is also true in many other states, organizational structures are not nimble, have not changed, following the Constitutional Amendment, in any significant manner to be able to carry out the responsibilities of the expanded set of responsibilities regarding urban services. So right here on the slide, you see Palakkad municipality again. It's Kerala's largest municipality. And the organizational structure is geared towards, what we call, traditional housekeeping chores, things like accounts and taxes and things like that. While on the left, we give up the organization structure of Navsari municipality. Roughly similar in population, but in Gujarat here. And we see that the organizational structure is such that it's much more responsive in terms of the functions that the municipality performs. So for example, there are separate well-defined units for waterworks, lighting, drainage and so on.

So for lack of time, I'm just going to sort of summarize this part of the presentation by noting that when you think of aspects of capacity, whether it's internal decision-making procedures, or organization structure, or staffing, we find that the city governments of Kerala are not set up to be able to actually respond to the responsibilities conferred by the decentralization reforms.

We get to the second question, which is slightly deeper. What shapes local capacity? And as I introduced the argument earlier, we look at the argument in the nature of the relationship between the state government and the local government. By autonomy, we mean the ability of the local government to take decisions without the state government possibly reversing it, to be able to implement the decisions it takes without being greatly dependent on the state government. And we find that the space of autonomy is very restricted in the city governments of Kerala. And as I mentioned, we believe true for many other parts of India as well. So on the left here is a short quote from former mayor of Trivandrum, indicating sort of the restrictions that they feel. "Most of our purchases and work contracts need its approval." That is the state government's approval. "We have no authority for any action. We look up to the state government for everything. We are yours obediently to it." That last bit is from sort of subservient formalistic language in signing of letters, "Yours obediently." And that's the way the former mayor sees the relationship with the state government.

On the right we have a short quote from a former mayor of Kochi, other of Kerala's municipal corporations. In this case, reflecting on health as a responsibility of the city government, one of the several responsibilities given by the Constitutional Amendment. And the former mayor says, "The real responsibility of health inspectors should be public health, but their jobs have been reduced to only waste disposal, [foreign language] in Malayalam. That is to say waste management is not health, but it's been highly constricted, the autonomy allowed, to actually address the entire responsibility of health systems or healthcare in the city.

Further below on the slide is a table about who supervisors and has authority over the staff working in a city government, and we look at different aspects of supervision and decision-making around staff. And the point here is that in Kerala, both municipal corporations and municipalities are primarily the staffing and staff management is controlled by the state government. In Gujarat, the city governments themselves have considerable say. And Tamil Nadu falls in between.

Another example of the degree of micromanagement by the state government and the lack of autonomy faced by city governments. Here is a circular, it's in Malayalam but there's a English translation on the right here, a circular sent out to local governments, fairly short. It says, "It has been decided that all book purchases by local bodies must be through the Book Mark agency that's affiliated with the state government. And only those books not available at Book Mark can be bought from elsewhere.", signed Additional Secretary, government of Kerala, the department of local self-government, LSGD. So this is just one example of literally 1,000s of such circulars. There's a continuous stream of this kind of micromanagement. And what's interesting is, these are by and large, small and mostly inconsequential kinds of things on which also, besides more consequential things, on which also state governments exercise this kind of control.

That brings us to the third step of our argument, which is, what really shapes the extent of local autonomy that city governments have? Here our argument really takes on a broader hue in the sense of locating it in the broader policy process. The diagram here, I'll explain it in a moment. It's not as imposing as it looks. It simply tries to look at the flow of processes, which constituted decentralization policy. So if you start at the left part of the diagram, we have the national legislature in the early 1990s going through with the Constitutional Amendment. So the real question is, from a policy process perspective, is what happens after the Constitutional Amendment after 1992? And since local bodies are a state subject and not a union subject in India's federal system, state legislatures had to enact conforming legislation, conforming to the national Constitutional Amendment. And in fact, within a few years of the Constitutional Amendment, all states had done so. They had enacted state laws to be in conformity with the Constitutional Amendment. Kerala and all other states did so. In the case of Kerala, it was the Kerala Municipalities Act of 1994.

The remainder of the processes are fairly straightforward, which is to say the law itself confers the ability to make rules, rule-making authority on a particular body. In this case, it was given to the state government and the state government is constituted by political executives, the ministers, and the vast state bureaucracy. And so, rule-making authority in Kerala and most of the states was given to the state government, effectively the state bureaucracy, which then drafted administrative rules. These administrative rules operationalized the law, execute what the law demands. So the administrative rules were formed. That is process three in this diagram. There was a process of approval of the rules by the state legislature.

And then finally, process five is simply the execution of these rules. And that is what created the policy output of the constitution of local governments and what they could do and how they could function. That was an output, a consequence of this set of processes from the Constitutional Amendment to the state laws, to the administrative rules, which were approved by the state legislature.

So now we locate the divergence of the final output, namely the lack of autonomy of city governments, the divergence of that from the spirit of the Constitutional Amendment. We locate that divergence in the specifics of law-making and rule-making. That is to say the fact that the law gave rule-making authority to the state government, it could instead have given it to the local bodies themselves to fashion the rules for their self-governance, right? So the fact that it was given to the state government and the fact that the state government, effectively the state bureaucracy, used rule-making authority to make rules, which were very much tilted in their favor in terms of control, right? So it's these two things, the location of rule-making authority and the actual shape that the final rules took, which basically took away autonomy from city governments. So that really turns the focus to the nature of the state bureaucracy and decentralization rules.

So on the one hand, there is a generalized suspicion, especially in the state bureaucracy, about decentralization. Partly it has to do with the interest of the bureaucracy as a class, partly it has to do with the backgrounds of most of the bureaucrats themselves, who tend to take a perspective which is somewhat dismissive of local governance. Nothing very new here. Those of you who've seen the Yes Minister series or read the Yes Minister books, and so on, this is a running satire in many works.

Now, this also points to the institutional path-dependence, which actually happened in the creation of the decentralization rules. By institutions, we mean stable arrangements around action and beliefs. And it turns out that the way in which rules were made, the way in which rule-making authority was drafted, had to do very much with habituated bureaucratic practices. The rules themselves are in some form a copy placed of other rules. So there is a certain stickiness, a certain path-dependence to the way in which bureaucratic practice produced decentralization rules, besides the fact that there were class interests in keeping control.

There are, of course, in a institutional democratic system like India's, there are checks and balances built into the system. So one such check and balance is oversight of the state bureaucracy by the state political executive, the ministers. However, this did not actually happen. Another potential check and balance was by the legislature over the state government and over the state bureaucracy. But it turns out that the legislature did not actually scrutinize the rules and see whether the spirit of the Constitutional Amendment was maintained. A third possible check in balance is through scrutiny and possible contestation by civil society, civic organizations, the media, and so on, but in this story, that was also by and large absent. So we see that in what turns out to be a somewhat weekly institutionalized system in terms of these checks and balances not working, we see that the way in which habituated practices played out, went in favor of bureaucratic control and therefore lack of autonomy of city governance.

So as I mentioned couple of times already, while our focus in understanding divergence and sort of policy drift, the focus is Kerala. There's some secondary evidence, some reason to believe, even though we did not do primary empirical work on this, reason to believe that it is true for many other states. Gujarat is a partial exception. And so what explains Gujarati exceptionalism in terms of autonomy leading to capacity over devolved services? And in fact, we trace it to a long history. It predates the 74th Constitutional Amendment. In fact, it predates the formation of the State of Gujarat. It goes all the way back, we think, to the late 1800s when there was very interesting developments in the city of Bombay. People like [inaudible] and many other leaders fought hard and successfully to create some measure of autonomy for Bombay corporation from the colonial provincial government, and that is a legacy which continued in the old Bombay province. And in 1949, for example, the BPMC Act for all the municipal corporations of Bombay province, again, had some of these elements in the act.

And so, that legislative and administrative legacy of locating rule-making authority, much of it, at least in the city governments themselves, continued. So again, this is an institutional path-dependence argument, but with a happier trajectory because of this older legacy. We don't go too deeply into this in the book, but I think more work is needed along these longer historical lines.

I'll take a few more minutes to put out a few considerations, which might arise when you consider this three-part argument that we've presented here. And let's start with thinking about participation. You will notice that the question of people's participation in local governance somewhat indirectly enters our three-part argument, right? It's really an argument about rule-making authority, institutions and governance. So where does participation actually fit into this story? Is a question that's worth exploring.

So the typical way in which people conceive participation in local governance is by noting that people's participation can strengthen local capacity in terms of the effectiveness and particularly the equity of public services. Now, while that is the case, that is in fact an important loop back from the effectiveness of local services to people's participation. So we argue that in the case of Kerala and many other states, despite potential people's participation, especially given Kerala's history with these things, the fact that local autonomy was mostly denied and therefore constrained capacity, and therefore ended up compromising the effectiveness and especially the equity of services. That sort of boomeranged back and compromised possibilities of participation itself.

And here are a couple of quotes from Trivandrum, which go towards this idea. So here's Trivandrum's deputy mayor saying, "We are unable to act on the matters discussed in the ward sabha, the citizen assembly. So attendance drops. So of the 5,000 people in a ward, initially as many as 4,000 would attend the very beginning. After a while only a 100 attend. We just buy them tea. It becomes ritualistic. And it concludes by saying, "I'm helpless to do anything, even for my own ward." And Trivandrum's mayor we have saying, "The reason why there is no participation is that nothing happens." So really, participation enters the story, mostly as a consequence of the autonomy, capacity, service delivery argument. I'll come back to this point very briefly in a moment.

A second consideration is what we can call the capacity for equity. That is to say there are very worrying and major narratives of dispossession and inequities, especially in bigger cities, for example, Ahmedabad, and many other big cities of India. There's a rich literature on this, typically also connected with the role of capital and land dealings, and also more authoritarian tendencies at work. So the realities of dispossession and inequity are real. And that is where a case like Gujarat, because of the happy history, the happy legislative legacy giving city governments a fair degree of autonomy, this is where maybe that that argument has its limits, because in Gujarat, participatory arrangements are mostly weak. They're not terribly strong anywhere else either, but that's where either there is perhaps insufficient pushback to when it comes to tendencies for dispossession and inequity.

Now, Kerala on the other hand has, one could argue, a much stronger history of public action of people's mobilization, and yet in our argument, that doesn't quite translate because of the autonomy, capacity, service delivery argument that we've advanced. So Kerala is still better positioned, it would appear, in terms of latent public action and participation, which could address equity issues in ways that only people's participation can do. And there is some evidence that in Kerala when housing projects come and when there are efforts to tilt it one way or the other because of certain vested interests, there is some evidence, some scholarly literature for Kerala that suggests that old strain of public action does come in from an equity perspective. So that is an important point to mention. Our focus, of course, still is on governance and service delivery, but we see the limits of that when participation is not strong. It's not strong in Gujarat, but it's not strong in Kerala either, despite its public action history.

Third of the four considerations, before we finish, has to do with the fact that despite this argument of low local capacity constrained by lack of autonomy and so on, our empirical work, the empirical work documented in the book suggest that there is enormous enthusiasm and enormous personal abilities of the lacks of people who've come up in the system, have been elected to local government. It's just that the institutional system, the lack of autonomy seriously constrains the ability of that latent capacity to actually come out, but we see windows of this in emergency situations. For example, the 2018 Kerala floods or the 2020 COVID situation. In the early months of COVID, for example, city governments and other local governments in Kerala played an important part in contact tracing and in getting food and medicines to those in need and so on. But we argue that that's precisely because in emergency circumstances, more autonomy was given, less control was exercised by the state government. And then we do see that latent local capacity actually coming into its own.

And the last consideration has to do with the image of Kerala, particularly, as being decentralized. Maybe all of you would be aware that in rankings of decentralization in India, Kerala routinely comes in as number one. So that looks a little odd given the narrative that we presented here. And here I just put a table from one such report from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences for the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, you can see that in this disaggregated index, Kerala typically is number one or number two in most of these things. So how does one square Kerala's performance in these kinds of indicators with the lack of autonomy that we find from our empirical work? It really is down to how one understands decentralization, the kinds of indicators we use. And it really is about trying to pick up the actual autonomy that local governments have in making decisions and in being able to implement their decisions without the state government breathing down their necks.

And this is not a particularly new point, there is a long literature on this. For example, James Fesler has written about this in the 1950s and 60s. For example, he notes way back then, several decades earlier, that just because there is a lot of activity and there's a lot of people in a local government situation and a lot of paperwork, lot of things seem to be happening, does not really mean that there is autonomy driven decentralization, and he gives the example of the postal service. And to quote him on the slide, "There may be little opportunity to exercise substantial local discretion in decision-making." It is somewhat mechanical. So the amount of output need not be a good measure of the degree of autonomy.

So this leads us to slightly emphasize or construct a definition of decentralization. We have a chapter on theorizing decentralization, where we emphasize the autonomy element, which seems to be, in practice, left out in these kinds of exercises regarding who is most decentralized and things like that. So decentralization, we call it de facto decentralization. It's not about decentralization on paper. Effectively, decentralization is really a process leading to autonomous local governments, autonomous in the sense of being able to take decisions and implement them without anybody being able to reverse them or being dependent. And what is typically picked up in many of these decentralization indicators is delegation, which is a shift of management authority, but not ultimately of control.

So this is the very last slide. We'll stop after this. What do we make of the enormous promise of decentralized governance from the 74th Constitutional Amendment almost 30 years back? There were several aspects, we believe, to the promise that that Constitutional Amendment offered. The first is the possibility of lots and lots of local leaders, and because of reservations affirmative action, lots of leaders among women, Dalits, Adivasis. And in fact, this is the one part of that promise, which actually went through. Today we do have a large number of people who have come into leadership positions because of what the 74th Constitutional Amendment triggered. But what about the other things which were very promising from the 74th amendment?

The second promise was that citizens would participate, engage seriously in local issues, help to shape what went on in their localities, stances, and so on. That didn't quite happen. It was hoped that collective action would improve local services, make them more [equitas]. That didn't quite happen. It maybe was also hoped that by decentralizing governance, the practice of governance would change from the kinds of practices associated with the national and state government, which is much more control-oriented, not very sensitive to many groups of citizens and so on. It was hoped that perhaps there would be a different way of doing governance. That too did not materialize.

Rather than ending on this slightly tragic note, let me reiterate or rather pull back in conclusion, the point that there is enormous latent local capacity. That's something that our empirical work brought back again and again. In our argument at least, it is really about the specifics of the institutional governance mechanism. It's not allowing that latent local capacity to really flower. Let me end there. Thank you.

Nafis Hasan:                      

Thank you. Thank you so much, Suraj. It's a really wonderful presentation and it's very exciting to have this as well as the book is coming out. So I think there'll be a lot of interest generated from what you've said. So I have a bunch of questions. I'm going to ask the people to unmute themselves and ask the questions. So can I ask Vivek to ask his question? Vivek?


Hi. Thank you, Dr. Suraj, for the wonderful introduction to your book. It is very interesting. I hope to get a copy soon and read it. My question is in comparing states, say the municipalities in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, seem to have much more autonomy, as you pointed out, legally through various legislative measures, as well as, I think, possibly financially as a result of historical presence of trade and industries in most of these cities, municipalities, which you have covered. So is there a certain correlation maybe between the tax collecting ability of the local administration to affect the capacity as well as ability of local government in providing services? That is my question. Thank you.

Suraj Jacob:                       

Thank you, Vivek. It is an intriguing thing. This is not something we research in great detail, but the implication of our argument is really that even if funds are not a constraint, and they are a constraint no doubt, but even if funds were not a constraint, the fact is that top-down control would mean that city governments will not have the discretion in terms of the kinds of projects they would want to do, the way they would want to do it. So repeatedly in our field work, we had people from city government repeatedly saying, "The problem is not money. We've got enough money." And in Kerala there was a striking amount of financial devolution as well. So there the issue was really that we are unable to exercise our money as we please. There are lots of ways in which the state government approvals are needed, financial approvals, technical approvals, this, that, and the other. So finance, as I understand it, does not quite mitigate the capacity problem, which is an administrative problem, but I'll request Babu Jacob to also comment on this.

Babu Jacob:                       

Yeah. Your point, Suraj already answered it, if I could supplement. The constraints that he explained in exercising local autonomy, they extend to revenue raising also. That is even though the 74th, the Constitutional Amendment, and the [inaudible] other states legislation has given the certain amount of financial autonomy to the local governments. But even in the exercise of that local autonomy, for the reasons that he has already mentioned in the presentation, there are constraints. For instance, the law will say that property tax can be really at the rates decided by a local government, but the state government tells the local government, "We will tell you when to raise." And in all the municipalities where we went to talk last 15 years, they have been asking for raise [inaudible]. They are willing. Each of them, individually, many of them, all of them [inaudible], individually they were willing to raise the property tax, but the state government [inaudible]. Like it operates in the case of even if you have money, if you were to spend money on making a building or improving a road, you had to go for approval of the state law. Same way, even for raising taxes also, although it is decentralized, you have to have the permission of the state government.

Nafis Hasan:                      

Great. Thank you so much.


Thank you so much for the clarification.

Nafis Hasan:                      

Yeah. So can I ask Jusmeet to ask the question?


Hi. Thank you very much, Dr. Jacob and Mr. Babu Jacob, for this book. It's very exciting. I had a question on your key argument. So there's a recent book on urban governance in China and India by Xuefei Ren. And Xuefei argues in that book that urban governance in India is associational in nature. And by which she means that urban governance is driven by a monopoly of actors. So different agencies of the state, other private sector and civil society groups. And these are constantly sort of forming alliances and networks to get anything done. And these networks keep on mutating according to the issue at stake. So how do you situate your argument in the light of these findings of Xuefei Ren? Thank you so much.

Suraj Jacob:                       

Yeah. Thank you, Jusmeet. No doubt, there are many elements of what would be called network governance at play in this day and age. Our focus, for particular reasons, was on the internal business of government and the internal actors within government, local and state. But no doubt, there are many players, there are many civic organizations, there are business groups, there are cast organizations, and so on. I'm not aware of this particular book, but I'm making a note of it, but there is a fair bit of literature for India separately.

Now the question is, does that really explain the fact that Trivandrum municipal corporation or Palakkad municipality or Nagercoil municipal corporation in Tamil Nadu, does it explain the fact that these city governments are unable to actually take control over the most basic urban services what you might think are fairly easy to deliver? For example, we look at the case of street lighting. It's not rocket science. It is about getting bulbs, having a system for procuring bulbs, having a system for knowing when bulbs need to be replaced, having system of replacing it, having some kind of coordination to get it done. And yet we find that it takes an enormous amount of time in Kerala, typically, for street lights to be replaced, right? And street lighting is simple as it is. It is connected with livelihoods, gender and many things.

Now, we think that a network governance kind of perspective doesn't quite answer the question. The real question in this case is, why are good quality bulbs not being procured appropriately? And in fact, in Kerala they're not. In fact, we go to a fair degree of detail in seeing how are bulbs procured, lighting fixtures procured in Kerala. So it gets to the nitty gritty, the processes through which procurement happens, the process through which quality checking happens, storage happens, the processes through which simple coordination... You might think it's simple, right, to ensure that bulbs are replaced on time? But in fact, it needs a certain staff management, a certain autonomy to be able to manage your staff. But if in fact it is controlled by a higher level government, that might seriously compromise it.

So I hope you can see that in such examples, no doubt, as I think, network governance has its place, but in the provision of infrastructure services, it really is down to the specifics of how the primary agency tasked with the job, in this case the city government, how it goes about its business. And there, it is not so much really a story about business interests or cast organizations, and so on, it really is about why isn't the government able to go through with the procurement, go through the quality checks and go through with staff management to get the job done?

So we don't focus on network governance because the kinds of questions for which we are seeking answers, why isn't water supply what it should be? Many cities in Trivandrum, in Kerala, as elsewhere in the country, have huge issues with solid waste management. They dump waste in very problematic ways. These are all things that should be performed by the city government and aren't. So that orientation takes us repeatedly back to understanding how the city government functions. But again, I'll request Babu Jacob to continue.

Babu Jacob:                       

Yeah. I'll supplement like this. I also not read the book, but what I have understood about China is that cities are very active there and they are the leaders of development as a whole in the cities. In India it is not so at all, or at least states that [inaudible] except, again, to some extent, Gujarat. Why? Because for the reasons that was mentioned in the presentation, city governments are marginal players in city's affairs. Simple things like he said, say, providing services, an industry comes providing a service. No service can be provided by city government. It cannot extend water, it cannot extend electricity, it cannot extend drainage, sewage, anything, because nothing is with them. It's all another government, namely the state government. Therefore, city governments are marginal to the city itself.

So a network thing comes when you are an active player in a given situation. And there are several other players, the private industry, non-government organizations, professional associations. Lot of resources and energy are lying in the city, but they're all strewn around, no one to coordinate. [inaudible] city governance arrangement, virtually I would say, although it's an extreme use of the term, they're on the margin of the city's affairs. If you talk to the mayor of any of the cities that you mentioned and ask her, "What do you have [inaudible] agenda?" She'll say, "I will think of a park in that area, an [inaudible] here and maybe two-kilometer road improvement there." This is the frame in which their mind is set, because they themselves have accepted fully the fact that we have no rule. They are very much marginal to anything happening in the city. So when you are a marginal actor in a city situation where much of economic development activity has to take place, and it's taking place all over the world, the cities in decentralized, I mean non-decentralized states, they are just observers, they are just witnesses in the scene, not players of the scene.

Nafis Hasan:                      

Right. Thank you. Thank you so much for that response. Can I ask Mr. CK Koshy to ask this question? Mr. Koshy? Okay. We can move on to-

CK Koshy:                           

Yeah. Yeah. Hi.

Nafis Hasan:                      

Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Go ahead, please.

CK Koshy:                           

Hello, Babu. Hello, Suraj. First of all, my very, very hearty congratulations on what I consider to be a excellent presentation, reflecting very, very relevant and important contribution into the subject of urban governance. I don't know how many of our audience are aware that this father and son team is probably one of the first in India to produce such a seminal work. So my full congratulations to them. Secondly, I must thank you for your very complimentary references to Gujarat and its administration. Puts me in an embarrassing position because I belong to Kerala and I worked in Gujarat. So it sort of gives me mixed emotions, whether to be proud of this, my adopted state, or to shed tears about what is happening in Kerala. But having said that, let me just say two or three points. Firstly, I think the value of this book lies in the fact that you have taken on squarely, this whole problem of why has the 74th amendment failed India? And why hasn't it really promised what it set out to do? I think you've addressed that squarely, which is very, very relevant.

And secondly, I think you have tried to address this question of how an "Enlightened." state like Kerala, with its deep social awakened state, has failed to actually achieve what Suraj mentioned as decentralization, and only gone towards delegation. So I think these are very important issues. Now having said that, I would like to ask you two specific questions. First, in looking at the factors that weakened the delegation and decentralization, you did not mention that there was an inbuilt flaw, which sort of doomed the 74th amendment from beginning, which is basically that we were operating under the three lists.

So you have a central amendment, which is supposed to tackle an entry in the state list. So ultimately you have the parliament passing an act, the responsibility of which lies on the state governments to implement. So that itself, to begin with, weekended it. And next, I really want to ask you whether at the end of the day, is it not simply a question of the centralized state governments just refusing to yield their power and authority one stage to the third tier of government? In fact, I found that this delegation and notification empowering municipal corporations to play their roles mentioned in the 74th amendment, even governments, which had their own party in power in various municipal corporations were reluctant to do that. They just felt that they were losing power. So you have this dichotomy of high idealistic philosophy embodied in the 74th amendment, really failing for a simple reason, that no minister or bureaucrat wants to let go of his power.

And my last question is, do you think that compared to the 74th amendment, the 73rd amendment was at least partially better implemented? And if so, why? Doesn't the same rules and the same constraints work there? But we find that in many states, at least I may be biased because of Gujarat, in many states, the panchayat seem to have been empowered to a much greater degree than the urban municipal corporations. Thank you very much, Nafis.

Nafis Hasan:                      

Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Koshy. May I request you to please keep your comments short because we're slightly running out of time-

CK Koshy:                           


Nafis Hasan:                      

And there could be one other question. Yeah.

Suraj Jacob:                       

Thank you, Mr. Koshy. I'll just briefly take the last question and then leave it to Babu Jacob for the rest. We've also been thinking a lot about what does our argument imply for the 73rd amendment for the Panchayati Raj? You could say speculation, since this is not something we've studied extensively, is that when people say panchayats are working to the extent that they're working, as you indicated, they're not really looking at panchayats having capacity created by autonomy to run their own affairs. A lot of panchayats work, which we see as being good, it seems to me, is really about sort of beneficiary selection, ensuring that certain scheme benefits get to the beneficiaries, all important things, but it is not in ideation of really contextually important interventions fitting that panchayat. So most of it, it seems to me, is about a delivery which can occur even without autonomy.

And there's something to be said for that, but because panchayats are smaller than municipalities, inherently there are greater capacity limitations, one would think, in terms of diversity of staff and the kinds of technical staff possible, and so on. So even though we've not studied it, I think it applies even to Kerala. It could not be that a state government is more controlling of city governments and allows autonomy for state... That doesn't ring true. So that it's speculative, no doubt, but I think what you're picking up, the fact that panchayats seem to be functioning, is functioning, which is not driven by interventions based on autonomy. I'll leave it there, but I'll turn to Babu Jacob for the other questions.

Babu Jacob:                       

Hi, Koshy. It was nice listening to you in this webinar. I couldn't see your face. [inaudible] on the video also? Koshy. Well, on your point on the 74th amendment. Well, we did not go into this question. I think we are not going into this question in the book, but the further research that we are now currently doing about this is showing some information based on which I will answer briefly. The 74th amendment itself should have been done differently to my mind. And the failure, I would say, based on the kind of research that I have so far done, is purely on the bureaucracy again of the central government.

Rajiv Gandhi, who proposed this, I have been going through his speeches and his meeting with even district collectors whom he called to, Depur, Bhopal, Bangalore, [inaudible], and he also called municipal chairman, panchayat presidents nationwide, originally, and talked to them. And in all these things he had made it very clear about what is wrong with governance in India and how it should be improved, that people should have a role in decision-making in government, and the only ways to have democracy and to have power given to the local. Very, very clear. But somehow when it was translated into a policy instrument, namely the Constitutional Amendment, which is usually the work of bureaucrats, they left out the core concepts that he had very clearly initiated.

The only central point that came into the amendment was regarding elections. There shall be elections every five years. In fact, Rajiv Gandhi defended in his talks when people asked him, "Well, when we tried, Panchayati Raj did not work well." He said, "No. We are not contracting elections. You did not contract the elections for long, 16 years, 17 years after the first panchayat elections. You make elections every five years and you'll find change." So he had such basic faith in democracy and democracy's value in getting things done, governmental work done at the local [inaudible]. But much of it was not carried into the [inaudible].

The ministry, it's a creation, virtually, of the central government and the ministries which are in charge of it, except for passing the amendment, after that they never owned it. There was no ownership of decentralization in India, no owner. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated and there was no one in India at the top level to stand for decentralization. The ministry's instructions often are confusing. We have brought it out in detail. Nafis said there is a shortage of time, I appreciate that. We have brought it out in the book, how the Ministry of Panchayati Raj and the Ministry of Urban Affairs both have forgotten decentralization in the real sense. If you go through their instructions and their approach to the role that different schemes of the same ministries, the little role or marginal role given to local governments, whereas centrality should have been [inaudible]. Many of the programs that they themselves [inaudible] are not with the local governments in mind. So these are two points for the time being, I'll mention. We are further looking into this aspect. It's a very relevant thing that you asked. Thank you.

CK Koshy:                           

Thank you.

Nafis Hasan:                      

Right. All right. So thanks very much. I don't think we have time for more questions. This has been fantastic. Take thank you to both our speakers for this wonderful talk. And we really look forward to reading the book and engaging with you further. And for the rest of our audience, please remember we have these talks every Thursdays at 12:00, at noon. So please go to the Khasi website and register for whichever talks you enjoy and want to attend. So see you again. Bye.