The Principle of Subsidiarity
has democracy functioned well without a large measure of local self-governance"
- Friedrich Von Hayek in "The Road to Serfdom"
"subsidiarity" means that the responsibility for the diverse issues
of life lies initially with the individual or immediate family;
only what really cannot be resolved here should be delegated to
the community level.
Source : The Liberal Times
The small community
is usually based on a consensual voluntarism and is thus secured
by natural law. Each higher level that establishes force, must therefore,
be legitimized by the lower level. Thus all state power remains
a "delegate" (not a sovereign "mandate") from the bottom to the
What it means in
simple terms is that any issue that can be handled locally at a level
as close to the citizen as possible, should be done locally and only
when it is not feasible should it be delegated to a higher level of
government. The farther removed state action is from the citizen,
the higher are the chances that the state will not function in the
best interests of the citizen.
take the case of school education. Even though the school is located
in the community, the functioning of the school is completely out
of the control of the community. It is widely known that 95 % of
teachers who work in government schools do not send their children
to the schools in which they teach! Neither the parent nor the locally
elected political executive has any right to enforce accountability
in the functioning of the school. So is the case with the functioning
of the public health system. Every one in a community knows that
the government doctor at the primary health centre rarely shows
up and instead has his own private practice. And yet people are
helpless as they do not have any control over him.
Partly as a
result of our colonial legacy and partly because of the traumatic
experience of partition at the time of Indian independence we have
created a system of governance, which is extremely centralized.
Accountability has been eroded leading to inefficiency and corruption
in almost every sphere of government.
The need of
the hour is a radical redesign of our governance
process and institutions to adhere to the principle of subsidiarity.
This means true empowerment of local governments with control
over every subject that effects their daily life and which can be
handled locally. This entails transfer of funds, functions and functionaries
completely to the local governments. Only when the citizen sees
a link between the taxes he pays and the services he receives will
he regain a modicum of trust in the governance institutions and
shed the cynical attitude towards the state. True decentralization
with proper accountability is the only way to improve the quality
of public services, reduce corruption and restore people's faith
in the state.
the Citizen Sovereign
In our fight
for independence we rightly said, "Good governance is no substitute
for self-governance". But when our local governments (very often
our bureaucrats and 'superior' politicians only refer to them as
local 'bodies' not even giving them a status of a government) seek
more autonomy, the immediate response from one and all is that local
representatives are inexperienced and incompetent, corruption will
skyrocket, and citizens are illiterate and ill-informed. Lord Macaulay's
admoninished : "Many politicians lay it down as a self-evident proposition,
that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom
- the maxim is worthy of the fool in the story, who resolved not
to go into the water till he had learnt to swim."
the governments at the union and state level are governing well
and if corruption is negligent, may be they are justified in expressing
such views even if they happen to be incorrect. But with governance
at their level in such shambles and corruption so rampant, they
have no business to make such accusations and withhold power on
state governments are behaving like some Indian parents with feudal
mindset who think their children will listen best if they do not
give them any freedom, withhold all power and control the purse
strings. This centralization of power and control of funds may make
the parents secure in the knowledge that their children will never
rebel. Although this does have its benefits the ultimate consequence
can be disastrous in terms of the child's future and parents well-being.
enlightened and educated parents we all know that unless we give
our children opportunities to learn, provide an environment to grow
and give them freedom to make choices, they can never grow up to
be independent, capable and responsible people.
centralization of power and control of funds may make the states
secure in the knowledge that the local governments can never become
powerful. But the fact that such centralized control prevents the
states from rising to the heights they are capable of escapes these
autocratic, self-important bosses. Such centralized misgovernance
eventually invites rebellion of the local representatives and disaffection
among the citizens in some form or the other.
state governments believe that the Union should not be an all-powerful
bully dictating to them beyond what the constitution mandates. And
they demand more financial devolution. But it is ironic that the
same state government fails to recognize that the local governments
elected by the same people should be given the funds, functions
and functionaries to carry out their responsibilities. Once such
authority is transferred, the people know how to hold local governments
the world over has been that those countries whose local governments
are free and empowered have progressed more rapidly than where the
government has been centralized. Even communist China achieved rapid
growth because of local autonomy and decentralization. In our country
where local governments haven't even reached the stage of autonomy
- many developed countries the world over are moving towards the
principle of subsidiarity. This principle of
subsidiarity is a complete reversal of our top down model. Here
the citizen is the focal point and that which she cannot do herself
will be taken on by the immediate family and anything beyond the
scope of the family will be taken care of the community. Only those
tasks which are beyond the community will be delegated to the local
government. And then, what the local government cannot do should
go to the state level, and what the state cannot, should be handled
by the Union. There is no 'centre' apart from the citizen and her
family in a sane democracy. Nor can we accept hierarchies of government.
We only have smaller or bigger governments, and nearer or farther
governments. And the citizen is the sovereign. When will our puffed
up bureaucrats and self-important politicians realize this simple
truth about liberty and democracy?
Articulations on Decentralisation
Dr.Jayaprakash Narayan's Articles