Daily The Hindu Editorials Notes – Mains Sure Shot
Question – Comment on the functioning of local governments in India? Are they mere agents of the higher levels of government? ( 250 words)
Context – The sub-optimal functioning of local bodies.
Why are local self governments required?
- Given diverse habitation patterns, political and social history, it is important for states to assign functions to local governments.
- Each region has its own problems and needs. Even in the same state, some districts are more developed and some regions are in stark contrast so one homogenous model imposed from above won’t help much.
- It is for this reason that the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments were made. They mandated the establishment of panchayats and municipalities as elected local level governments.
- They devolved (i.e. transferring of power from higher to lower level) a range of powers and responsibilities and made them accountable to the people for their implementation (through mandatory elections after every 5 years).
- But presently, local governments are ineffective and have become mere agents to do the instructions of higher level governments.
What is the meaning of devolution?
- Devolution according to the constitution does not merely mean delegation (i.e. passing on the responsibility). It means, assigning by law, well defined governance functions and responsibilities to the local governments and backing it with adequate grant of funds and some designated taxes meant specifically for local bodies, so that they can carry out their functions well.
- And above all they are to be made account to the voters, who will elect them after every five years and not much to the higher authorities.
- But this has failed to happen, rather the ground scenario is just the opposite. The elected representatives of the local bodies are much more catering to the higher authorities than to the local public.
What has been done?
- A study for the Fourteenth Finance Commission by the Centre for Policy Research, shows that all States have formally devolved powers with respect to five core functions – water supply, sanitation, roads and communication, streetlight provision and the management of community assets to the gram panchayats.
What are the reasons for ineffectiveness of the local governments?
- The Constitution mandates that panchayats and municipalities shall be elected every five years and enjoins States to devolve functions and responsibilities to them through law. But elections do not take place in time. The states often keep on postponing them. For example – In 2005, when the Gujarat government postponed the Ahmedabad corporation elections, a Supreme Court constitutional bench held that under no circumstances can such postponements be allowed. Yet, in Tamil Nadu, panchayat elections have not been held for over two years now, resulting in the State losing finance commission grants from the Union government.
- There are also structural problems like- First, the volume of money set apart for them is inadequate to meet their basic requirements. Second, much of the money given is inflexible i.e. if they are granted for water related purpose then they have to be used for water issues alone. The fund can’t be used for sanitation even if the fund is lying ideal. Third, little has been done to enable and strengthen local governments to raise their own taxes and user charges. They are completely dependent on funds from higher authority.
- Finally, local governments do not have the staff to perform even basic tasks. Furthermore, as most staff are hired by higher level departments and placed with local governments on deputation, they do not feel responsible to the latter; they function as part of a vertically integrated departmental system.
- Also panchayats have become mere front offices for several Union government programmes. For example, the Union government’s programme design for cities is inimical to decentralisation because the ‘Smart City’ programme does not devolve its funds to the municipalities; States have been forced to constitute ‘special purpose vehicles’ to ring fence these grants and at times they are tainted by mixing them up with municipality budgets.
- Also people don’t have much trust in the local governments due to corruption. It is true that corruption is there in the functioning of these local bodies like contracts in exchange for bribes or contestants giving money to people to vote for them. But this is largely due to the fact that corruption at the local level is easier for the people to recognise than corruption at the higher levels. There is a whole chain of corruption that goes on like even the officers posted at the behest of Members of Legislative Assemblies, often extract bribes from local governments for plan clearances. But it the local level corruption that is visible.
- So, a market chain of corruption operates, involving a partnership between elected representatives and officials at all levels. there is no evidence to show that corruption has increased due to decentralisation. Decentralised corruption tends to get exposed faster than national or State-level corruption. People erroneously perceive higher corruption at the local level, simply because it is more visible.
Need / Way ahead:
- First, gram sabhas and wards committees in urban areas have to be revitalised. Common people should me made part of the discussions and meetings of the local bodies. In this case new systems of Short Message Services (SMS), or social media groups could be used for facilitating discussions between members of a grama sabha.
- Second, local government organisational structures have to be strengthened. Panchayats are burdened with a huge amount of work that other departments thrust on them, without being compensated for the extra administrative costs. This had to be stopped through service-level agreements between state departments and local bodies so that they do not pressurise them to perform more services than authorised.
- Third, is the need to deal with local taxation. The local governments are reluctant to collect property taxes and user charges fully. They are happy with the top-down grants because they know that if they collect taxes rigorously from the people, they will have to be more accountable to them as to how they have used it.
- Overall the people have to be made aware that though decentralisation is always a messy form of democracy still it helps to keep a track of corruption at least at local level because corruption at higher we may not even know.
Question – what is the Arab Spring? Comment on the ongoing Yemen crisis.(250 words)
Context – The U.S. has signalled that it will facilitate talks among the multiple factions in Yemen through Oman, a neutral player.
What is the Arab Spring?
- The Arab Spring is referred to a series of pro-democracy, anti-government protests and armed rebellion intended to bring a regime change across the Middle East and North Africa that began since 2010.
- Though it met with success in some countries still its consequences have been far from predictable.
The Yemen Crisis explained:
- The conflict has its roots in the failure of a political transition that was supposed to bring stability to Yemen following an Arab Spring uprising.
- The uprising forced its longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, in 2011.
- When Mr Hadi took over as President, he struggled to deal with a variety of problems, including attacks by jihadists, a separatist movement in the south, the continuing loyalty of security personnel to Saleh, as well as corruption, unemployment and food insecurity.
- Taking adavantage of the weakness of President Hadi, The Houthi movement, which champions Yemen’s Zaidi ‘Shia’ Muslim minority, captured Yemen’s northern heartland of Saada province and neighbouring areas.
- Disillusioned with the transition, many ordinary Yemenis – including Sunnis – supported the Houthis and in late 2014 and early 2015, the Houthi rebels took over Sanaa.
- The Houthis and security forces loyal to Saleh then attempted to take control of the entire country, forcing Mr Hadi to flee abroad in March 2015.
- Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly ‘Sunni’ Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Mr Hadi’s government.
- This coalition received logistical and intelligence support from the US, UK and France.
- At the start of the war Saudi officials forecast that the war would last only a few weeks. But four years of military stalemate have followed.
- Coalition ground troops landed in the southern port city of Aden in August 2015 and helped drive the Houthis and their allies out of much of the south over the next few months.
More recent developments:
- The Houthis meanwhile have not been dislodged from Sanaa, and have been able to maintain a siege of the third city of Taiz and to fire ballistic missiles across the border with Saudi Arabia.
- Militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the local affiliate of the rival Islamic State group (IS) have taken advantage of the chaos by seizing territory in the south and carrying out deadly attacks, notably in Aden.
- The rebels launched a ballistic missile aimed at Saudi Arabia in November 2017. This prompted the Saudi-led coalition to tighten its blockade of Yemen.
- Also, the coalition said they wanted to halt the smuggling of weapons to the rebels by Iran – an accusation which Iran has completely denied – but the restrictions led to substantial increases in the prices of food and fuel, helping to push more people into food insecurity.
- In June 2018, the coalition attempted to break the deadlock on the battlefield by launching a major offensive on the rebel-held Red Sea city of Hudaydah, whose port is the principal lifeline for almost two thirds of Yemen’s population.
- In December, government and Houthi representatives agreed to a ceasefire in Hudaydah city and port and promised to redeploy their forces by mid-January. But both sides have yet to start withdrawing, raising fears that the deal will collapse.
The humanitarian cost of this man-made crisis:
- According to UNICEF, “Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world – and children are being robbed of their futures”.
- more than 24 million people – some 80 percent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children. Since the conflict escalated in March 2015, the country has become a living hell for the country’s children.
- Around 360,000 children under 5 years old are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and require treatment, with cases of acute watery diarrhoea and suspected cholera soaring in early 2019. The damage and closure of schools and hospitals has disrupted access to education and health services, leaving children even more vulnerable and robbing them of their futures.
- According to the UN report, at least 7,025 civilians have been killed and 11,140 injured since March 2015, with 65% of the deaths attributed to Saudi-led coalition air strikes.
- Thousands more civilians have died from preventable causes, including malnutrition, disease and poor health.
- About 20 million need help securing food, including almost 10 million who the UN says are just a step away from famine and almost 240,000 of those people are facing “catastrophic levels of hunger”.
Need/ Way ahead:
- The leaders need to try to reach a solution as soon as possible through peaceful talks with substantial outcomes.
- The plight of the people on the ground has to felt and the civil community should come forward united for the cause.