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Lahore

April 16, 2015

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Participative development

Socio-economic development at the grassroots level is unthinkable without the basic institution of local bodies fully in place and functioning. In their absence, the authority which they are vested with is usually transferred to the provincial governments. With almost all development work thus concentrated into the hands of the provincial and central governments, the multi-billion rupees mega projects take precedence over resolution of such problems that impact upon day-to-day life of majority of the people.
Dilapidated roads, unkempt schools and local hospitals, heaps of garbage littered all around, lack of proper drainage system and, above all, absence of a centuries old practice of settlement of disputes at the local level are just some of the painful reminders of depriving the people to deal with all these either on self help basis or through their elected representatives at the union, town or district level.
The local bodies system is said to have been in existence for hundreds of years. It was quite well established during the Mughal period in the sub-continent. The British made changes in it to suit their own requirements. The first major attempt to empower the local bodies initiated sometime in 1882, by Lord Ripon, the then Viceroy of British India, could not make much headway as it was considered much too innovative. Ripon had suggested some basic reforms with the twin objective of creating local bodies with administrative efficiency and political education.
Though the British created municipal corporations quite early in their period of governance but the spirit of the local-self-government was missing. However, the local bodies system was expanded in later years.
The Montague-Chelmsford Reforms of 1919 allowed greater participation of the local people in administrative and financial matters. The 1935 Act gave greater autonomy to provinces and the Ministries of Local bodies at that level started getting strengthened.
The British, it is

argued, left a reasonably good working system of local bodies. However, the post-independence period saw a sharp decline in this area. Irony of fate or compulsion of circumstances. That is perhaps how the chequered history of local bodies unfolds itself as these grassroots level institutions eclipsed into oblivion during democratic dispensations. While crying democracy full-throated and swearing by its virtues day in and day out, it sounds quite strange that often the holding of polls for the local bodies have been deferred on one pretext or the other.
In fact, all the stake-holders should usually be insisting on party-based polls. Democracy, political parties and party-based polls are the sine qua non of this system of people’s representation. This is adequately acknowledged by all those who matter but seldom given the place in hearts and minds they deserve.
Unless socio-economic development is taken down to the grassroots level and made fully participative, even the small problems being faced by the people would not be resolved. Local bodies are also known as the nurseries where democratic tradition and culture gets nourished and yet their absence for long periods only shows the nonchalance with which they have quite often been treated.
Now that the local bodies would hopefully be in place soon, let us refrain from fiddling with them as has been the practice in the past.
Peoples’ participation in resolving their local problems or development work at that level through their chosen representatives at the union, tehsil and district levels would create the age-old structure but ought to be fine-tuned with the present-day needs As the provincial governments are awash with funds after the latest NFC award, it is only fair to expect that they would encourage local bodies financially and authority-wise letting them blossom without interruptions.

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