Participatory Budgeting in India: Key Issues

Participatory Budgeting may be referred to as a process by which the civic officials, elected representatives sit along with the citizens to decide the issues that need the attention of the government authorities and arrive at a conclusion as to the items to be included in the budget of the government.  The concept is closely connected with the theory of ‘good governance’ given by the World Bank in 1992. The main ideas behind this theory have been enlisted as political accountability, efficiency and effectiveness in the manner in which countries, states and cities are governed.

Participatory budgeting that grew out of the ideas behind civic engagement, is one of the areas of good governance. The concept of civic engagement first found mention in the governments of Ghana and Brazil. While Ghana followed the legal path by including civic engagement in its Constitution and enacting a legislation on it, Brazil followed the political path by slowly introducing such a culture in governance. Participatory budgeting was used for the first time in Porte Alegre in Brazil in 1989. It was used by the local administration to develop reformist programmes that would help in reducing socio-economic inequalities in Brazilian society.

Benefits of Participatory Budgeting

It is a very good mechanism to run efficient governance because it is the people who are the ultimate beneficiaries of the product of governance. Some of the specific benefits are:

  • Empowerment of citizens-This forum allows citizens to voice their opinions while deciding on the major issues affecting them. They can prioritize some issues while sidelining others and can decide on allocations in the budget, which is a major economic unit affecting the citizens the most. It is also a mechanism by which citizens decide on the expenditure of their own money.
  • Beneficial for the government authorities-We often criticize the government for undertaking policies and measures or making allocations in the budget that are either of no value or are disadvantageous to the citizens. This mainly happens when there is a communication gap between the citizens and government, leading to a mismatch in the demands. Through direct participation of citizens, the government can understand demands of the citizens better.

Participatory Budgeting in India

The Constitution of India by virtue of 74th Constitutional Amendment incorporated certain aspects of participatory budgeting. Its main aim was to address the issue of lack of good governance in the local government bodies. The amendment introduced some participation by citizens in the municipal committees. But there has not been many instances of participatory budgeting in India with the exception of Pune.

Participatory Budgeting in Pune

In 2006, Janwani, a local NGO of Pune along with local government launched participatory budgeting in Pune. It was launched at the same time in all of its 76 wards. The citizens in every ward were invited to give their opinions and suggestions on the allocation of amount to the budget. Usually a particular amount for the budget is set aside for participatory budgeting. Its value was Rs 37.4 crores for the 2015-16 budget. The citizens collectively identified six areas which were: electricity, water supply, drainage, roads, improvement of slums, building construction or repair. The amounts were then allocated for these issues. Around 6000 suggestions were received. The participation has been increasing day by day..

Participatory Budgeting in Kerala

Before Pune, Kerala too had tried one such model in 1996. It implemented it state wise. The initiative was part of its Ninth Plan and since then 40% of budget is allocated to participatory budgeting and its an element of state plan. It has been possible due to the Total Literacy Campaign and People’s Resource Mapping Program which have helped people to participate efficiently.

Future Prospects

  • The government has come up with the website mygov.in through which efforts are being made to increase citizen participation in governance.
  • Through its Smart Cities Challenge, initiative is being taken to increase involvement of municipal governments with the citizens for improving the cities.

It is a undoubtedly a very effective way of budget management. But several questions arise with its usefulness in terms of cost and impact. Moreover, it is difficult to implement in a society where people are highly uneducated and are hardly aware of their bigger problems. It is not possible in a disturbed society also. However, through  proper education and awareness it is the best mechanism.

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