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New Delhi: Acknowledging that India’s attempts to devolve power to local self-government units have not been successful, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday urged the effective decentralization of administrative powers to ensure inclusive growth.

In a speech to mark the 20th anniversary of the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution—notified on 24 April 1993—Singh called on various arms of the central and state governments to ensure that decentralization becomes a reality.

“Decentralization is essential to get inclusive growth in a large and diverse country like India...the purpose of panchayati raj is decentralization under which people get the right to run administration themselves. We have to make efforts so that this does not remain a slogan but becomes a reality in our lifetime," Singh told a gathering of panchayat heads in New Delhi. “For this we will have to give responsibilities and powers to the elected representatives in real terms."

Seeking the transfer of power to elected representatives, panchayats, block and district councils in rural areas and the municipalities and corporations in urban areas, Singh said that complaints that bureaucrats don’t want to share power were commonplace and this mindset needed to change.

“I believe we have a lot left to do to empower the panchayati raj institutions," he said.

The need to empower local people through institutions of self-government was recognized by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who launched panchayati raj in Nagaur, Rajasthan, on 2 October 1959. But it was former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi who in 1989 brought in constitutional amendments to ensure that panchayats were given constitutional status and recognition.

But Gandhi was unable to muster enough support to get the amendments passed through both Houses of Parliament and it was only in December 1992 that the measures received the necessary parliamentary backing.

The 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution— that provide for the establishment of village, block and district councils in rural areas and municipalities and corporations in urban areas—were notified on 24 April 1993.

India currently has 250,000 panchayats with 3.2 million representatives, 1.2 million of whom are women.

On Wednesday, Singh said that local governments could play a key role in development but their success depended on factors such as the capacity of the elected representatives and the decentralization of power.

“Under the central government’s 12th Five-Year Plan, we have earmarked 6,437 crore to strengthen panchayati raj institutions," the Prime Minister said, noting that this was a substantial increase from the funds allocated in the previous plan.

“We have allotted more money this time to help the states in their initiatives to strengthen panchayats," he said. “I hope that state governments will use this fund thoroughly in strengthening institutions of local self-governance. It is our promise that the central government will provide all possible help to states so that our development process becomes more inclusive and sustainable."

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