Dialogue  January - March, 2008 , Volume 9  No. 3

People's Participation in Decentralized Planning: A case Study of Nagalandtc "People's Participation in Decentralized Planning\: A case Study of Nagaland"

Saponti Borthakur*

Decentralized Planning means preparation and implementation of development plan by the people for the welfare of the people.

There were Panchayat republics in the ‘Vedic age’ in ancient India. These self-governing institutions of ancient India were the backbone of the true Indian democracy.

Between ancient, medieval and modern period the growth of panchayat had ups and downs. The famous Mayo’s Resolution of 1870 gave impetus to the development of local institutions by enlarging their powers and responsibilities. In 1882, Lord Ripon provided democratic framework to these institutions. In 1907, the famous Royal Commission on Decentralization was established which gave a boost to the local self-government. There after, came a series of efforts in the form of Committee, Commission and Act (The Government of India Act, 1911; The Government of India Act, 1935). However, the colonial rulers could not promote much to local self-government.

After independence Panchayats were included in Article 40, under the Directive Principles of the Indian Constitutions.

In 1957, a committee headed by Balwant Rai Mehta recommended to set up three- tier Panchayati Raj institution in India and by mid 1990 Panchayat had reached all parts of the country. But the support and the interest to the Panchayats did not last long. The Government of India again set up a high power committee headed by Ashok Mehta in 1977. The committee recommended inter-alia, adoption of two-tier system at District and Mandal leval. This had left out the ‘Gram Sabha’ from the panchayt.This removal of ‘Gram Sabha’ had distanced the people at the grass roots from the PRIs and within a short period the entire PRI became inactive and moribund.

In order to reinvigorate and revitalized PRIs, the govt. of India had again appointed G.V.K Rao (1985) and L.M. Shingvi Committee (1986). Both the Committees had recommended inter – alia, the following:

          1.   To grant constitutional status to the panchayats.

          2.   Devolution of financial resources to the PRIs.

          3.   Conversation of PRIs from two-tier to three-tier by reintroducing Gram Sabha in the structure.

Thus, Indian Parliament have given constitutional status to the PRIs with the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution in1993.

With the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution of India in 1993, Panchayati Raj Institutions and Urban Local Bodies have taken roots all over the country and these have brought Decentralized Planning and Democracy closer to the people. However, effective Decentralization has not taken place in many states for various regions.

Rural Self-Government Institution in Nagaland

Being a Sixth Schedule State of the Constitution, Nagaland opted for continuation of its traditional self-government institution. However, to streamline and strengthen the traditional self-governing institution, the Government of Nagaland had passed an Act known as the Nagaland Village, Area, and Regional Council Act in 1970. This Act had brought about uniformity in the structure of Village Council throughout the State and removed several weaknesses that persisted in the old system. This Act was amended in 1973 and finally repealed in 1978 and replaced with a new legislation called Nagaland Village and Area Council Act 1978.

Village and Area Council:

Traditionally every Village in Nagaland is managed by a Village Council (VC). This grass-roots level traditional tribal institution “Village Council” is a Council of Village elders (called Council Members) elected by the adult villagers of the village for a period of five years. The hereditary Village Chief and the ‘Goan Boora’ (village Headman) of the village are the ex-officio member of the Council. (A Village may have more than one Gaon Boora, if it is inhabited by more than one clan. In that case the Gaon Boora of the largest clan would represent the Village in the Council).

The Area Council at the Circle level is a council constituted by the representatives sent by each Village Council within the circle. Both the Nagaland Village, Area and Regional Council Act, 1970, (now replaced) and the Nagaland Village and Area Council Act 1978 gave statutory recognition to these traditional Village and Area Councils as organs of local self-government. The Village Council is responsible for maintaining the law and order situation of the village, while the Area Council looks after the law and order problems involving more than one village and common interest of the villages within a circle. Area Council is an intermediary body in between district and village. However, Area Council has been eliminated in 1990 by amending the 1978 Act.

Village Development Board (VDB):

Village Development Board came into existence in 1980, in accordance with the Nagaland Village and Area Council Act, 1978 as a subsidiary to Village Council. It is an unique institution fashioned in line with the ingenuity of the Naga traditional village administration with the concept of grass-roots planning to give greater focus on rural areas and its population.

At present each recognized village has a Village Council to look after the law and order situation of the village and a Village Development Board to undertake development activities in the village. The VDB aims at removing the existing gap between the rural and urban areas through the creation of basic infrastructure as well as undertaking employment generation programmes. For this a discretionary fund at the disposal of the VDB is given to enable the rural people to effectively participate in the overall process of rural development and also enable them to chalk out their own village development plans according to their determined set of priorities. The Personal and the Development Departments of the Government provide technical guidance at the time of formulation as well as implementation of development programmes.

The works done by the VDB are supervised and certified by the BDO or Circle Officer/ Additional Deputy Commissioner on behalf of the Deputy Commissioner. Hence, in Nagaland decentralized planning for development startedsince 1980, after setting up of VDB as a development agency in each Village Council and the process of development and modernization started in Nagaland, since then (1980).

People’s Participation:

The Dictionary meaning of participation is “to share in.” Participation may be defined as conscious involvement of people in transforming the society. It is often referred to cover all forms of action by which people “take part” in the programmes being administered by the government or institution. The concept of people’s participation is an integral part of our Democratic Welfare State contained in our Constitution. To start with people’s participation in actual practice was like more than getting contribution from them, in Labour, cash, gifts of land and materials for works programmes, such as roads, wells, irrigation schemes, school houses, etc.

Since the dawn of plan period, Government of India has been focusing primarily on the rural development programmes and initiated many new programmes on the recommendations of various Committees and Commissions, which laid emphasis on people’s participation. It is universally acknowledged that the goals of our socio-economic development are not achievable unless the citizens actively involve themselves in the preparation, implementation and follow up of the developmental plans and programmes.

Participation has the following two approaches.

1. Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA):

Rapid Rural Appraisal is an approach developed in 1970’s conducted on site by a multi-disciplinary team, which uses simple non standard methods and local people’s knowledge to elicit, analyze, and evaluate information and hypotheses about rural life and resources that are relevant for taking action. It is suitable for evaluating, diagnosing and identifying rural situations, particularly when quick action is called for; for giving an initial orientation in a project region, for analyzing a special problem, for resolving conflict, or for focusing on certain issues and monitoring and evaluation.

2. Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA):

Participatory Rural Appraisal as a basic new approach developed around 1988-89. PRA stresses that those actually affected should assume an active role in analyzing their living conditions, share outcomes and to plan their activities. It concentrates on strengthening decision-making abilities of local communities while bringing about changes in the attitudes of local communities, while bringing about changes in the attitudes of outsiders regarding their role in the process. The focus is on learning from, with and through community members.

In India, the Panchayats are expected to manage their resources and implement schemes for socio-economic development and social justice. Much depends on how the elected representatives use the available resources for the benefit of the community and how skillfully they perform the functions and how vigilant and active the “Gram Sabhas” are. The “Gram Sabhas” can be regarded as the base on which PRIs rest.

It is widely acknowledged that the goals of our socio-economic development are not achievable unless the citizens actively involve themselves in the preparation, implementation and follow up the developmental plans and programmes.

People’s Participation in Nagaland:

In Nagaland, Generally larger participation in social work can be seen, whenever they are called for. However, in sense of active participation in decision making the participation is very low. This is mainly due to lack of awareness and illiteracy.


This study is primarily based on field data collected from the sample areas/households through survey and interview method. Secondary data available are also used for the study. These are collected from the official records, journals and publications of the development departments etc., during the period 1997 - 98 to 2001 – 2002.

Seventeen villages /VDBs of six sample blocks of three sample districts was selected purposively for the study which covers in total 556 households.

Participation in VDB/Meetings:

The study reflects village wise participation rate in the annual general meetings in each of the sample blocks during the period 1997-98 to 2001-02. It has been found that 462 respondents, i.e., 83.09 % of the respondents attend the annual general meetings of VDB out of total 556 respondents. Among these 462 respondents 115 respondents, i.e., 24.89% occasionally attend the meetings, and 347, i.e., 75.11% regularly attend the meetings. However, the attendance including both regular and occasional varies from 100% to lowest 60.00% from village to village. 94 respondents i.e., 16.91% never attend the meeting. The reason behind not attending meetings was due to their involvement in ‘Kheti’ or in household work. Some other respondents went out to attend the office in the town.

The study further shows that out of 462 respondents (who attend the meetings both occasionally and regularly) only 235 respondents, i.e., 50.87% actively participated in the discussion. It has been found that active participation is higher among the literate people. Other respondents hesitate to speak due to their ignorance and illiteracy. Most people are not aware about the schemes. Many of them attend the meetings just to listen to the members and other people. However, the rate of active participation varies from 66.67% to 41.66% from village to village.

Participation in Development Projects:

Though many of the employment generating projects created by the VDBs were successful, yet some of them did not succeed well. Table -2 shows that out of 687 beneficiary units of various projects, 520 units have been found successful, where the rate of success was 75.70 percent. The reason for success was the desire of the beneficiaries to work for earning and their participation in their projects. It shows that if means are provided through rural income generating projects, more participation can be expected, which can solve the rural unemployment problem.

An Evaluation:

In Nagaland, larger participation is seen in community works, whenever they are called for. Hence, people’s participation in community works in Nagaland is good. However, the rate of active participation in decision making is not encouraging.

Active people’s participation in the decision-making, formulation and implementation of plans and programmes can reduce corruption and improve transparency and accountability.

Lack of accountability of the implementing agencies either to the government or to the people has been the single major cause for misappropriation of funds in the development programmes. Delivery of goods and services to the people in a faire, just, effective, responsive and open way active people’s participation is a must.

The rate of active people’s participation in the VDB is not much encouraging. Village people are not at all aware about the activities of VDBs. It has been found that 70% of the populations do not know anything about fund allocation, schemes or the programmes being implemented in their villages. Even some VDB members are also found unaware about fund allocation and schemes implemented in the villages. Hence, it is suggested that the schemes/programmes being implemented and fund allotted against each schemes/programmes be written clearly in a common place in the village, which can be made mandatory. This can grow people’s consciousness and become effective to reduce misappropriation of fund.

VDBs are also under bureaucratic control. One of the goals of decentralized planning is to remove bureaucratic control and political interference in development process by expanding economic decision-making process at the local levels. Political interference and bureaucratic control reduce the credibility and effectiveness of decentralized governance.

There are allegations and counter allegations of corruption between the officials of DRDA/BDO on the one hand and the VDB functionaries on the other. While the former group alleges that there is corruption in spending fund by the VDBs. The letter alleges that officials of the DRDA/BDO offices pilfer from the fund meant for VDBs. This reflects that there is lack of transparency and accountability of the implementing agencies either to the government or to the people. One of the major drawbacks of the development process has been corruption in the development works. But the real development can be achieved if there is high standard of transparency, accountability and access, which are the characteristics of good Governance. This is achieved if people actively participate in the decision making, formulation and implementation.

To ensure active people’s participation in decision making massive awareness programmes for eradication of illiteracy is a must. However, VDBs programme has not included eradication of illiteracy, which is also a part of human resource development. Most of the villagers are not at all aware about the rules, functions, activities, money drawn under various schemes, etc. by the VDBs. The model rules of VDB prepared by the government are difficult to understand to the common people, since it is written in English language only.              

It is the duty of the Government, NGOs and VDBs to make people aware by massive campaigning and providing easy and widespread information. Illiteracy has to be overcome at the earliest possible. Proper co-ordination with VDBs and government officials need to be maintained. At the same time, transparency and accountability of the Government Departments and VDBs must be ascertained.


Decentralization of power from centre to states, states to districts and areas within districts and villages can be one of best ways of radically restructuring an over centralized system of governance, which may be somewhat removable from people, and have limited direct accountability to them. Decentralization results in empowering people, promoting public participation and increasing efficiency.

Successfully implementation of development programmes requires adequate funds, appropriate policy framework and effective delivery machinery. Availabilioty6 of fund alone may be a necessary but not a sufficient condition for tackling the problems of poverty and backwardness. Optimum utilization of fund is required to achieve sustainable growth.

However, without good governance and programmed implementation, much of the vast quantum of resources being spent for development is wasted. Therefore, it should be so designed as to bring about improve transparency, better accountability and streamlining of the structure of government.

It is the grassroots level organization like VDB, which can ensures transparency and accountability in public life through active participation. Concerted efforts are, therefore, necessary to equip the grassroots organization through devolution of powers, functions and finance along with necessary training and capacity building.


1.                  Dr. Borthakur Saponti (2006), “Decentralized Planning in India: A Case Study of Nagaland”, A Ph.D. Thesis of Dibrugarh University.


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