From ArticleWorld

Decentralization is a process that slowly but surely transfers power from the top to the lower levels of administration. Such administration may be related to a public authority or a private organization.

Human society is heterogeneous in nature. It is comprised of various sectors that are, again, different by culture, tradition, religion, language, and heritage. Such sectors may be individuals or groups.

Decentralization aims to achieve participation of all such groups in the process of administration. At an advanced stage the participation process is institutionalized, giving birth to representative corporate bodies. An example is the local municipality where councilors and mayors are elected by the people. Subsequently, through the process of decentralization the municipality is allowed to carry on local governance by delegation of necessary resources and powers from the Government. Prior to such delegation, all power is centralized within the Government. After delegation, they have been decentralized and handed over to the local municipal council.

Decentralization components

Decentralization, as a process, is the outcome of the gradual decline of colonial systems throughout the world. Power was much too centralized in the colonial era, with a large part of the Indian Sub-Continent, Africa and United States under foreign rule. Centralization of power is also seen in African and Asian countries, where the monarchy prevails even today. All power is concentrated in the central authority and very little is delegated either to the local self-governments or any other component of the society.

In its true sense, decentralization requires relinquishment of such power by the central authority of a state, whether it is a monarchy, an autocracy or even a heavily centralized democracy. Basic components of decentralization may be summed up as:

  • Increased political, economic, and social participation broadening the base

of democracy.

  • Creation of an accountable and responsive public authority.
  • Putting in place a transparent and participatory process of administration.
  • Ensuring political stability and national integrity due to widespread participation of stakeholders from all sectors of the society.

Decentralization constraints

Relinquishment of power is sometimes too threatening for centralized governments. To date, decentralization does not have an impressive track record. The main reason for its limited success has been the lack of political will to relinquish power. At times the bureaucracy feels too threatened by the radical changes to bring up participatory democracy. Since decentralization calls for income redistribution, it may threaten the economic status of the wealthy. Unless and until there is a combination of political will, psychological readiness, and social sacrifice, decentralization may not occur in the true sense.

Decentralization examples

A clear example of the decentralization process is that of the Netherlands. Waterschappen, or Water Councils, were created centuries ago in this country. They were created with the aim of managing water resources more conveniently and to the benefit of all concerned.

Traders, manufacturers, marketers, and cultivators joined hands to form this Water Council. This type of system is followed in many countries. Another example is that of India, where for effective management of water resources, Water Panchayats have been formed. But on the flip side of the coin, an organization of builders in the Netherlands turned out to be a huge fraud, as instead of looking to the interest of the people they conspired to inflate prices excessively.