Pitfalls of Decentralization

The conceptualization of decentralization in developing countries as practice of good governance is well-entrenched in today’s international development framework. Decentralization represents the shift of power away from centralized authority under the state to local and regionally based entities. Among other things, it emphasizes a greater role for the market and as well as participatory governance. The World Bank’s emphasis on good governance as well as funding from entities such as the MacArthur and Ford Foundations has helped enhance the popularity of the idea.

However, according to this article, the goals, aspirations and processes of decentralization are threatened and are at risk of being sidelined given the increasing prominence of Globalization and its associated processes, of which decentralization is ironically a part.


The process of local administration in India is represented by locally elected bodies known as Panchayats that are engaged in use of local knowledge and participation. However, such bodies are linked to higher levels of administration where the policy and planning process is essentially technocratic, resulting in a condition where the linkages between these levels are not well defined.

Sometimes, technocratic polities that make sense at higher levels of administration turn out to be detrimental to local interests. For example, liberalization of agricultural products in India has induced a fall in prices of produce, resulting in increased farmer suicides. On the same lines, the venturing of multinational corporations into the domain of large-scale agribusiness has threatened the livelihoods of many farmers, without any promise of alternative employment. In essence, a framework at a higher level of administration that does not have local empowerment as a focus defeats the purpose of decentralization itself.

This article is relevant to my thesis topic primarily because of the preeminent position of decentralization as an explanation for ‘success’. In recent times, a large number of public sector projects have seen power decentralization, either through the involvement of the private sector, or through scaling down the size of the intended project to a level that can be managed locally and then implementing it in multiple locations. The Rainwater Harvesting project in Chennai is no exception. However, since this article argues against this very premise, it encourages me to search for the roots of the successful outcome in a more rigorous manner.

Source: RoyChowdhury, Supriya. “Globalisation and Decentralisation.” The Hindu, January 05, 2002.




One thought on “Pitfalls of Decentralization

  1. Great, I think it’s really important that you’ve written on political infrastructure and how that effects the Rainwater Project. To push this further in your thesis proposal, it might be worthwhile to do some research on the factors that define successful versus detrimental decentralized governance within the context of your proposal.

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