Centre for Local Democracy

Enriching local democracy initiatives through public participation

The Union government, some state governments and civil society organisations (CSOs) have taken efforts towards the practice of local democracy in India. Local democracy is often considered a means to facilitate public participation, improve service delivery, strengthen communities, end marginalisation and improve development outcomes.

Discussions on participatory planning, poverty alleviation, empowerment of women and Dalits contribute to a better understanding of local democracy. However, it is a long road ahead. Much remains to be done before the promise of the Constitution is fulfilled. 

About the Centre 

The Centre for Local Democracy supports Azim Premji Foundation’s work on deepening and widening local democratic institutions and processes on the ground through partners in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha, Gujarat and Uttarakhand.

The Centre came into existence in 2020. It is a collaborative initiative between Azim Premji University, the Philanthropy, Field Institutes and various partners engaged in the Field. 

Research Grants

The Centre hosts the research grants of the Foundation on the same subject; the first cycle of the grant has already been released in 2021, and the second cycle in 2022. 

First Cycle (Research Funding Programme 2020)

Ongoing Study

Name of the studyName of the Researchers (PI/​Co PI) and the Institution (if any) 
Unpacking indigenous self-governance amidst FRA: Comparative insights from Nilambur and Sigur areas of the Nilgiri Biosphere ReserveJyotsna Krishnakumar (PI), Keystone Foundation

Completed Study

Name of the studyName of the Researchers (PI/​Co PI) and the Institution (if any) 
Study of the institution of Gram Kachahari in Bihar, IndiaManabendra Nath Roy, Principal Investigator(PI) and Sabari Bandyopadhaya, Co-Principal Investigator (Co PI), Sigma Foundation
Adaptive management practices in the governance of CFR areas in Tadoba TR bufferPoorva Joshi (PI), Independent Researcher

Second Cycle (Research Funding Programme 2021)

Ongoing Study

Name of the studyName of the Researchers (PI/​Co PI) and the Institution (if any) 
Local democracy in the woods: Understanding decentralised forest governance through Forests Rights Act, 2006Satyapriya Rout (PI), University of Hyderabad
Gender-sharing between local leaders and frontline workers: Implications for public servicesDeepak Singhania (PI) and Anupam Sharma (Co-PI), Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar; Soledad Prillaman (Co-PI)

Completed Study

Name of the studyName of the Researchers (PI/​Co PI) and the Institution (if any) 
Does identity politics subsume local governance? A study of the Darjeeling hillsGorky Chakraborty (PI) and Biswanath Saha (Co-PI), Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata
Functioning of tribal political structure: Interaction in traditional tribal self-governance and constitutional panchayats in selected tribal villages of south GujaratJames Dabhi (PI), Kanchan Bharati (Co-PI) and Dhananjay Kumar (Co-PI), Centre for Culture and Development

Continuing Education Course: Local Democracy: Theory, Policy and Practice

The Centre offers a continuing education course named Local Democracy: Theory, Policy and Practice. The course is designed to equip learners with knowledge and understanding of the key issues related to local democracy.

The course is intended for individuals and organisations working on or interested in local democracy/​Panchayati Raj issues. The course explores the theory, policy, and practice of local democracy in India, with a focus on Panchayati Raj, Forest Rights and PESA areas.

Participants are provided an overview of various ideas and policies that informs India’s local democracy initiatives. Case studies of successful collaborations between local governments and CSOs guide participants in understanding present scenarios and develop their own vision and projects related to the strengthening of local democracy in their respective field areas.

For more details about the course, check here.

Gram Sabha Ki Kahani: A local democracy narrative exercise

The initiative focuses on building stories that focus on the importance of strong local democratic institutions showcasing change stories, stories promoting innovation, and best practices from various parts of the country to inform public discourse and action and create a conducive ecosystem.

Research Event

Watch videos →

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act, passed by the Government of India in 2006, popularly known as Forest Rights Act (FRA), is considered a unique piece of legislation which has changed the status of Adivasi and forest-dwelling communities in India from encroachers’ who lived under the threat of eviction, to rightful inhabitants on their traditionally occupied land and custodians of forest resources.

The Forest Rights Act has the potential to restore rights of forest dwellers on 40 million hectares of forest land in 170,000 villages. This covers one quarter of the villages in India. At least 90 million tribal people stand to benefit from recognition of forest rights under the Forest Rights Act. Despite the importance of this legislation, the implementation remains weak, owing to several challenges on the ground. 

Azim Premji Foundation currently supports ~20 civil society organisations in Chhattisgarh for facilitating implementation of the Forest Rights Act. The FRA training programme is a capacity building initiative by the Centre for Local Democracy, currently in its pilot phase in Chhattisgarh. 

This programme is planned in 2 phases, with the first phase focusing on conducting training programmes for field staff from these organisations, and the second focused on building capacities of government officials and staff involved in the implementation of the Act, so that the full potential of recognition of rights can be realised. 

During the course of a 3‑day training for the field staff, participants learn about the history of the legislation, the process for different rights such as Individual Forest Rights, Community Forest Rights etc., as well as engage in activities such as GPS mapping of forest boundaries, holding a Gram Sabha meeting and preparing a nazri naksha. 

Azim Premji Foundations grant making agency, Philanthropy, works with more than 80 partner organisations to strengthen Local Democracy in India through two approaches: 

  1. Local Democracy Approach: The broad engagement approach under Local Democracy is to work with the Gram Sabha, the CBOs and the elected representative body of the Gram Panchayat together with local youth.
  2. Welfare Approach: To strengthen last mile delivery of welfare schemes (rights and entitlements) to vulnerable communities from the perspective of citizens’ rights.
Outcomes:

Local Democracy: 

  • Through current active grants and through our partners-
  • Reached 1131 GPs across 44 blocks of 35 Districts in 10 states engaging ~ 3.9 million people
  • Worked closely with 15k+ elected panchayat members (with focus on women elected representatives)
  • Regularised 900 + standing committees (meetings) and functioning of these committees improved
  • 1500+ Village Development Plans facilitated where decentralised planning took place with a focus on the needs of the vulnerable sections of the communities.
  • 5k community leaders (with a special emphasis on women and youth) identified and groomed. Many of them who fought panchayat elections have won.
  • The narrative building (video documentaries) work through the CLD has been quite useful for CSO functionaries, bureaucracy and have been watched in relevant training programmes regularly.

Welfare:

  • The current active grants have targeted to reach more than 450k households (~ 2.0 million citizens (This includes the Jharkhand LD-Welfare grants) from most vulnerable communities and facilitating them to access welfare entitlements (including access to work under NREGA) from 2578 villages of 635 GPs in 68 blocks of 51 districts across 9 states. Our grants covered the following areas-
  • Partners and members of the foundation got technical understanding of gaps for exclusion, gaps in end-to-end delivery mechanisms. It has helped partners delineate grassroots engagement strategies and helped us curate Welfare grants more pragmatically.
  • Foundation has supported a network of CSOs in Rajasthan (SR Abhiyan) to train and deploy resource persons to engage with social audits and NREGA. A similar intervention is now designed with a consortium of CSOs in Karnataka to train MGNREGA mates. The CSO networks are working in collaboration with the state governments.