Merger of six departments is aimed at improving service delivery
The merging of six departments to form a Local Self-Government Department (LSGD) Common Service, which will become a reality in February, is set to be another landmark for local-level administration in Kerala, 25 years after the implementation of the People’s Plan Campaign.
The merger is aimed at improving service delivery and coordination between the various wings of local administration and planning.
On February 18, annually observed as panchayat day, the five departments of panchayat, urban affairs, rural development, town and country planning and LSGD engineering will be merged to form a common service. The headquarters will be located at the Swaraj Bhavan here under a principal director. At the district-level, offices will be set up under a joint director, which will act as facilitators for all local bodies in each district.
“What is being envisaged is a support system for local bodies, bringing together all services under a single umbrella. Though plan campaign had brought the public into the planning process, there were some level of short-sightedness and fragmentation in the planning at local levels. The new system will enable planning with a long-term perspective. Projects related to waste management or disaster preparedness in a region are not limited to a specific local body. It needs a lot of coordination and joint projects between local bodies, which this system will help achieve,” said C.P. Vinod, chairperson, Local Government Commission, which prepared the functional manual and draft rules for integration.
Under the present system, many of the local level administrative set-ups work in silos, even though some of their areas of control and responsibilities do overlap. For instance, there are at times coordination issues in the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) because the implementation is by the grama panchayat, the supervision is under the block panchayat and the district office is under the rural development department. In the cleaning of rivers too, which pass through rural and urban local bodies, there are problems of coordination. A district office with all these departments merged together can save some funds in projects with common and overlapping aims.
The initial talks for the common service began in 2007, under the Left Democratic Front government led by V.S. Achuthanandan. It figured in the Governor’s policy address. Though an order was issued in 2011, the integration plan remained in cold storage until 2016 when the LDF government began working on it. The government held multiple consultations with service organisations. The committee which was formed to frame the draft rules also considered the demands of these organisations. One of the major demands put forward by the organisations was the protection of service terms of the existing employees, while drafting new recruits into the common service. This was agreed upon.
Though the Cabinet took a decision on the merger in July 2020, it was delayed further due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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