Decentralization and Democratic Governance

Asha Sarangi and Lipika Ravichandran, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Relevance of the Practice

New Delhi is a typical example of urban sprawl, where the surrounding rural areas are engulfed by unplanned urbanization. In this context, the rural villages surrounding a big metropolis get transformed spatially, demographically, and socially. In the case of Delhi, the surrounding rural villages have lost their rural self-governance and the practice of conducting elections has been neglected. Here the rural villages are administered by the urban local body (Municipal Corporation of Delhi – MCD). To conclude, it is a kind of forced urbanization and the pressure of urbanization has undermined the right of rural local self-governance.

The Delhi Village Development Board (DVDB) has been set up by the State Government of Delhi to provide necessary infrastructure and services to rural and urban villages in and around Delhi. This multi-stakeholder body tries to foster organic development of rural and urban villages in Delhi.

Description of the Practice

The National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi is divided into three urban regions: the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and the Cantonment Board. The MCD is one of the largest municipal bodies in the world which caters civic services to about 11 million people. It uniquely provides civic services to both urban and rural villages located in the NCT. Due to rapid urbanization and progressive economic development, the rural population and the number of rural villages in NCT of Delhi have been in a declining trend. As per census, in 1951 there were 304 rural villages with 18 per cent rural population. According to the census 2011, the rural villages fell to 112 and the rural population declined to 2.5 per cent. At present the rural area amounts to 369 sq. km. (25 per cent) of the total NCT area of 1,483 sq. km.

In this context, the practice of holding elections to the rural self-government institutions was discarded. The last Delhi’s rural local self-government election took place in 1983. The rural population elects councilors from their areas to the MCD. In this process, the democratic decentralization has been lost as the rural villages of Delhi could not hold gram sabhas, which deliberately addresses village-specific issues.

In 2017, the State Government of Delhi set-up the DVDB (Delhi Village Development Board) for integrated development of rural and urban villages in NCT of Delhi. The DVDB advises the government on issues concerned with the infrastructural development works in all rural and urban villages of Delhi. DVDB has the scope of prioritizing projects, the identification of deficiencies, examination of overlapping functions of different agencies and the timely review of project implementations. As a body, the DVDB consists of members from various levels of government: members of parliament (MPs) and members of legislative assemblies (MLAs) of Delhi, executives of Delhi state administration, executives of Delhi’s district administration and zonal chairpersons of the MCD. 

The functions of the DVDB are the following:

  • to study the deficiencies in the existing infrastructure in Delhi rural villages;
  • to examine the nature and extent of overlapping functions amongst organizations and departments of the government;
  • to review, from time to time, the implementation of the projects and the schemes.

The following nature of works (infrastructure/capital) are further recommended by DVDB in the rural and urban villages of the NCT of Delhi:

  • construction of approach roads/link roads/village roads;
  • construction of drainage facilities;
  • development of cremation grounds, parks, playgrounds, libraries, etc.;
  • development of ponds/water bodies;
  • other need-based works like drinking water facility, street lights, etc.

The above-mentioned capital works recommended by the DVDB are executed through various agencies like I&FCD (Irrigation & Flood Control Department), MCD, NDMC, DJB (Delhi Jal Board) etc. The demands for development works in rural villages are received through the respective members of the board, i.e. elected public representatives like concerned MLAs of the rural areas. Upon reception, the proposals of works are scrutinized in terms of feasibility and estimated cost. Thereafter, the proposals are placed before the DVDB that recommends and prioritizes the works for execution through an appropriate agency.

Assessment of the Practice

As the DVDB board was constituted in 2017, it is too early to assess the outcomes of the activities of the board.  One of the best practices of the DVDB is the reclamation of a polluted wetland. Najafgarh drain is a wetland located in the rural part of south-west Delhi. It was once a vibrant ecosystem that thrived with the endangered Siberian crane. Presently it is Delhi’s most polluted water body due to direct inflow of untreated water from surrounding urban areas. In 2018, the DVDB had proposed the reclamation and landscaping of the wetland. This would lead to rejuvenation of the water body and its ecosystem.

References to Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications

Datta A, ‘Constitutional Status of Local Government in India’ (1987) 33 Indian Journal of Public Administration 309

Jha SN, ‘Local Bodies’ in Sachchidanand N Jha, Economic Survey & Government Plan Programme and Policies (Kalinjar 2013)   <>

Maddick H, Panchayati Raj: A Study of Rural Local Government in India (Longman 1970)

Maheshwari S, Local Government in India (Orient Longman 1971)

Mallik SN, ‘Local Self-Government in India’ (1929) 145 The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 36