Former president Pranab Mukherjee Saturday called for massive decentralisation in institutional building and questioned the legal authority of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).
He said there was a need to further strengthen the Panchayati Raj system and maintained that concentration of power in the hands of the Centre and the PMO would affect the functioning of a democratic country like India.
The veteran politician was at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) here to deliver a lecture on "Articulating Policy and Institutional Agenda for Future Transformation of India."
Replying to a question from the audience as to why political parties shied away from the issue of empowering local institutions and governments, Mukherjee said, "In institutional building, there should be massive decentralisation."
Citing the example of the PMO, he said it had found a place in "our political vocabulary and "civil servants, politicians, parliamentarians know that a very powerful institution has been developed".
"But a simple legal question can be put as to where is its authority? In the text of the Constitution, 415 articles, 12 schedules -- I do not find anywhere that any power has been given to the PMO," Mukherjee added.
He said an institution like the PMO would "overload our own ways of functioning" and "eat our entire energy and activity".
The former president, however, was quick to add that he cited the PMO as an example and had no "grudge" against the institution.
Mukherjee said India could not imitate the presidential form of government, where the president "enjoys all the power" and is the "real executive".
"In India, the real executive is a collective body, the cabinet, accountable to Parliament, another collective body. And Parliament is accountable to its people, its elector.
"Therefore, talking of institutional building, there should be massive decentralisation," he said.
The former president said he agreed with a parliamentarian who had coined a phrase while seeking to devote many more "subjects" to the Panchayati Raj system, suggesting "a simple transfer of three Fs -- function, functionary and funds".
"You will see that 3.3 million panchayats will be more effective than 31 state legislative assemblies or two Houses of Parliament.
"Therefore, what is needed is decentralisation and massive transfer and devolution to build up the institutional strength of our democratic system," he said.
Mukherjee rued that the institutions created by our "founding fathers" like parliamentary democracy, the comptroller and auditor general (CAG), an independent judiciary had "in the recent past come under severe strain and their credibility has been questioned".
"If the institutions of democracy are under pressure, it is time for serious thinking," he said, while stressing the need to "re-establish the faith of people in the institutions of democracy."
Talking about bureaucracy, Mukherjee said it was "one of the biggest hurdles for our development and we must rectify this".
"I do not mean that the bureaucracy has not made its contribution. They have made a substantial contribution. But at the same time, we shall have to keep in mind that the world is changing very fast.
"And we shall have to keep abreast of this change, adjust ourselves, adapt ourselves, make it flexible, so that we can take the advantage that we want to formulate and articulate our policy in institutional democracy," he said.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)