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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 50 December 9, 2023

‘Nava Kerala Sadas’ and Sanction of funds by the LGIs – Is it the signal of democratic backsliding | K Gireesan

Saturday 9 December 2023


The Government of Kerala (GoK) initiated a public outreach program ‘Nava Kerala Sadas’, where the Chief Minister and all other Ministers traveled through all assembly constituencies of the State. This program aims to highlight the achievements of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government that has been in power in the State since 2016. The entire Cabinet will be traveling together from 18 November to 24 December 2023, addressing the public, listening to their grievances, showcasing future development plans and achievements. The Cabinet moves in a bus across 140 Legislative Assembly Constituencies of the State and makes four halts in four different constituencies on each day, for the citizen connect. It was also noted that the cabinet meetings will be held en route at different places during the journey. 

The General Administration Department (GAD) issued a Government Order (GO which provided details of the program such as procedures for receipt of complaints/ grievances, seating arrangements, travel arrangements, accommodation facilities, expenses, etc. [1] It indicated that the venue has to be set up for around 5000 persons, provision of separate counters for women, differently abled and aged for submission of complaints/ grievances, provision of drinking water, toilet, and first aid facilities, setting up of Tower Air Conditioner at the dais, conduct of cultural activities before the conduct of the program, etc. The GO states that the complaints/ grievances received during the program which could be addressed at the district level will be handed over to the District Collector and those to be addressed at the State level will be handed over to the Secretary of the respective Ministry/ Department within a week of the program. 

The GO stated that the Local Self Government Department (LSGD) shall give ‘permissive sanction’ to the Local Government Institutions (LGI) to make expenses from its own sources. It also stated that the Co-operative Department shall give similar ‘permissive sanction’ to the co-operative banks and co-operative societies in the State to make expenses towards the program. Though it was explicitly indicated that no collection of money shall be made towards the conduct of the program, it allowed the District Administration to find sponsors for making arrangements for the program and to seek funds from advertising. It also encouraged the District Administration to ensure the cooperation of different agencies and institutions, at the local level, for the successful conduct of the program. 

Subsequently, the LSGD issued a GO  [2] with specific sanctions to the LGIs in different spheres to meet the expenses for ‘Nava Kerala Sadas’. The GO states that for the conduct of meetings and publicity, a Grama Panchayat (GP) could spend a maximum of Rs. 50,000; a Block Panchayat / Municipal Council could spend about Rs. 1 lakh; a Municipal Corporation could spend about Rs. 2 lakhs and a District Panchayat could spend a maximum of Rs. 3 lakhs. The most significant part of this GO is that it empowers the Governing Committee of the Local Government ‘OR’ its Secretary (Emphasis added) to provide the sanction from their own sources of revenue. The GO highlighted that the expenses can be made for the program in any part of the Assembly Constituency of which the concerned local government is part. 

From the details listed in the GO for the successful conduct of the program, it is beyond doubt that this is a program by the State Government, meticulously planned. Analysing and interpreting the procedures laid down only reinforces this. And, it endorses a lot of thrust on the co-ordination of different agencies by the District Administration and the resource support by the Local Governments. 

The objective of this article is to analyse the technicalities behind the issue of GO to sanction funds by the LGIs for the conduct of the program. And, it does not delve into the political controversies raised by the opposition parties towards the program and reads through the GO from the perspective of a decentralisation activist. 

Sanction of funds by the LGIs and the rationale behind the decision-making

If one goes by the principles, procedures, and conventions of democracy, the elected leadership has a primordial role in the process of decision-making at all spheres of Government. This has been aligned with the spirit of democracy and ethics of decision-making, be it at the Union Parliament, State Legislature, or the Local Governments. 

This gives primacy to the views of people’s representatives, and voices of the people, rather than the knowledge and skills of the bureaucracy, in the process of decision-making, which is significant in a democratic system. It is the cardinal principle that no money can be spent by the administration unless there is a sanction given by the Legislature/ Governing Committee. This aspect cannot be ignored during the process of decision-making by the Local Governments for allocation of funds for any project/program/ activity. 

This matter is even more significant, as the GO [3] gave the ‘virtual power’ [4]to the Secretary at par with the Governing Committee (Emphasis added) to provide sanction for release of funds to the ‘Nava Kerala Sadas’. By incorporating the word ‘OR’ in the Government Order, it gave credibility to the notion that the powers of the Governing Committee (elected functionary) and the Secretary (Official) could be treated as equal in this context. This is a matter of concern to all those who value the principles and practices of democracy. Being an unhealthy practice, this shall not be taken lightly.

This matter becomes even more significant for two reasons. First, this has happened in the State of Kerala, which is regarded as the pioneer for decentralisation initiatives, especially by taking up the initiative of ‘Decentralised Planning’, popularly known as the People’s Plan Campaign (PPC). Secondly, this order was released by the State Government by the Left Democratic Front, which conceived and operationalised the PPC, way back in 1996. 

Even though a lot of investments have been made in the State during the last many years to empower the Local Governments, this aspect did not receive any traction for more than a week from the local leadership. Many Local Governments, including many headed by leaders from the United Democratic Front (UDF), passed resolutions to sanction funds. However, the protest against the sanction of funds became evident only after the State Leadership of the UDF took the political stand that the local governments headed by it need not release funds to the ‘Nava Kerala Sadas’. Subsequently, many LGIs across the State have reversed their earlier decision to sanction funds to the program. Armed with the ‘OR’ provision in the GO, funds were sanctioned by the Secretary of several LGIs bypassing and/ or ignoring the decision by the Governing Committee. [5]

This has been viewed by Jos Chathukulam as ‘one of the most detrimental steps against the spirit of democracy which will further dis-empower the LGIs in the State of Kerala and in other parts of the country.’ [6] He added that this may be viewed as an initial symptom of ‘Democratic Backsliding’ [7] in the State which is considered a model in decentralised governance, inside and outside the country. 

JB Rajan remarked that ‘the Secretary has no authority to make payments, overruling the decision of the Governing Committee of the LGI.’ [8] He added that the Secretary has the authority to make payments without any prior approval from the Governing Committee only on three occasions such as payment of salary to the staff, election-related expenses, and legal expenses. 
As per the established procedures in the State, the Secretary of the LGI is a party to the decision-making along with the Governing Committee. In the event of any disagreement between the Secretary and the elected leadership in the matter(s) of decision-making, the Secretary shall endorse ‘the dissent note’ while preparing the minutes of the meeting. Then, the minutes of the meeting along with the dissent note shall be communicated by the Secretary to the concerned authorities. 

Key Impressions

Issue of a GO equating the bureaucracy at par with the elected leadership of the Local Governments in the decision-making process is counterproductive to the principles of democracy and practices of democratic decentralisation. The author views that such a step will have a regressive influence on the future of democracy, where the bureaucracy could even bypass the elected leadership in the process of decision-making when armed with such a GO. The author considers this as a serious trend that could have its ramifications in the days ahead. This might lead to democratic backsliding and weakening of democracy in the political system and sub-systems in the State of Kerala and other parts of the country. 


The Chairperson, Paravur Municipality, Ernakulam filed a writ petition in the High Court of Kerala against the GO, citing that the statute does not vest the Government with such a power to direct contribution to be made for a program of the Government’s choice. After hearing all the parties, the Honourable Judge of the High Court of Kerala enforced a stay to the sanction of funds by the LGIs to the ‘Nava Kerala Sadas’ through its order dated 1 December 2023. [9] The order said that as per the relevant sections of the Kerala Municipality Act, the Secretary does not possess any powers to expend money other than what the Municipal Council has decided or directed. The Court remarked that the GO that confers power upon the Secretaries of local authorities to expend money from the Municipality’s own funds, is prima facie ultra vires the Act. 

(Author: Dr. K Gireesan, Director, MIT School of Government, MIT World Peace University, Kothrud, Pune – 411 038. Mobile: (0091) 9445400855;
E-mail ID: gireesan.decentralisation[AT]

[1Government of Kerala (GoK) (2023). Government Order No. 4887/2023/GAD dated 27 Oct 2023, Thiruvananthapuram: The General Administration Department

[2GoK. (2023). Government Order No. 2144/ 2023/LSGD dated 1 Nov 2023, Thiruvananthapuram: The Local Self Government Department

[3Here, the GO refers to the one issued by the LSGD, GoK on 1 Nov 2023

[4The word ‘virtual power’ to the Secretary has been used here to differentiate that the’ real power’ lies with the Governing Committee (Elected Leadership) of the Local Governments

[5It was known that in Sreekandapuram Municipality, Kannur District; Eramala Gram Panchayat, Kozhikode District; Paravur Municipality, Ernakulam District; Konni Block Panchayat, Idukki District; Thrikkakara Municipality, Ernakulam District, and in many other LGIs across the State, the secretaries have sanctioned funds to the Nava Kerala Sadassu, bypassing the decision by their Governing Committee

[6Refers to discussions with Dr. Jos Chathukulam, Director, Centre for Rural Management (CRM), Kottayam on 25 Nov 2023

[7Democratic backsliding refers to state-led debilitation or elimination of the political institutions sustaining an existing democracy. For details, please see, Bermeo, Nancy. “On Democratic Backsliding”. Journal of Democracy, Vol. 27, No. 1, Jan. 2016, pp. 5-19; also see, Tope Shola Akinyetun (2022), Democratic Backsliding in Africa: Understanding the Current Challenges,

[8Refers to inputs from Dr. JB Rajan, former faculty of the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), Thrissur on 26 Nov 2023

[9Order issued by Hon. Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas of the High Court of Kerala dated 1 Dec 2023 in the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 39668 of 2023 filed by Smt. Beena PR, Chairperson, Paravur Municipality

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