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Determinants of peoples
participation: a study of rural West
Bengal, India

Article in Development in Practice February 2015

DOI: 10.1080/09614524.2015.986065



2 authors:

Debabrata Samanta
Chandragupt Institute of Manage


Narayan Chandra Nayak

IIT Kharagpur


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Determinants of people's participation:

a study of rural West Bengal, India
Debabrata Samanta & Narayan Chandra Nayak
Published online: 20 Dec 2014.

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To cite this article: Debabrata Samanta & Narayan Chandra Nayak (2015) Determinants of people's
participation: a study of rural West Bengal, India, Development in Practice, 25:1, 71-85, DOI:

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Development in Practice, 2015
Vol. 25, No. 1, 7185, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09614524.2015.986065

Determinants of peoples participation: a study of rural West Bengal, India

Debabrata Samanta and Narayan Chandra Nayak*
(Received September 5, 2012; accepted July 31, 2014)

This article considers the determinants of peoples participation in local level decision-making
spaces in rural West Bengal, India. It denes participation from the perspectives of attending
meetings, raising issues, making complaints, and making contributions. The results from a
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sampled household survey in East Midnapore district of West Bengal indicate that better
awareness, increase in land holdings, organisational membership, and political afliation
tend to improve participation. Households showing livelihood dependency and entitlement,
and belonging to socially and economically weaker sections are more likely to participate.
However, the results point towards the possibility of elite capture and clientelism in
participatory spaces.
Cet article examine les facteurs dterminants de la participation de la population aux espaces
locaux de prise de dcisions dans le Bengale-Occidental rural, en Inde. Il dnit la participation
comme les actions suivantes : assister aux runions, soulever des questions, porter plainte et
apporter des contributions. Les rsultats dune enqute parmi des mnages chantillonns
dans le district Midnapore oriental du Bengale-Occidental indiquent quune meilleure prise
de conscience, une augmentation du nombre de parcelles, ladhsion des organisations et
lafliation politique tendent amliorer la participation. Les mnages qui font preuve dune
dpendance et dun droit des moyens de subsistance et qui appartiennent des sections
socialement et conomiquement plus faibles sont plus susceptibles de participer. Cependant,
les rsultats laissent entendre la possibilit de l accaparement par les lites et du
clientlisme dans les espaces participatifs.
El presente artculo aborda los factores que determinan la participacin de las personas en los
espacios de toma de decisiones a nivel local en Bengala Occidental rural, India. En este sentido,
entiende como participacin las acciones que involucran la asistencia a reuniones, el
planteamiento de problemas, la formulacin de quejas y el aporte de elementos. Los
resultados de una encuesta aplicada a distintos hogares seleccionados en el distrito de
Midnapore Oriental en Bengala Occidental, indican que la posesin de conocimientos ms
elevados, as como de una propiedad de tierra ms extensa, adems de la membresa a
organizaciones y la aliacin poltica, tienden a mejorar la participacin. Asimismo, se
constat que aquellos hogares en que se evidencia la dependencia entre medios de vida y
subsidios, que adems pertenecen a los sectores econmicamente ms dbiles, son los ms
propensos a participar. Sin embargo, los resultados surgidos de la encuesta sugieren la
posibilidad de que en los espacios participativos exista captura por la lite y clientelismo.
Keywords: Civil society NGOs; Participation; South Asia

In recent years, peoples participation has emerged as an important development instrument
across the world. In a participatory process, the efforts of the people are united with those of

*Corresponding author. Email: ncnayak@hss.iitkgp.ernet.in

2014 Taylor & Francis

72 D. Samanta and N.C. Nayak

government authorities to improve the economic, social, cultural, and political conditions of
society. The process, in turn, facilitates the integration of local communities into the life of the
nation and enables them to contribute to the progress of the nation (McPherson 1982). People
take an active and inuential part in shaping decisions that affect their lives (OECD 1993).
Participation is dened as a process through which stakeholders inuence and share control over
development initiatives, and the decisions and resources that affect them (World Bank 1996). People
take part in the formulation, passage, and implementation of public policies (Parry, Moyser, and
Day 1992). This, in turn, helps meet conventional development objectives of growth and equity,
as well as the more recent concerns for sustainability, good governance, and democratisation.
Over the last two decades, the participatory process has received widespread recognition in
the development discourse. Countries like Philippines, India, Bolivia, Tanzania, and Uganda
have amended their laws to create avenues for participatory planning based on peoples needs.
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The concept of participation has acquired a spectrum of meanings and given rise to diversity
of practices. Participation is now seen from the perspectives of negotiation (Leeuwis 2000), com-
municative action (Habermas 1984), a tool to foster peoples power (Fals Borda 1988), and a
means of empowerment and to demand entitlement (Chambers 1994). There is a clear shifting
of the roles from users and beneciaries to policymakers, co-producers, and evaluators of
public services.
In India, the participatory governance process carries enormous signicance as a development
paradigm. Though India adopted decentralised planning process immediately after independence,
two constitutional amendments in 1992 have signicantly changed relations between the state
governments and local bodies.1 These amendments formally recognised the three-tier structure
of the government at the sub-state level, legalising conditions for local self-rule. The Constitution
(73rd) Amendment Act 1992 has created an invited space2 for participation through gram sabha3
where people participate, deliberate, and make decisions related to local development and bene-
ciary selection as well as hold service providers and policymakers accountable.
Among the states of India, West Bengal has a long history of participatory governance. In the
pre-independence period, through the passage of the Bengal Chowkidari Act 1870, panchayats
were set up with the aim to decentralise power and bring about greater administrative efciency
(GoI 2011). West Bengal adopted a three-tier Panchayat system as early as in 1973, long before
the 73rd Constitutional Amendment came into force. In order to make the decision-making
process more decentralised and direct, spaces for participation, gram sabha and gram sansad,4
were created at the local level through policy changes under the ambit of the Panchayati Raj Insti-
tution (PRI). People registered in the electoral roll of the area of the concerned gram panchayat
(GP) a village level self-government institution are the members of a gram sabha and all the
voters in a village constituency become the members of the gram sansad. Through the amend-
ment of the West Bengal Panchayat Act 1973 in 1994, it became mandatory for every GP in
the state to hold gram sabha meetings once a year and gram sansad meetings at least twice a year.
With a view to make the process of decision-making more participatory, the concept of gram
sansad meeting was introduced in 1994 under section 16A of the West Bengal Panchayat Act
1973. The basic objective was to create a space for direct participation of the people to guide
and advise GP in regard to the selection of schemes for economic development and social
justice (Section 16A (6) of West Bengal Panchayat Act 1973). Apart from participating in
invited spaces, rural people of West Bengal also participate in what is termed as popular
spaces to take decisions, settle disputes, or deliberate (Cornwall 2004).5
It is, however, disquieting to note that despite democratic decentralisation being a consti-
tutional obligation in India and its constituent states, peoples participation in democratic
spaces is either low or on the decline. Participation is, to a large extent, merely notional, with indi-
viduals simply holding membership of some community level organisations without much
Development in Practice 73

contribution to decision-making. Participation, which should simultaneously entail attending

meetings, raising issues, demanding services, and contributing towards the supply of public ser-
vices, is seldom found. The average attendance in half-yearly gram sansad meetings in West
Bengal has declined from 18% in 1996 to 12.8% in 2006 (Ghosh 2010). In 2008, a meagre
4% of the participating members in half-yearly gram sansad meetings were women (GoWB
2009). Among those who attend meetings, many remain mere spectators with no issues to
raise and no opinions to express. There is also evidence that local level decisions are predeter-
mined and gram sansad meetings are held just to endorse these (Datta 2001). In rural West
Bengal, as Ghosh (2010) nds, gram sansad, as a participatory decision-making forum, is still
unknown to around 19% of the population. Consequently, people are gradually losing interest
in panchayat activities.
In order for democratic decentralisation to achieve its desired goals, people must remain at the
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centre-stage and must participate actively in the decision-making process. In this context, it is per-
tinent to understand how the level of participation can be improved. People participate in different
types of spaces and get engaged in decision-making according to their intrinsic capabilities. The
level of participation is determined inter alia by the participants socio-economic status, skills,
knowledge, and personalities. This article attempts to identify the factors that inuence the
level of participation amongst households in rural West Bengal and offer implications thereof.

Database, hypotheses, and model specication

Peoples participation is construed as an alternative development paradigm and its level and
quality are determined by several socio-economic, political, cultural, and institutional factors.
This study is based on a primary household level survey conducted in the district of East Mid-
napore in the state of West Bengal, India. East Midnapore district was chosen as it is considered
a pioneering district in participatory village planning. It is one of the largest districts of the
state, with a total area of 4061.42 sq. km (www.purbamedinipur.gov.in). According to the
2011 provisional census, the total population of the district is 50.94 million people. The district
is predominantly rural, with about 88% of the population living in rural areas (www.
Following the method of stratied random sampling, 250 households were chosen for the
survey. For a district level study, the sample size may be considered fairly representative. The
study provides a direction to understand the dynamics of participatory development in East Mid-
napore district, which may have applicability elsewhere under similar socio-economic and demo-
graphic conditions. The district has 25 development blocks, out of which ve were chosen.
Development blocks are the sub-district administrative units. In West Bengal, for administrative
purposes, each district is divided into a few sub-divisions and sub-divisions are further divided
into a number of development blocks. In addition to providing general administration and main-
taining law and order, the main purpose of a development block is to implement and monitor
development programmes in its geographical area. Each development block is headed by a
block development ofcer (BDO), who is responsible for executing and implementing govern-
ment development schemes, and any other necessary works. The BDO is the executive ofcer
of the block-level local government body, called Panchayat Samiti. Development decisions
taken by the Panchayat Samiti are executed by the BDO. Each development block has several
GPs falling under its operational jurisdiction.
In this study, the selection of blocks was based on key criteria such as proximity to the district
headquarters and geographical spread. Selection of GPs and villages under them was undertaken
based on proximity to the block and panchayat ofce respectively, and geographical spread. From
the sampled villages, households were chosen at random.
74 D. Samanta and N.C. Nayak

On the basis of a structured questionnaire, the authors conducted personal interviews of 250
respondents, who happened to be the heads of the respective households. The study considered
the questionnaires of those households which responded to all the questions satisfactorily. Incom-
plete and inconsistent questionnaires were discarded. Consequently, non-response biases are ruled
out. The questionnaire covered broad aspects of socio-economic, demographic, and village level
characteristics of the households, as well as subjective understandings of their motivation and
willingness to participate in democratic forums. The primary survey was conducted between
October 2010 and July 2011.
The study measures the level of participation considering households as the units of analysis.
It may be noted here that considering households as the units of analysis, the study, in effect, cap-
tures the individual members positions in the households. This could be justied on the following
grounds. In Indias rural settings, the household is considered a cohesive unit with one of the
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members acting as the head of the household. Any decision in such household is primarily col-
lective and is only expressed by the household head as a representative voice. Any household
member participating in local level decision-making forums can, thus, be construed as a represen-
tation of the respective household. In this study, any opinion given by a household head can be
considered as the collective decisions of all the adult members of that household. Moreover, the
household factors considered for study represent the characteristics of all the members of the
households and not the respondents only.
The study identies four dimensions of participation: (a) attending meetings; (b) raising
issues; (c) lodging complaints; and (d) making contributions, each comprising several indicators
(see Table 1).
Participation index is formulated, applying principal component analysis (PCA), to measure
the level of participation for each household. The aim of the PCA is to construct, out of a set of
variables Xj (j = 1, 2, 3, k), new variables (Pi) called principal components, which are linear
combinations of the X (Koutsoyiannis 2001). As the rst principal component (PC) absorbs and
accounts for maximum possible proportion of the total variation in the set of all variables, the
study considers factor loadings that correspond to the rst PC to derive participation index. In
order to justify the construct validity of the participation scale, factor loadings of all items are
furnished in Table 1. PC score for each dimension is computed by applying the following method.
PC Score = Xi ai , where Xi s are variables under each dimension and ai s are factor
loadings. i=1

The participation index is then calculated by applying the method of range equalisation with
equal weight. First, range equalisation is conducted for each dimension, which requires subtrac-
tion of the minimum value from the PC score, and dividing the resultant value with the difference
of the maximum and minimum PC score. Range equalised variables for all the dimensions are
then aggregated with equal weights to create participation index. Participation index may, thus,
be represented as the summated score of all the four dimensions and can be expressed as:

PI = W1 .AM + W2 .RI + W3 .MC + W4 .CP

where W1=W2=W3=W4
AM, RI, MC, and CP represent range equalised PC scores for attending meetings, raising
issues, making complaints, and contributing to public services respectively. Participation index,
thus calculated, captures the level of engagement of the people in local level decision-making
process related to local development and service delivery. The higher the value of participation
index, the higher is the level of participation of the households.
Table 1. Dimensions of participation index and the factor loadings.
Meetings attended by Making complaints/deliberations
household members (last Factor Raising issues by household Factor by household members (written Factor
one year) loading members (last one year) loading or verbal) (last one year) loading Contribution by household
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No. of VEC meetings 0.2532 Number of issues raised in 0.5195 Number of times made general 0.6820 Whether the household
different meetings complaints contributed in providing
drinking water services
No. of SHG meetings 0.0739 Number of times visited GP/ 0.2674 Number of times made 0.4007 Whether the household
block/other agencies to complaints regarding drinking contributed in providing
demand any service water services of roads
No. of GUS meetings 0.3899 Number of times visited local 0.2115 Number of times made 0.5906
representatives to demand complaints regarding roads
any service
No. of club meetings 0.2114 Number of times demanded 0.3960 Number of times made 0.1596
services from GP/other complaints regarding health
agencies service
No. of local level 0.2390 No. of times raised demand 0.3312
organisation meetings related to drinking water
No. of gram sansad 0.2765 Number of times raised 0.3834
meetings demand related to roads
No. of GP level meetings 0.1990 Number of times raised 0.3536
demand related to sanitation
No. of local political 0.3956 Number of times raised 0.2746
meetings demand related to health

Development in Practice
No. of neighbourhood 0.3971
meetings on dissolving
local disputes
No. of neighbourhood 0.4039
meetings regarding local
No. of neighbourhood 0.2885
meetings regarding
community needs
Note: VEC: Village Education Committee; SHG: Self Help Group; GUS: Gram Unnayan Samity.
Source: Authors.

76 D. Samanta and N.C. Nayak

The study examines various combinations of factors explaining the variations in the level of
participation among the sampled households. Participation may be dependent upon inter alia
household and individual characteristics. Following available literature and eld experiences,
the ve key characteristics chosen were knowledge and awareness level, economic status, politi-
cal and group behaviour, social status in community structure, and livelihood dependency and
entitlement. Eight distinct underlying factors were identied under the above aspects: education
level, access to information, income, land-holding, membership of self-help groups (SHGs), non-
governmental organisations (NGOs), and other such organisations, political afliation, holding
job card, and caste/community status. The rationale behind the selection of these factors and
their possible relations with participation are discussed below.
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Knowledge and awareness level of the households

Knowledge and awareness level of the households is captured through two indicators: edu-
cation level and information accessibility. Higher level of education is an important direct pre-
dictor of participation (Nisha 2006; Helliwell and Putnam 2007). Education exerts strong
positive impact on social and political engagements like taking part in community based pro-
jects, attending seminars, writing letters or contacting public ofcials, and registering to vote
(Glaeser, Ponzetto, and Shleifer 2007). It exerts positive impact on taking group membership
(Glaeser and Sacerdote 2001), which may be construed as an indicator of participation.
There are, however, counter arguments, which point to the possibility of education deterring
the level of participation (Agrawal and Gupta 2005), as educated people tend to refrain from
rural polity. Given these contrasting ndings, the impact of education on participation
remains an empirical question.
Apart from education, level of awareness depends upon access to information. Access to
information is increasingly recognised as a central mechanism for the poor to strengthen their
voice in matters that affect their well-being (World Bank 2002). Formal communication channels
like newspapers, radio, television, cell phones, pamphlets, and posters are some such means
through which rural people get access to information on government schemes, rights and
duties, etc. This study considers locally available newspapers as a source of information and pro-
poses that newspaper reading would contribute to strengthening participation.

Economic status
The economic status of households can be measured by the level of income and size of the land-
holdings. There are, however, contrasting views on the role of incomes. Rise in income level of
households is said to increase their level of participation as people from the elite community
become inclined to participate in the local level decision-making process (Bracht and
Tsouros 1990). However, some other studies ascertain that households with relatively higher
level of income have very little to gain from participation and the opportunity cost of partici-
pation increases with incomes (Weinberger and Jutting 2001; Ghatak and Ghatak 2002).
Given the inconclusive evidence, the possible impact of income on participation remains to
be proved.
While income determines the current economic status, wealth or assets signify self-esteem and
relative position of households in socio-political milieu. A household possessing valuable assets
and relatively higher land-holdings is expected to maintain high economic and social status. All
these may sufce to afrm the role of wealth in household participation. This study considers
household land-holding as a proxy for wealth and hypothesises that with an increase in land-hold-
ings, participation level may improve.
Development in Practice 77

Political and group behaviour

Political and group behaviour of a household is assessed through two vital indicators: member-
ship of local-level organisations and political proximity of the household to the local GP repre-
sentative. In rural settings, membership of social organisations remains crucial in building
identity. The social identity theory argues that people tend to classify themselves and others
into various social categories, by organisational membership, religious afliation, gender, and
age cohort (Tajfel and Turner 1986). Building social identity and classication enables an individ-
ual to locate ones social environment, denoting his or her social position. This study hypothesises
that a households membership in socio-political organisations positively inuences participation.
Political afliation and preference of a household towards a political party is another poten-
tially important determinant in politically stimulating rural setting. In democratic societies, the
participatory development scheme is likely to be shaped efciently by existing political networks
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rather than village-based stocks of social capital (Veron et al. 2003). A study by Ghatak and
Ghatak (2002) in West Bengal found that people participating in the local-level decision-
making process are mostly the supporters of the ruling political parties. This study, therefore,
considers political afliation as an important decisive factor of participation. It is proposed that
participation level improves if the household remains inclined or afliated to the political party
of the local elected representative.

Livelihood dependency and entitlement

It may be argued that dependency of a household on public provisioning makes it realise the
importance of participation. In addition, conferring entitlement towards public services and
making it rights-based legitimises the claims and gives added strength, especially to the poor
and the marginalised, to participate in local democratic spaces. Not only does the dependence
on public services and/or entitlement pull people to the meetings, but it also drives them to
raise issues, and make complaints and contributions, whenever needed. Hence, it may be
argued that greater livelihood dependency and entitlement ensures greater participation. This
study considers the holding of a job card by a household under Mahatma Gandhi National
Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) as a sign of a households livelihood dependency
and entitlement. MNREGA is a agship rural employment scheme of the Indian government,
which aims to enhance the livelihood security of households in rural areas by providing at
least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment a year to every household whose adult
members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. The scheme is open to all the rural households.
A job card is issued to each household that registers for the scheme, which provides the card-
holding household a unique opportunity to exercise its right to employment. Adult members of
card-holding households are entitled to demand unskilled employment from the local GPs by sub-
mitting applications. If the GPs fail to provide employment within 15 days of receiving an appli-
cation, they have to pay unemployment allowances. GPs play a pivotal role in the overall
implementation of the scheme. They are responsible for planning works, registering households,
issuing job cards, allocating employment, executing 50% of the works, and monitoring the
implementation of the scheme at the village level. At the block level, Panchayat Samiti is
involved in planning, monitoring, and supervision of the MNREGA scheme and remains respon-
sible for executing works not executed by the GPs (GoI 2008).
Job card-holding households participate in gram sansad meetings and in decision-making
related to the selection and execution of works. They also seek information regarding the
implementation of MNREGA schemes (GoI 2008). In view of the above, it is proposed that
households possessing job cards are more likely to participate in democratic processes.
78 D. Samanta and N.C. Nayak

Social status in community structure

Caste and ethnicity of households has a strong effect on individuals participation in community
programmes (Pradhan 2010). Members of disadvantaged ethnic groups often display higher
levels of social and political participation than their counterparts in dominant social groups
(Antunes and Gaitz 1975). In the Indian social structure, people belonging to Scheduled Castes
and Scheduled Tribes are in the minority and remain mostly marginalised. Consequently, the
Indian government has created many targeted schemes for their social and economic uplifting,
which may have created a need and desire for greater level of participation among them. There-
fore, it is hypothesised that households belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
would show greater level of participation compared to their counterparts in general categories.
The possible linkage between participation and underlying household factors can be presented
with the help of the following analytical framework (see Figure 1). The incidence and extent of
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participation by a household may depend upon its economic status, level of awareness, political
and group behaviour, nature and extent of its livelihood dependency, possible entitlement, and its

Figure 1. Determinants of participation: an analytical framework.

Source: Authors.
Development in Practice 79

social status in community structure. While trying to empirically test the signicance of such
factors, this study aims to answer the following questions, in the context of rural West Bengal:
Does economic status affect participation? Is building awareness among the households a precon-
dition to improved level of participation? Does legal provision of entitlement help foster

Table 2. Method of operationalisation of the independent variables.

Determinants Variables considered Method of operationalisation
Knowledge and Years of schooling Natural log of mode years of schooling of the
awareness level household
Access to information Ratio of the number of adult members of a household
reading newspaper to total adult members
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Economic status Household income Natural log of monthly income of the household
Land holding Standardised size of land holding of the household
(in acres)
Political and group Membership of socio- Ratio of number of memberships of local socio-
behaviour political organisations political organisations held by a household to total
adult members of a household
Political afliation Considered as dummy variable 1 = 1, if household is
the supporter of the same political party of the
concerned local elected representative = 0,
Livelihood dependency Holding job card Considered as dummy variable 2 = 1, if household
and entitlement holds Job card = 0, otherwise
Social status in Caste or community of Considered as dummy variable 3 = 1, if household
community structure the household belongs to SC or ST community = 0, otherwise.

Table 3. Summary statistics of variables and demographic details of the sampled households.
Aspects Variable Mean Standard deviation
Adult member 2.9 1
Knowledge and awareness Years of schooling 10.48 3.63
Access to information 1.2 1.3
Economic status Household income 5790 4904.64
Land holding 0.45 0.75
Political and group behaviour Membership of local 0.92 1.08
level organisation
Political afliation % of households expressed
same political orientation of
the concerned local elected
representatives: 37.2%
Livelihood dependency and entitlement Holding job card % of households hold job card:
Social status in community structure Caste/community % of households belonging to
SC or ST community: 17.6%
Religion Hindu: 91.6%, Muslim: 8.4%
Economic condition Above poverty line: 71.6%;
below poverty line: 28.4%
Having television sets Households having television:
Note: No. of observations: 250.
No. of persons: 716.
Source: Authors.
80 D. Samanta and N.C. Nayak

participation? Does caste of the household play a signicant role in the decision of the household
to participate in local level democratic spaces? Are there possibilities of clientelism and elite
capture in participatory spaces?
To test the proposed hypotheses, the following ordinary least square (OLS) regression model is
specied, assuming linear relationship between level of participation and the underlying factors:

PIi = a + b1 lnInci + b2 lnEdui + b3 Landi + b4 Membi + b5 NewsPi + g1 Poli

+ g2 Castei + g3 JCi + 1i

where, i =1, 2- - - -250

Here PIi is the value of the participation index for the ith households. The independent vari-
ables Inc, Edu, Land, Memb, News, Pol, Caste, and JC represent monthly income, mode years
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of schooling, size of agricultural land-holdings, ratio of adult household members holding

membership of local socio-political organisations, ratio of adult household members reading
newspapers, political afliation, caste, and holding job card respectively. All the variables
are considered at the household level. Income and years of schooling are incorporated consid-
ering natural logarithm of the respective values, while size of land holdings is standardised fol-
lowing where m is mean and s is standard deviation. Political afliation, caste, and
holding job card are taken as binary dummies (see Table 2). It may be stated here that for
regression analysis, only summated score of the participation is considered but not the individ-
ual dimensions.
As the model deals with cross-sectional data, Breusch-Pagan/Cook-Weisberg test detects the
presence of heteroscedasticity. Hence, the robust standard error is considered for the regression
model. Variance ination factors (VIF) are within tolerable limits, indicating no problem of multi-
collinearity. As the study is based on limited number of observations, it fails to compare groups to
test the robustness. Instead, it takes recourse to the past studies, wherever possible, to substantiate
hypotheses. A summary statistics of the identied variables for the sampled households is pre-
sented in Table 3. It also presents the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of the
sampled households.

The results of the OLS regression, by and large, follow the expected lines (Table 4). Land-
holding, considered as a proxy for household wealth, seems to directly inuence
participation. However, household income does not seem to be a signicant factor. Access
to information through newspaper reading appears to be an important predicator and its coef-
cient is positive, indicating that reading newspapers gives better access to information and
exposure to rights and duties, and makes people understand the importance of participation.
However, level of education measured by mode years of schooling does not inuence
Political and group behaviour turns out to be a signicant predictor of participation in the
study area. Membership of local level socio-political organisations improves the possibility of
participation. The result corroborates the ndings of Nisha (2006), who establishes that member-
ship in community level organisations enhances household participation in decision-making.
Political afliation of the household remains another crucial determinant. It is found that if a
household remains afliated to the political party, which the local GP representative belongs
to, the formers likelihood of participating at the local level democratic forums improves com-
pared to others who are not afliated.
Development in Practice 81

Table 4. Regression results: determinants of participation.

Regression (OLS) (Robust standard error)
Independent variable Coefcient Robust standard error
Ln mode years of schooling () 0.162 0.023
Ln income () 0.016 0.013
Land holding 0.014* 0.010
Membership of local organisation 0.034* 0.020
Household members reading newspaper 0.032* 0.025
Political afliation (Dummy) 0.061*** 0.020
Caste (Dummy) 0.069*** 0.025
Holding job card (Dummy) 0.029* 0.019
Constant 0.209* 0.116
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Total number of observation: 250 F(8, 241) = 6.03***

R-squared = 0.1453
Adjusted R-squared = 0.1169
Mean VIF = 1.41
Note: *, **, *** represents level of signicance at less than 10%, 5% and 1% respectively.
Source: Authors.

Among other variables, the coefcients of the caste dummy and holding job card dummy are
found to be positive and signicant. Therefore, it may be stated that households belonging to
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are more participative compared to the households
from general and other backward class categories. This conrms the argument that people
from minority and weaker sections of society are more likely to participate to foster their political
and civil rights (Alesina and La Ferrara 2000). It is also proved that households possessing job
cards under MNREGA exhibit greater degrees of participation compared to those which do
not. Job card-holding is not only a sign of entitlement for the households, but also an indicator
of their livelihood dependency on public services.

Many important inferences emerge from these ndings. For participation to improve, people must
have access to information regardless of their years of schooling. In rural areas, newspapers are a
vital means of information and awareness among people. Reading a newspaper, by itself, signies
the interest of an individual towards personal or societal needs, and their possible contributions
towards these for personal or societal gains. Newspapers are a source both of information and
of acquiring knowledge about political processes, the benets of participatory governance,
forms and types of participation, and their critical roles. Persons reading newspapers remain up
to date about the changing norms, rules and regulations, provisions, and their dened roles
within these. It is expected that such individuals would remain motivated to participate in
decision-making processes at the local level. It is, thus, pertinent that in the wake of inadequate
formal education, people are made aware of the participatory processes through awareness cam-
paigns in print and electronic media including television, information kiosks, newspapers, posters
and pamphlets, street plays, etc.
That education does not seem to be important may suggest that rural people have possibly not
yet received requisite formal education, which could help them value the importance of partici-
pation in democratic spaces. The study shows that the average number of years of schooling
among the heads of the households does not exceed elementary level. Unless the educational
82 D. Samanta and N.C. Nayak

level improves, people are less likely to understand the importance of participation. In rural India,
and especially rural West Bengal, the average years of schooling has perhaps not yet reached the
threshold beyond which people can reason and participate.
Another interesting nding is that in the rural settings of West Bengal, it is not income of the
households, rather the size of the land holdings that determines the level of participation among
households. This conrms the common understanding that in farm-centred rural settings,
households with larger land holdings are likely to have greater voices, but not necessarily
those which have higher incomes. Households with more land holdings are mostly engaged
in agricultural activities and consequently, they stay in the villages. These households may
have the desire and ability to seize the public services due perhaps to their traditionally estab-
lished elite status in the villages. Greater land holding is also construed as a sign of high self-
esteem and strong social position in rural Indian milieu, indicating a predominant voice of the
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landholders over the landless. In West Bengal, during the last 35 years, most political develop-
ments have centred round agricultural land. Improvements in agricultural fortunes brought
about via land reforms, distribution of minikits, and improvement in irrigation facilities have
made the role of GPs crucial. Households with more land are said to have drawn greater
favours from the GPs, and are therefore are expected to have had more reasons to participate
in local level decision-making forums. There is evidence that these households raise their
issues rmly in the village meetings, indicating the possibility of elite capture in participatory
forums (Bardhan et al. 2009).
Political afliation determining the level of participation may be understood from the follow-
ing multidimensional perspectives. Local representatives easily mobilise community members,
afliated to their political parties, to participate in decision-making processes. The local represen-
tatives and households afliated to their political parties are often seen to be mutually interdepen-
dent. The former need the presence of the latter in all democratic forums to ensure the smooth
functioning of proceedings without much opposition, as the latters loyalty to the political
parties seems to override other rational considerations. Similarly, the latter might participate so
that their self-interests may, at times, receive favourable attention. This opens up the possibility
of clientelism (World Bank 2004) in delivery of basic services, where more and better services
are channelled towards the supporters of ruling political parties. It may also be argued that people
who support the local representatives party may raise their issues, visit representatives, demand
services, and hold the members accountable to serve them better. On the contrary, the household
members belonging to political parties in opposition are usually not encouraged to participate and
their voices are seldom heard.
It is also interesting to nd that households participation improves if there is representation of
the household in any local socio-political organisation. As these organisations mostly comprise
SHGs, the latter may be acting as an important driving force for households to participate.
Holding membership by household members may be creating awareness regarding various
societal issues pertaining to individual and community development, including providing oppor-
tunities especially to women members. West Bengal is a leading state in the country for SHGs,
and around 300,000 SHGs have been created so far, mostly with women members (GoWB
2006). It is expected that their effective operation may exert signicant impact on participation
in the state, including womens participation.
Holding job cards, in the context of a rural economy, may offer several important impli-
cations. It establishes dependency upon the GP by the concerned household, but it is also a
legal tool to demand employment. Households possessing job cards usually belong to economi-
cally weaker sections of society and they remain heavily dependent upon local government insti-
tutions for employment opportunities and other public services. Hence, they may willingly
participate to realise their entitlements and improve their livelihood. It may also be construed
Development in Practice 83

that the holding of a job card may increase proximity of the household towards local representa-
tives. In effect, the participation in local democratic processes may indicate opportunities for
inclusive governance.
It may, however, be important to note that MNREGA, as a wage employment scheme,
seems to have failed on several counts. There is a general decline in demand for employment
across the country. Against the mandate to provide 100 days of employment to each household
a year, average days of employment provided per household has come down from 54 person-
days in 200910, to 46 person-days in 201213 (http://www.nrega.nic.in/netnrega/home.
aspx). Coupled with this, there are reported cases of lack of awareness, poor monitoring,
delay in fund release, lack of transparency in wage payments, and a lack of trained pro-
fessionals (Mehrotra 2008). While there is no denying that MNREGA, as a rights-based
scheme, seems to have created a sense of entitlement through the issuance of job cards to
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each willing household, its failure to create the stipulated days of employment and reported
irregularities in its execution may make the scheme counter-productive. Increasingly active
participation of the people perhaps holds the key to improve the delivery mechanism and
expected outcomes.
People belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes participate more compared to
those belonging to general classes. This seems to indicate that the process of participation is
becoming inclusive, as economically and socially weaker sections of people participate in
invited and popular spaces. As they constitute the intended beneciaries, their participation
may lead to better delivery of public services. One may, however, put forward a counter-argument
that the greater likelihood of participation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and the poor
may imply political clientelism towards the ruling party. The weakest sections of society keep
enjoying the recurring benets, which are relatively less expensive, and they, in turn, remain loyal
to the ruling party. The most visible form of loyalty involves attendance in meetings (Bardhan
et al. 2009). It may not necessarily signify effective participation as they might not raise their
issues and concerns in such meetings.

This article aimed to identify the underlying factors motivating people to participate in the
local level decision-making process in the context of rural West Bengal. It characterises par-
ticipation from a broader perspective by considering four important dimensions: attending
meetings, raising issues, lodging complaints, and making contributions. Different socio-econ-
omic characteristics of the households seem to play critical roles in determining the level of
participation among the households. Mere literacy is not adequate to lure households
towards democratic forums, but being well informed works as a prerequisite to participation.
Regular awareness campaigns at the local level may have a signicant impact on the level of
participation. Promotion of community-based organisations (CBOs) and civil society organis-
ations (CSOs)6 would also help both individuals and the community at large. It fosters social
capital and in turn, makes the rural economy develop faster and in a sustainable way. Inci-
dences of elite capture and clientilism arising out of possession of more land holdings
and better political connections can perhaps be lessened, if not eliminated, if CBOs and
CSOs are promoted. Additionally, efforts are needed to ensure that participatory forums
become truly democratic.
Provision of entitlement through a job card is perhaps a step in the right direction. As the
socially and economically weaker sections of the community are more inclined to participate
in local level decision-making, this points towards the fact that the development plans of
84 D. Samanta and N.C. Nayak

the rural economy are perhaps becoming inclusive. The measures towards addressing all these
underlying factors would possibly provide transparent and effective governance at the grassroots

Notes on contributors
Debabrata Samanta is Assistant Professor of Economics at Chandragupt Institute of Management, Patna,
India. His research interests include governance, participatory development, and rural development policies.
Narayan Chandra Nayak is Professor of Economics at Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, India. His
major research interest is development economics. His recent publications are in journals such as
Development Policy Review, Indian Economic Review, Asian Economic Review, Indian Journal of
Economics, and Indian Journal of Regional Sciences. He is a life member of the Indian Economic
Association, the Indian Econometric Society, the Indian Society of Labour Economics, and the Regional
Downloaded by [DEBABRATA SAMANTA] at 10:06 23 December 2014

Science Association, India.

1. The Constitution (seventy third) Amendment Act 1992, created a three-tier decentralised system of local
governance for rural areas called Panchyati Raj under which it is obligatory for Indian states to establish
three-tier decentralised governance in rural areas. The Constitution (seventy fourth) Amendment Act
1992 on Municipalities, established decentralised governance system in urban areas.
2. An invited space is provided by the government and often used for deliberation or communication and at
times, it takes the shape of regularised institution (Cornwall 2004).
3. A body consisting of all electorates under a Gram Panchayat, village level institute of local self govern-
ance, which meets to guide and advise GP on local development and allocation of public resources.
4. An assembly of all the voters of polling station; the forum to make GP directly accountable to its voters.
5. Popular space is an arena in which people come together at their own will, be it as a protest against gov-
ernment policies or to produce their own services, or for solidarity and aid. Popular space may be the
outcome people passions about any relevant issues or it may take the form of any association or group
involving people more directly in the process of development (Cornwall 2004).
6. The term civil society refers to the wide array of non-governmental and not-for-prot organisations that
have a presence in public life, expressing the interests and values of their members or others. A CSO
comprises a group of like-minded people who work together for a common mission to develop
society. Community-based organisations (CBOs) are those civil society non-prot organisations that
operate within a single local community. In India, SHGs formed by women can be considered as
CBOs, while NGOs are part of CSOs.

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