Democratic Decentralization and Participatory Governance are the key issues dominating the development discourse in recent times. With the introduction of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in India, initiatives have been taken effectively to extend democratic rule to the local/village level. These strengthened elected local councils often co-exist and interact with a range of apparently-'traditional', potentially-overlapping customary local governance institutions (Customary Panchayats). Research on these issues in Karnataka suggests that it cannot be assumed that there is a unilinear process of displacement of customary institutions by the formal governance structures such as Grama Panchayats. There is some evidence to suggest that Customary Panchayats themselves both influence and adapt to the existence of Grama Panchayats. A deeper understanding of the facts and dynamics of this interaction would greatly increase the capacity of government agencies and social movements to intervene effectively to help promote the interests of the poor and disadvantaged.
Paper presented at the Workshop on Local Governance organised by CSLG, JNU, Delhi, India, April 2002, 17 pp.