The chapter explains the need for the local government structure in a democracy like India. The chapter talks about the advantage of local governments and the Panchayati raj institutions. We also highlight the 73rd and the 74th amendments act along with the role played by Dr BR Ambedkar.
What is Local Government?
Local government is the village and district level government and is closest to the common people. The local government is involved in the day-to-day life and problems of ordinary citizens. It is believed that local knowledge and local interest are essential ingredients for democratic decision making. Local-level government is also necessary for efficient and people-friendly administration.
What are the advantages of the local government?
The advantage of the local government is that it works closer to the people which makes it convenient for them to approach the authorities or the local government to solve their problems quickly and at minimum cost.
It can be very effective in protecting the local interests of the people. It is at the level of local government that common citizens can be involved in decision making concerning their lives, their needs and above all their development.
The Growth of Local Government in India
The self-governing village communities existed in India from the earliest times in the form of sabhas. Over time, these village bodies took the shape of Panchayats (an assembly of five persons) and these Panchayats resolved issues at the village level.
In modern times, elected local government bodies were created after 1882. It was at the initiative of Lord Rippon - the then Viceroy of India that these local self-governing bodies were created. They were called the local boards at the time.
Government of India Act 1919: Village panchayats were established in several provinces. This trend continued even after the Government of India Act, 1935. Panchayats were looked at as instruments of decentralisation and participatory democracy.
Modern Constitution: The subject of local government was assigned to the States when the constitution was prepared. It was also mentioned in the Directive Principles as one of the policy directives to all governments in the country. Being a part of the Directive Principles of State Policy, this provision of the Constitution was non-justiciable and primarily advisory in its nature.
Why did local governments and panchayats not receive adequate importance in the Constitution?
Partition resulted in a strong unitary inclination
The turmoil due to the Partition resulted in a strong unitary inclination in the Constitution. Jawaharlal Nehru saw extreme localism as a threat to the unity and integration of the nation.
Dr B.R. Ambedkar felt that the faction and caste-ridden nature of rural society would defeat the noble purpose of local government at the rural level.
The Local Governments In Independent India
The Community Development Programme of 1952 sought to promote people‘s participation in local development. The idea of popular participation in local governments got a flip after the 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendment Acts.
In this background, a three-tier Panchayati Raj system of local government was recommended for rural states. Some states adopted the system of elected local bodies around 1960. E.g: Gujarat & Maharashtra.
Why did only a few states adopt the 3-tier system initially?
The system of local government was recommended and was followed only by some states. The following reasons could be attributed to it.
The local bodies did not have enough powers and functions to look after the local development.
They were very much dependent on the State and Central governments for financial assistance.
Many states did not think it necessary to establish elected local bodies.
Local bodies were dissolved and the local government was handed over to government officers.
Many states had indirect elections to most local bodies.
In many states, elections to the local bodies were postponed from time to time.
Constitutional Recognition and Periodic Elections
In 1989 the P.K. Thung on Committee recommended constitutional recognition for the local government bodies. He recommended a constitutional amendment to provide for periodic elections to local government institutions, and enlistment of appropriate functions to them, along with funds, was recommended.
The Panchayati Raj Institution
Why these Amendments?
These amendments aimed at strengthening local governments and ensuring an element of uniformity in their structure and functioning across the country. It gave the local governments a constitutional status.
In 1992, the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments were passed by the Parliament. They came into force in 1993.
The 73rd Amendment is about rural local governments (Panchayati Raj Institutions or PRIs)
The 74th amendment made the provisions relating to urban local government (Nagarpalikas).
Through these amendments the local government was made a state subject. It essentially means that the state is free to make its own laws on this subject.
Once the Constitution was amended, the States had to change their laws about local bodies to bring these in conformity with the amended Constitution.
What are some important provisions of the 73rd Amendment?
The Panchayat Raj Institutions
Three Tier Structure:
Base level- Gram Panchayat (Covers a village or group of villages)
Intermediary-Mandal (Block or Taluka) (Need not be constituted in smaller States)
Apex-Zilla Panchayat (Covering the entire rural area of the District)
Provision of Mandatory Creation of Gram Sabha - Elections, Terms and Dissolution
The Gram Sabha comprises all the adult members registered as voters in the Panchayat area and its role and functions are decided by State legislation.
Elections: All three levels are directly elected by the people.
Term: 5 Years
Dissolution: If the state dissolves the panchayat before the end of its five-year term fresh elections must be held within six months of such dissolution.
1/3rd seats are reserved for women in all Panchayat Institutions for all categories. (Gen/SC/ST/OBC)
Reservation for SC & ST in proportion to their population
If the States find it necessary, they can also provide for reservations for the backward castes(OBCs). Therefore, reservations are also applicable to the chairpersons at all three levels.
Transfer of Subjects
Article 243 G of the Indian constitution deals with the power, authority and responsibility of panchayats.
Twenty-nine subjects, which were earlier in the State list of subjects, were now listed in the Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution. These subjects were to be transferred to the Panchayati Raj Institutions.
These subjects were mostly linked to development and welfare functions at the local level. The actual transfer depends on state legislation only.
What are the subjects listed in the Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution?
The 11th Schedule of the Indian Constitution was added in 1992 by the 73rd Constitution Amendment Act.
This schedule contains 29 subjects.
It contains the functional items mentioned in the 11th schedule of the Indian constitution which are placed within the purview of the Panchayats
List in Eleventh Schedule
Agriculture, including agricultural extension.
Land improvement, implementation of land reforms, land consolidation and soil conservation.
Minor irrigation, water management and watershed development.
Animal husbandry, dairying and poultry.
Social forestry and farm forestry.
The minor forest produces.
Small scale industries, including food processing industries.
Khadi, village and cottage industries.
Fuel and fodder.
Roads, culverts, bridges, ferries, waterways and other means of communication.
Rural electrification, including distribution of electricity.
Non-conventional energy sources.
Poverty alleviation programme.
Education, including primary and secondary schools.
Technical training and vocational education.
Adult and non-formal education.
Markets and fairs.
Health and sanitation, including hospitals, primary health centres and dispensaries.
Women and child development.
Social welfare, including the welfare of the handicapped and mentally retarded.
The welfare of the weaker sections, and in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
Public distribution system.
Maintenance of community assets.
Balwant Rai Mehta Committee
What were the recommendations of the “Balwant Rai Mehta” Committee for the Panchayati Raj Institutions?
The Committee was appointed by the Government Of India on 16 January 1957. The committee was headed by Balwant Rai G Mehta. The committee recommended a three-tier Panchayati Raj System which includes Zila Parishad, Panchyat Samiti and Gram panchayat at district, block and village levels respectively.
Is the 73rd Amendment applicable to the whole state?
The provisions of the 73 amendments were not made applicable to the areas inhabited by the Adivasi populations in the many States of India. In 1996 a separate act was passed extending the provisions of the Panchayat system to these areas.
Why was the Separation of Act passed?
In India, many Adivasi communities have their traditional customs of managing common resources such as forests and small water reservoirs, etc. The new act protects the rights of these communities to manage their resources in ways acceptable to them.
More powers were given to the Gram Sabhas of these areas and elected village panchayats have to get the consent of the Gram Sabha in many respects.
The idea behind this act is that local traditions of self-government should be protected while introducing modern elected bodies. This is only consistent with the spirit of diversity and decentralisation.
How were the elections and the finances of the local governments organised?
State Election Commissioners
Appointed by the State Govt.
Responsible for conducting elections to the Panchayati Raj Institutions.
The office of the State Election Commissioner is autonomous like the ECI.
The State Election Commissioner is an independent officer and is not linked to nor is this officer under the control of the Election Commission of India.
State Finance Commission
Appointed by the State Govt. once in five years.
Examines the financial position of the local governments in the State
Reviews the distribution of revenues between the State and local governments on the one hand and between rural and urban local governments on the other.
What are some important provisions of the 74th Amendment Act?
The Amendment deals with urban local bodies or Nagarpalikas. It contains 18 subjects related to municipalities. The 'Twelfth schedule' was added to the constitution by this amendment.
In many ways, the 74th amendment is a repetition of the 73rd amendment, except that it applies to urban areas.
All the provisions of the 73rd amendment relating to direct elections, reservations, transfer of subjects,
State Election Commission and State Finance Commission have been incorporated in the 74th amendment which applies to Nagarpalikas. The Constitution also mandated the transfer of a list of functions from the State government to the urban local bodies.
What was the impact of the 73rd and 74th amendment of the political governance of the country?
The 73rd & 74th Amendments have created uniformity in the structure of Panchyati Raj and Nagar Palika institutions across the country. The presence of these local institutions is by itself a significant achievement and would create an atmosphere and platform for people’s participation in government.
The provision for reservation for women at the Panchayats and Nagarpalikas has ensured the presence of a significant number of women in local bodies. Women have gained more power and confidence by asserting control over resources. Their presence in these institutions has given many women a greater understanding of the working of politics.
In many cases, they have brought a new perspective and a greater sensitivity to discussions at local bodies. In many cases, women were unable to assert their presence or were mere proxies for the male members of their family who sponsored their election.
In Bihar, 50% of the seats are reserved for women.