The government at the village and district level is called local government. Local government is the government closest to the common citizen. The subject of local governance is the problems of the common citizen and his everyday life. Local governance recognizes that local knowledge and local interests are essential components of democratic decision-making. It is also necessary for effective and public-friendly administration. The advantage of local government is that it is closest to the people and due to this their problems are solved very fast and at low cost. Local government proves to be very effective in protecting the local interests of the people. Institutions of local government were given constitutional status in 1993. Since then, there has been a wave of change on a large scale across India
Democracy means meaningful participation with accountability. Vibrant and strong local governance ensures active participation and purposeful accountability. At the level of local governance, the process of decision-making of the common citizen about the issues related to his life, needs and his development can be included. The work that can be done at the local level should be in the hands of the local people and their representatives. It is necessary for democracy. Thus, strengthening local governance is similar to strengthening the democratic process.
Development of Local Government in India
It is believed that village communities running their own rule existed in the form of 'Sabhas' in ancient India. With the passage of time, these village meetings took the form of Panchayat. With the passage of time the role and functions of Panchayats also changed. In modern times, elected bodies of local government came into existence after 1882 at the time of Lord Ripon. He made efforts towards creating these bodies, which were called Local Board. Thereafter, progress in this direction was very slow. The Indian National Congress demanded the government to take necessary steps to make all the local boards more effective. With the enactment of the Government of India Act 1919, Gram Panchayats were formed in many provinces. This trend continued even after the Government of India Act of 1935.
During the Indian freedom struggle, Mahatma Gandhi insisted that there should be decentralization of economic and political power. He believed that strengthening village panchayats is an effective means of decentralization of power. Every development initiative should have the participation of the local people so that it is successful. Thus, the Panchayat was seen as a means to establish participatory democracy. The Governor General had a lot of powers in his hands, this was also included in the concerns of our freedom struggle. Therefore, for our leaders, independence meant an assurance that there would be decentralization in decision making and in the exercise of executive and administrative powers.
Reasons for not getting due importance in the constitution to local government, including Panchayats:-
Due to the turmoil of the partition of the country, the inclination of the constitution was to strengthen the center. Nehru himself considered hyper locality as a threat to the unity and integrity of the nation.
A strong voice was rising in the Constituent Assembly under the leadership of Dr. BR Ambedkar. It said that in rural India, caste-class and mutual divisions prevailed. The objective of local governance is very good, but in such an environment of rural India, this very objective will be defeated. However, none of the members denied the importance of public participation in development plans. Many members of the Constituent Assembly wanted that the basis of democracy in India should be the Gram Panchayat, but they were deeply concerned that it might not be right to do so in the presence of factionalism and other evils in the villages.
For this reason, when the constitution was made, the subject of local government was handed over to the states. It is also discussed in the 'Directive Principles of Policy' of the Constitution. It has been said that every government of the country should consider it as a directive principle in its policy.
Local Government in Independent India
After the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution, the local government got a strong base. But even before this there had been some effort to create bodies of local government. The first name in this regard comes from the Community Development Program of 1952. The idea behind this program was that there should be public participation in various activities of local development. It was against this background that a three-tier Panchayati Raj system was recommended for rural areas. Some states (eg Gujarat, Maharashtra) adopted the system of local bodies formed by election in 1960. But in many regions the power of these local bodies was not enough to take care of local development. These bodies were heavily dependent on the state and central government for financial help.
Many states have not even accepted that there is a need to establish local bodies through elections. There are many examples where local bodies were dissolved and the responsibility of local governance was handed over to a government official. In many states, elections to most of the local bodies were held indirectly. In many states, elections to local bodies were postponed from time to time.
After 1987, a thorough review of the institutions of local government began. In 1989, the PK Thungan Committee recommended the grant of constitutional status to the bodies of local government. The recommendation of the committee was to amend the constitution to conduct elections to the institutions of local government from time to time, to decide the list of their proper functions and to provide funds to such institutions.
73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution
In 1989, the central government put forward two constitutional amendments. The aim of these amendments was to strengthen local governance and bring about uniformity in its functioning and structure throughout the country. In 1992, the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution were passed by the Parliament. The 73rd Amendment of the Constitution deals with the local governance of the village. It is related to the institutions of Panchayati Raj system. The 74th Amendment of the Constitution deals with the Urban Local Government (Municipality). The 73rd and 74th amendments came into force in 1993.
Local government has been placed in the state list. The states are free to make their own laws regarding local government. But after the constitution was amended, the states had to change such laws so that they could be made in accordance with the amended constitution. The states were given one year's time to make necessary changes in their respective laws of local government in the light of these amendments.
Due to the 73rd amendment, a three-tier structure was accepted in the Panchayati Raj system.
Three tier structure
Now the structure of Panchayati Raj system in all the states is three-tier. Gram Panchayat comes at the bottom ie on the first rung. A village panchayat consists of one or more villages. The intermediate level i.e. the middle notch belongs to the mandal which is also called block or taluka. The body of local government standing on this footing is called Mandal or Taluka Panchayat. In the regions which are small in size, there is no need to create Mandal or Taluka Panchayat i.e. intermediate level. At the top rung is the place of the Zilla Panchayat. The entire rural area of the district comes under its purview.
The 73rd Amendment of the Constitution also provides that the Gram Sabha should be compulsorily formed. Every adult person registered as a voter in the Panchayati Circle is a member of the Gram Sabha. The role and functions of the Gram Sabha are decided by the laws of the state.
All three levels of Panchayati Raj Institutions are directly elected by the people. The term of every Panchayati body is five years. If the state government dissolves the panchayat before the completion of five years, then fresh elections should be held within six months. This is an important provision to ensure the existence of elected local bodies.
Before the 73rd Amendment of the Constitution, elections to district panchayat bodies were held indirectly in many states and there was no provision regarding holding of immediate elections after dissolution of panchayati institutions.
One-third of the seats in all panchayati institutions are reserved for women. At all three levels, there is a provision of reservation in seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. This arrangement has been made in proportion to the population of Scheduled Castes / Scheduled Tribes. If the state government considers it necessary, then it can also give reservation in seats to other backward classes.
It is worth mentioning here that this reservation is not limited to the seats of only ordinary members of the Panchayat. Reservation has been given at all three levels up to the post of President. Apart from this, one-third reservation has been given to women not only in general category seats, but there is also a provision of one-third reservation for women on the seats reserved for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes.
By the Bihar Panchayat Raj Act, 2006, 50 percent seats have been reserved for women in all the posts including single posts in all categories. This was the first such step across the country and after that many states have followed this. Also, there is a provision of reservation for backward classes in Bihar, that is, a seat can be reserved for a woman candidate and a member of a Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe simultaneously. In this way, the post of Sarpanch can be held by a Dalit or Adivasi woman.
Transfer of subjects
29 such subjects which were earlier in the State List, have now been identified and entered in the 11th Schedule of the Constitution. These subjects are to be transferred to Panchayati Raj Institutions. In most of the cases, these issues are concerned with the development and welfare work at the local level. The actual transfer of these functions is dependent on the law of the state. Each state will decide how many of these 29 subjects to be handed over to the local bodies. Under Article 243G, the legislature of a state may, by law, confer such power and authority on the Panchayats in matters listed in the Eleventh Schedule.
Some subjects listed in the Eleventh Schedule
Drinking water, 2. Agriculture,3. Minor irrigation, Water management, Development of water storage, .....8. Small scale industries, this includes industries in food processing; 10. Rural Housing; 13. road, culvert; 14. Rural electrification; 16. Poverty Alleviation Programme; 17. Education, it includes education at the primary and secondary level; 18. Technical training and vocational education; 19. Adult and non-formal education; 20. Library; 21. Cultural activity; 22. Market and Fair; 23. Health and sanitation, including hospitals, primary health centers and dispensaries; 24. Family planning; 25. Women and Child Development; 26. Social Welfare; 27. Welfare of weaker sections, especially of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes; 28. Public Distribution System.
The tribal population areas of many states of India were kept away from the provisions of the 73rd Amendment. These provisions did not apply to these areas. In 1996, a separate Act was made and these areas were also included in the purview of the provisions of the Panchayati system. Based on the recommendations of the Bhuria Committee, the Bill was introduced in the Parliament. It was passed by both the houses in December 1996 and came into force on 24th December after obtaining the assent of the President. This law is called PESA (The Provisions on the Panchyats Extension to the Scheduled Areas Bill). Many tribal communities have customs of taking care of common resources such as forests and water.
For this reason, this right of tribal communities has been protected in the new Act. They can take care of the resources according to their custom. For this purpose, more powers have been given to the Gram Sabha of such areas and the elected Gram Panchayat has to take the permission of the Gram Sabha in many ways. The basic idea behind this act is to preserve the local tradition of self-government and to introduce such communities to modernly elected bodies. This idea is consistent with the spirit of diversity and decentralization.
State Election Commissioner
It is necessary for the states to appoint a State Election Commissioner. The responsibility of this commissioner will be to conduct elections to Panchayati Raj Institutions. Earlier this work was administered by the state, which is under the government of the state. Now the Election Commissioner of the state is also autonomous like the Election Commissioner of India. However, the Election Commissioner of the State is an independent officer. He or his office is not related to the Election Commission of India.
State Finance Commission
It is necessary for the state government to constitute a regional finance commission every five years. This commission takes stock of the financial condition of the institutions of local government present in the state. This commission reviews the distribution of revenue between the systems of state and local government on the one hand and between the institutions of urban and rural local government on the other. This initiative has ensured that allocation of funds to rural local government does not become a political issue.
The 74th amendment of the constitution deals with the urban local government body i.e. municipality. While defining an urban area in the Census of India, it has been considered necessary to (a) have a population of at least 5,000, (b) at least 75 percent of the men working in this area are separate from agriculture and (c) the density of population is at least 400 persons per square kilometer. According to the 2011 census, 31.16% of India's population lives in urban areas.
In many ways, the 74th amendment is a repetition of the 73rd amendment to the Constitution, but this amendment pertains to urban areas. All the provisions of the 73rd Amendment such as direct elections, reservation, transfer of subjects, regional election commissioners and regional finance commissions are included in the 74th amendment and apply to municipalities.
Under the amendment, it has been made mandatory that the state government should leave the responsibility of performing certain tasks to the institutions of urban local government. These functions are written in the Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution.
Implementation of 73rd and 74th Amendments
Now all the states have made laws to implement the provisions of the 73rd amendment. It is now more than twenty five years since these provisions came into existence. During this period (1994-2022), local body elections have been held at least five to six times in most of the states.
Due to the elections to the local bodies, there has been a huge increase in the number of elected public representatives. The number of elected public representatives under Panchayati Raj in India is 31,88,981 in which the number of women is 14,54,488. Whereas the number of elected public representatives in Bihar is 1,36,573 in which the number of women is 71,046.
It is quite evident that the 73rd and 74th Amendments have uniformed the structure of Panchayati Raj Institutions and Municipal Institutions across the country. The presence of these local organizations is a big achievement in itself. This will create a platform and atmosphere for public participation in governance.
The provision of reservation for women in Panchayats and Municipalities has ensured the presence of women in large numbers in the local bodies. The provision of reservation is also there for the post like president and sarpanch. Due to this a large number of elected women public representatives have been placed on the posts like president and sarpanch.
By asserting their control over resources, women have gained more power and self-confidence. Due to the presence of women in these institutions, the understanding of the working of politics of many women has been sharpened. In many cases, it has been found that the presence of women in the deliberations of local bodies adds a new perspective and makes the discussions more sensitive.
In many cases, it has been seen that the women failed to register their presence or the man of the family kept taking decisions on the pretext of making the woman occupy the post. But such incidents are rapidly decreasing.
Reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was made mandatory by the Constitutional Amendment itself. Along with this, most of the states have made the provision of reservation for the backward castes. Scheduled Castes and 8.2 percent Scheduled Tribes constitute 16.2 percent of India's population. The number of elected members of the urban and rural institutions of local government is about 6.6 lakh members of these communities. This has brought about drastic changes in the social fabric of the local bodies. The social reality in which these bodies are working, now that truth is being represented more through these bodies.
Sometimes this creates tension. The section which, being socially influential, used to control the village, does not want to give up this clout. This intensifies the struggle for power. But, stress and conflict are not always bad. Whenever there is an attempt to make democracy more meaningful and give strength to the underprivileged, there is bound to be conflict and tension in the society.
The amendment of the constitution has handed over 29 subjects to the local government. All these issues are related to the needs of local development and welfare. The experience of the last decades in the functioning of local government shows that there is very little freedom for it to function freely in India. Many states did not entrust most of the subjects to the local bodies.
This meant that the local bodies could not function effectively. Thus, the whole task of electing so many people's representatives became merely symbolic. Some criticize the creation of local bodies, saying that it does not change the way decisions are taken at the regional and central levels. The people at the local level do not have much power to make choices regarding the programs of public welfare or the allocation of resources. The local bodies have very little money to say about themselves. Local bodies depend on the state and central government for financial help. This has greatly eroded their ability to function effectively. Urban local bodies contribute less than one percent of the total revenue collection while the expenditure is high. In this way local bodies earn less and spend more. That is why these bodies are dependent on the grantor.