Local Self Government
In India, the dream is Devolution, but the reality is Decentralization.
In the News
The Panchayati Raj Ministry has pitched for a fivefold increase (of up to INR 10 lakh crore) in Finance Commission funding for rural local bodies.
What is Local Self Government?
Local self-government is a form of democratic decentralization where the participation of the grass root level of the society is ensured in the process of administration.
Local Self Government (and election process etc. related thereto) is a part of the State List. This includes direct elections and direct form of government.
This is different from elections to the Parliament and State Legislatures, wherein the election process is covered by the Union List. This is also direct elections (Lok Sabha/Legislative Assembly) although an indirect form of government at both the Centre and State levels.
The Local Self Government system was established in 1992 by the 73rd and 74th Amendment to the Constitution – the Panchayati Raj and the Municipality Amendment. Features include:
3 tier system for rural and 2 tier system for urban
- Minimum age for voting is 18 years
- Minimum age for contesting election is 21 years
- 1/3rd of seats reserved for women at all levels
- Reservations introduced for SC/ST category of persons
- Introduction of two bodies – State Election Commission and State Finance Commission
Bodies and Officers of Local Self Governments
The foundation of the present local self-government in India was laid by the Panchayati Raj System (1992).
Evolution of the Panchayati Raj System
Article 40 of the Constitution, among the Directive Principles of State Policy, states:
“The state shall take steps to organize village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.”
The conceptualisation of the system of local self-government in India evolved through recommendations of five important committees:
- Balwant Rai Mehta Committee (1957);
- Ashok Mehta Committee (1977-1978);
- GVK Rao Committee (1985);
- LM Singhvi Committee (1986); and
- Gadgil Committee.
Analysis of Current System of Local Self Government
Conflict of interest between State Government and Local Self Government leads to reluctance of State Governments to impart more powers.
Lack of uniform technological capabilities of different states affects the smooth flow of information, leading to information gaps and preventing smooth communication and information dissemination.
National and regional parties aggressively contest local elections - The objective of having local self-governments is to engage the people themselves to participate in the governing process. However, this objective is defeated by the aggressive participation of national and regional parties, fielding their respective candidates and polarising local elections. Further, such participation of political parties detracts from local issues and leads to elections being fought on party ideals that have no bearing on the local population.
No proper criteria for contesting elections – The lack of proper criteria for contesting elections allows state governments to moot any criteria, which may not always be well thought out. This also leads to lack of uniform qualification requirements.
POI – Rajasthan had introduced the requirements for persons contesting elections for the post of Sarpanch as well as Block head, requiring candidates to have at least completed school level education until class 6 and class 8 respectively. This was struck down by the Courts stating that this would act as an entry barrier to women contesting elections, since the literacy rate in the state for women was very low.
Capacity – No support/research staff to carry out proper functioning of the governing bodies. Although State Governments and higher administrative bodies have a retinue of support staff to assist in the administrative functions, the Gram Sabhas generally have no such support.
Money released for the purpose of development and functioning of local self-government rarely reaches grass roots levels leading to lack of any real progress in rural areas.
Contribution of Gram Panchayats in managing the Covid -19 Pandemic
Gram panchayats in Odisha worked to ensure that beneficiaries under the ration distribution schemes announced by the Central Government received their entitlement under the public distribution system in advance for three months.
In Sukma, a tribal district in Chhattisgarh, the gram panchayat provided ration to families without waiting for supplies from the state government.
Community kitchens have been set up to provide cooked food for those without access to rations.
In Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district, Sivni gram panchayat’s self-reliance in vegetable production is inspirational.
Gram panchayats across India are supporting transiting migrants, and employment is being generated for displaced migrants.
Popular projects undertaken by the Panchayats by utilising funds granted by the Finance Commission are Road Construction and maintenance and supply of drinking water.
The Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan has been launched to actively engage Panchayats in generating employment for newly returned migrant workers displaced due to the COVID-19 pandemic; with the Chief Ministers of Bihar, Jharkhand, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Kerala and Odisha holding regular video-conferences with Sarpanches to review measures taken to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic and generate employment.
Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Abhiyan:
Launched for the period of April 2018 to March 2022 with the primary aim of strengthening Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) for achieving Sustainable Development Goals.
The emphasis has been on strengthening Panchayati Raj institutions by ensuring basic orientation training for the Elected Representatives of Panchayats, within six months of their election and refresher trainings within 2 years.
Introduction and increased use of e-governance and technology driven solutions at Panchayat level is key for attaining increased administrative efficiency, improved service delivery, and greater accountability.
Local Self Government in Special Areas
73rd and 74th Amendment deals with Local Self Government in normal areas.
In Special areas, an additional statute has been enacted, the Panchayati Extension Scheduled Areas Act.
These areas have special powers where the Union has granted the Scheduled areas more local powers to the Gram Sabha. These areas include scheduled areas in Schedule V.
Local Powers include:
Ownership of minor produce;
Prohibition on liquor;
Greater financial powers.