Local self-government in India

Local self-government in India refers to governmental jurisdictions below the level of the state. India is a federal republic with three spheres of government: central (union), state and local. The 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments give recognition and protection to local governments and in addition each state has its own local government legislation.[1] Since 1992, local government in India takes place in two very distinct forms. Urban localities, covered in the 74th amendment to the Constitution,[2] have Nagar Palika but derive their powers from the individual state governments, while the powers of rural localities have been formalized under the panchayati raj system, under the 73rd amendment to the Constitution.[3] For the history of traditional local government in India and South Asia, see panchayati raj.

As of 2017, there are a total of 267,428 local government bodies, of which 262,771 are rural and 4,657 urban. Of the rural local governments, 632 are zila parishads at the district level, 6,672 are panchayat samitis at the block level, and 255,466 are gram panchayats at the village level. Following the 2013 local election, 37.1% of councillors were women, and in 2015/16 local government expenditure was 16.3% of total government expenditure.[1]

The panchayati raj system is a three-tier system with elected bodies at the village, taluk and district levels. The modern system is based in part on traditional {Panchayati raj. Panchayat governance}, in part on the vision of (Mahatma Gandhi) and in part by the work of various committees to harmonize the highly centralized Indian governmental administration with a degree of local autonomy.[4] The result was intended to create greater participation in local government by people and more effective implementation of rural development programs. Although, as of 2015, implementation in all of India is not complete,the intention is for there to be a gram panchayat for each village or group of villages, a tehsil level council, and a zilla panchayat at the district level.

Rural local governments (or panchayat raj institutions):[5]

In 1957, a committee led by Balwant Rai Mehta Committee studied the Community Development Projects and the National Extension Service and assessed the extent to which the movement had succeeded in utilising local initiatives and in creating institutions to ensure continuity in the process of improving economic and social conditions in rural areas. The Committee held that community development would only be deep and enduring when the community was involved in the planning, decision-making and implementation process.[6] The suggestions were for as follows:[7]

  • an early establishment of elected local bodies and devolution to them of necessary resources, power, and authority,
  • that the basic unit of democratic decentralisation was at the block/samiti level since the area of jurisdiction of the local body should neither be too large nor too small. The block was large enough for efficiency and economy of administration, and small enough for sustaining a sense of involvement in the citizens,
  • such body must not be constrained by too much control by the government or government agencies,
  • the body must be constituted for five years by indirect elections from the village panchayats,
  • its functions should cover the development of agriculture in all its aspects, the promotion of local industries and others
  • services such as drinking water, road building, etc., and
  • the higher-level body, Zilla Parishad, would play an advisory role.

The PRI structure did not develop the requisite democratic momentum and failed to cater to the needs of rural development. There are various reasons for such an outcome which include political and bureaucratic resistance at the state level to share power and resources with local-level institutions, the domination of local elites over the major share of the benefits of welfare schemes, lack of capability at the local level and lack of political will.

It was decided to appoint a high-level committee under the chairmanship of Ashok Mehta to examine and suggest measures to strengthen PRIs. The Committee had to evolve an effective decentralised system of development for PRIs. They made the following recommendations:[8]

  • the district is a viable administrative unit for which planning, coordination, and resource allocation are feasible and technical expertise available,
  • PRIs as a two-tier system, with Mandal Panchayat at the base and Zilla Parishad at the top,
  • the PRIs are capable of planning for themselves with the resources available to them,
  • district planning should take care of the urban-rural continuum,
  • representation of SCs and STs in the election to PRIs on the basis of their population,
  • four-year term of PRIs,
  • participation of political parties in elections,
  • any financial devolution should be committed to accepting

that much of the developmental functions at the district level would be played by the panchayats.

The states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal passed new legislation based on this report. However, the flux in politics at the state level did not allow these institutions to develop their own political dynamics.

G.V.K. Rao Committee (1985)Edit

The G.V.K. Rao Committee was appointed by Planning Commission[9] to once again look at various aspects of PRIs. The Committee was of the opinion that a total view of rural development must be taken in which PRIs must play a central role in handling people's problems. It recommended the following:[10]-

  • PRIs have to be activated and provided with all the required support to become effective organisations,
  • PRIs at district level and below should be assigned the work of planning, implementation and monitoring of rural development programmes, and
  • the block development office should be the spinal cord of the rural development process.
  • district development commissioner to be introduced.
  • election should conduct regularly.

L. M. Singhvi Committee (1986)Edit

A committee led by Laxmi Mall Singhvi was constituted in the 1980s to recommend ways to revitalize PRIs. The Gram Sabha was considered as the base of a municipality decentralised, and PRIs viewed as institutions of self-governance which would actually facilitate the participation of the people in the process of planning and development. It recommended:[11]

  • local self-government should be constitutionally recognised, protected and preserved by the inclusion of new chapter in the Constitution,
  • non-involvement of political parties in Panchayat elections.

The suggestion of giving panchayats constitutional status was opposed by the Sarkaria Commission, but the idea, however, gained momentum in the late 1980s especially because of the endorsement by the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who introduced the 64th Constitutional Amendment Bill in 1989. The 64th Amendment Bill was prepared and introduced in the lower house of Parliament. But it got defeated in the Rajya Sabha as non-convincing. He lost the general elections too. In 1989, the National Front introduced the 74th Constitutional Amendment Bill, which could not become an Act because of the dissolution of the Ninth Lok Sabha. All these various suggestions and recommendations and means of strengthening PRIs were considered while formulating the new Constitutional Amendment Act.

The 73rd Constitutional Amendment ActEdit

The idea which produced the 73rd and Amendment[12] was not a response to pressure from the grassroots, but to an increasing recognition that the institutional initiatives of the preceding decade had not delivered, that the extent of rural poverty was still much too large and thus the existing structure of government needed to be reformed. This idea evolved from the Centre and the state governments. It was a political drive to see PRIs as a solution to the governmental crises that India was experiencing.

The Constitutional (73rd Amendment) Act, passed in 1992 by the Narasimha Rao government, came into force on April 24, 1993. It was meant to provide constitutional sanction to establish "democracy at the grassroots level as it is at the state level or national level". Its main features are as follows:[13]

  • The Gram Sabha or village assembly as a deliberative body to decentralised governance has been envisaged as the foundation of the Panchayati Raj System.73rd Amendment of the Constitution empowered the Gram Sabhas to conduct social audits in addition to its other functions.
  • A uniform three-tier structure of panchayats at village (Gram Panchayat — GP), intermediate or block (Panchayat Samiti — PS) and district (Zilla Parishad — ZP) levels.
  • All the seats in a panchayat at every level are to be filled by elections from respective territorial constituencies.
  • Not less than one-third of the total seats for membership as well as office of chairpersons of each tier have to be reserved for women.
  • Reservation for weaker castes and tribes (SCs and STs) have to be provided at all levels in proportion to their population in the panchayats.
  • To supervise, direct and control the regular and smooth elections to panchayats, a State Election Commission has The Act has ensured constitution of a State Finance Commission in every State/UT, for every five years, to suggest measures to strengthen finances of panchayati raj institutions.
  • To promote bottom-up-planning, the District Planning Committee (DPC) in every district has been accorded to constitutional status.
  • An indicative list of 29 items has been given in Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution. Panchayats are expected to play an effective role in planning and implementation of works related to these 29 items.

Present scenarioEdit

A newly elected Panchayat in Punjab, India

At present, there are about 3 million elected representatives at all levels of the panchayat, one-half[clarification needed] of which are women. These members represent more than 2.4 lakh (240,000) gram panchayats, about 6,000 intermediate level tiers and more than 500 district panchayats. Panchayats cover about 96% of India's more than 5.8 lakh (580,000) villages and nearly 99.6% of the rural population.

The Constitution of India visualises panchayats as institutions of self-governance. However, giving due consideration to the federal structure of India's polity, most of the financial powers and authorities to be endowed on panchayats have been left at the discretion of concerned state legislatures. Consequently, the powers and functions vested in PRIs vary from state to state. These provisions combine representative and direct democracy into a synergy and are expected to result in an extension and deepening of democracy in India. Hence, panchayats have journeyed from an institution within the culture of India to attain constitutional status.


Types of urban local governments include:[14]


All municipal acts in India provide for functions, powers and responsibilities to be carried out by the municipal government. These are divided into two categories: obligatory and discretionary.

Obligatory functionsEdit

  • supply of pure and wholesome water
  • construction and maintenance of public streets
  • lighting and watering of public streets
  • cleaning of public streets, places and sewers
  • regulation of offensive, dangerous or obnoxious trades and callings or practices
  • maintenance or support of public hospitals
  • establishment and maintenance of primary schools
  • registration of births and deaths
  • removing obstructions and projections in public streets, bridges and other places
  • naming streets and numbering houses
  • maintenance of law and order

Discretionary functionsEdit

  • laying out of areas
  • securing or removal of dangerous buildings or places
  • construction and maintenance of public parks, gardens, libraries, museums, rest houses, leper homes, orphanages and rescue homes for women
  • public buildings
  • planting of trees and maintenance of roads
  • housing for low income groups
  • conducting surveys
  • organizing public receptions, public exhibitions, public entertainment
  • provision of transport facilities with the municipality
  • promotion of welfare of municipal employees

Some of the functions of the urban bodies overlap with the work of state agencies. The functions of the municipality, including those listed in the Twelth Schedule to the Constitution, are left to the discretion of the state government. Local bodies have to be bestowed with adequate powers, authority and responsibility to perform the functions entrusted to them by the Act. However, the Act has not provided them with any powers directly and has instead left it to state government discretion.[15]

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Shourie, Arun (1990). Individuals, institutions, processes: How one may strengthen the other in India today. New Delhi, India: Viking.


  1. ^ a b "The Local Government System in India" (PDF). Commonwealth Local Government Forum.
  2. ^ The Constitution (Seventy-fourth Amendment) Act, 1992
  3. ^ The Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) Act, 1992
  4. ^ Singh, Vijandra (2003). "Chapter 5: Panchayati Raj and Gandhi". Panchayati Raj and Village Development: Volume 3, Perspectives on Panchayati Raj Administration. Studies in public administration. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons. pp. 84–90. ISBN 978-81-7625-392-5.
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Government of India, Report of the Team for the Study of Community Projects and National Extension Service, (Chairperson: Balvantray Mehta), Committee on Plan Projects, National Development Council, (New Delhi, November 1957), Vol. I,
  7. ^ Anirban Kashyap: Panchaytiraj, Views of founding fathers and recommendation of different committees, New Delhi, Lancer Books, 1989 P 109
  8. ^ Anirban Kashyap: Panchaytiraj, Views of founding fathers and recommendation of different committees, New Delhi, Lancer Books, 1989 P 112
  9. ^ Pratiyogita Darpan. Pratiyogita Darpan. Retrieved 10 April 2015.
  10. ^ World Bank: Overview of ruraldecentralisation in indi Volume III World Bank, 2000 P 21
  11. ^ Mahoj Rai et al. :The state of Panchayats – A participatory perspective, New Delhi, Smscriti, 2001 P 9
  12. ^ The Constitution (Seventy Third Amendment) Act, 1992, The Gazette of India, Ministry of Law, Justice and Company Affairs, New Delhi, 1993.
  13. ^ T M Thomas Issac with Richard Franke : Local democracy and development – Peoples Campaign for decentralized planning in Kerala, New Delhi, Leftword Books, 2000 P 19
  14. ^ "National Council Of Educational Research And Training :: Home". www.ncert.nic.in. Retrieved 22 July 2019.
  15. ^ Fahim, Mayraj (24 May 2009). "Local government in India still carries characteristics of its colonial heritage". City Mayors Foundation.

External linksEdit