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Chapter: 11th Political Science : Local Governments

Origin and development of Local Governments in India

In tracing the origin and development of local governments in India, one finds the evidences of the existence of local governments even before the times of Christ (BCE).

Origin and development of Local Governments in India

In tracing the origin and development of local governments in India, one finds the evidences of the existence of local governments even before the times of Christ (BCE). The period between 600 BCE to C.E. 600 witnessed the rise and fall of republics. During this period, there emerged Mahavira (founder of Jainism) and Buddha (founder of Buddhism). Villages were classified according to size and mode of habitation in Jain and Buddhists literature.

The religious orders founded by Buddha and Mahavira observed highly democratic procedures in arriving at decisions. Kautilya’s Arthshastra (Treatise)gives a comprehensive account of the system of village administration prevailing in his time In the days of Maurya the village and the district were units of administration.

In the South Indian peninsula, the existence of the local self governing institutions could be traced well before the period of the Christian calender. The historical period can be grouped in to early Chola period, Kalabira period, and the later Chola period, the emergence of Vijayanagara empire, entry of Muslims and Moghuls and the British. There were very little evidence available about the system of local governance in the early Chola Period(which dates back to Before Christ) and the Kalabira Period.

But there were some account of existence of local governments during the times of Pandyas (rulers of deep south India) and the Pallavas (rulers of mid south india). But Cholas (rulers who ruled mid Tamil country) period witnessed a well developed local self governments. The inscriptions of Paranthaka Chola – I(919.C.E. – 922.C.E) from Utthiramerur in Kanchipuram district of Tamilnadu state, give detailed account of local self government. They inform that each village had an assembly consisting of all adult males and their involvement in general matters. These assemblies are of two types, the “Ur” and the Mahasabha”. The third kind was the nagaram (town) confined to mercantile towns(trading centers) and the fourth was the “nadu”. Hence two types of institutions were mentioned one nadu (village and other areas) and nagaram (urban centers).

In general there is little information on the functioning of any village assemblies prior to the 9th century. Both “nadu” and “Nagaram” were concerned about the control and regulation of land holdings, management of irrigation works, temples, collection and remission of taxes, floating of loans for capital works and the management of charitable institutions. The “ur” and the “mahasabha” were the two institutions that assisted the officers in executing the orders of the king.

It has been found that Raja Raja Chola, the First, ordered the “mahasabha” of the Viranarayana Chaturvedi Mangalam to confiscate the property of traitors. Many historians such as Sir Charles Metcalfe, Sir George Bird wood and Eliphinstone opined that a strong system of local government existed in Ancient and medieval South India. But doubts are expressed by some of the historians about the elaborate existence of the local self government in ancient and medieval South India.

During the Moghul period A.D (C.E.)1500 to A.D (C.E.)1777), the fundamental principles of central local relationships hardly changed with change of kingdoms. When the Mughal Empire was at its zenith of glory, it was divided into provinces (Subhas), and Provinces into sub divisions (Sarkars), and Sakars into union of villages (Paraganas). At each level the government is organized and the officials were appointed by the Emperor. In the Twilight of the Mughul Empire, the self governing institutions in rural areas had been severely damaged at vital points, but they had withstood the onslaughts with remarkable tactics.

After the Battle of Plassey in A.D (C.E.) 1757, the British East India Company derived land taxing rights (Diwani rights) from Bengal ruler (Nawab), which was the first step in the ascendency of the British rule in India. The rural and the other urban trading centers during the British East India company rule, was not under any control or supervision, except the three Presidency towns of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. The District administration under the charge of the district collector was the king pin in the British control over vast rural areas.

The important mile stone during the company rule was the establishment of the Municipal Corporations , as mentioned earlier at Calcutta (Kolkata), Bombay (Mumbai) and Madras (Chennai). Viceroy Lord Rippon in 1882 brought out a resolution, proposing a smaller unit for constituting rural local boards, a sub division, tehsil (taluk) and district boards to supervise.

Lord Rippon’s resolution emphasized that the institutions he proposed should have a majority of non-officials who should be elected wherever it was feasible. Nearly 500 rural boards were created with a two third majority of non officials who depended upon the district magistrate (district collector) for the favour of nomination. The main activities of the district boards till 1909 were police, public works, education and village sanitation.

The rural local government introduced by Lord Rippon faced many criticisms and in the A.D (C.E.) 1907, the British government appointed a commission to enquire into the question of administrative and financial relations between the Government of India, Provincial governments and subordinate authorities under them so as to simplify and improve the prevalent system through devolution or otherwise. With the passing of Government of India Act, 1919, the local governments were entrusted with the elected elements of the provincial government under the diarchy system of government.

The number of the village bodies in Tamilnadu increased from 1417 in 1926 to 6250 in 1937. There are three tier system of rural local bodies viz; District Boards, Taluk Boards, and Village Boards. The District and Taluk boards have undergone changes by 1923, the non-official chairman in all provinces replaced official chairman. In Tamilnadu, most of the District Boards came to be dominated by Justice Party members, which stood at 545 in 1927. From 1937 upto 1947, the rural local authorities faced many challenges including the national freedom movement.

After Indian Independence in 1947, an attempt was made to revive local governments in India. Mahatma Gandhi argued for the decentralized administrative system in India entrusting responsibility of governance with the village panchayats (self sufficient Gram Swaraj). Shrima Naryan with blessings of Gandhiji published a blue print of the Gandhian Constitution for Free India wherein panchayats are the basic institutions for organizing social, economic and political activities of the citizens. In addition to the civic, political and administrative roles, the Panchayat was to play the economic role of organizing production and distributing resources in such a way that the village communities became self sufficient for meeting most of their basic needs.

Thus Article 40 came to be incorporated in the Constitution, as part of the Directive Principles of the State policy (Part –IV) of the Constitution of India adopted on Nov. 26th 1949. The Art. 40 States that, “ 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”

In compliance with the provisions of the Directive Principles of the State Policy, an ambitious rural sector initiative, the Community Development Programme was launched in 1952 with main focus of securing social- economic transformations of village through people’s own democratic and cooperative organizations with the government providing technical services, supply and credit. This programme was extended to most of the blocks as National Extensions Service aimed at transferring scientific and technical knowledge to agricultural, animal husbandry and rural craft sectors. In 1956, under the Second Five Year Plan, (1956- 1961), it was recommended that village panchayats should organically link with popular organizations at higher levels and in stages, the popular body should take over the whole administration. In 1957, Government of India appointed a Committee on Plan Projects under the Chairmanship of Balwant Rai Mehta. The Mehta Committee recommended two points namely, the administration should be decentralized and the administration should be placed under the control of local bodies.

Secondly, the community development blocks should be designed as administrative democratic units with an elected Panchayat Union to operate as a fulcrum of developmental activity in the area. It also recommended for the formation of District Development Councils (Zila Parishad) at the district level consisting of all the Presidents of the Panchayat Unions (Samities), Member of legislative assemblies and Members of Parliament with district level officers of the public health, agriculture, veterinary and education departments as members and the collector as the chairman. The district body is only an advisory body. The recommendation of the Mehta Committee were generally welcomed and Panchayati Raj legislations were enacted and by 1960s about 90 per cent of the population were covered by the Panchayati Raj bodies.

In 1977, the Government of India formed a committee under the chairmanship of Ashoka Mehta to go in to the working of the Panchayati Raj bodies and suggest measures to strengthen it. It recommended that Panchayati Raj should emerge as the system of democratic local government, discharging developmental, municipal and ultimate regulatory functions. Hence the first recommendation was to set up district Panchayat (Zilla Parishad) as the directly elected body. As a temporary arrangement, the committee recommended continuation of the Panchayat union at the block level. Not as a unit of local self government but as a nominated middle level support arm for the District Development Council. The Ashoka Mehta Committee submitted it's report in 1978, which was well received and led many states to introduce appropriate amendments in their Panchayat Acts such Karnataka, Maharastra Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Gujarat.

A number of committees were formed between 1978 and 1986, to look into various aspects of strengthening the local self government institutions, such as, C.H.Hanumantha Rao Committee, G.V.K Rao Committee and L.M.Singhvi Committee. Only minor changes were suggested by these committees from the Ashok Mehta committee, The next land mark was the introduction of 64th and 65th Constitutional Amendment Bills, in July 1989 by Rajiv Gandhi government, which could not be passed in the Council of States (Rajya Sabha).

After many attempts, in 1992, incorporating important features of earlier exercises on this subject, government drafted and introduced the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment bills in Parliament in 1992 which was passed by the Indian Parliament in 1993. The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments introduced new parts IX and IXA in the Indian Constitution containing Articles 243to 243 ZG.

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