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Evolution of Local Self-Government (Panchayati Raj System) in India

We know there is a government in India at the Center and State levels. But there is another
important system for local governance. The foundation of the present local self-government
in India was laid by the Panchayati Raj System (1992).

But the history of Panchayati Raj starts from the self-sufficient and self-governing village
communities. In the time of the Rig-Veda (1700 BC), evidence suggests that self-governing
village bodies called sabhas existed. With the passage of time, these bodies became
panchayats (council of five persons).

Panchayats were functional institutions of grassroots governance in almost every village.

They endured the rise and fall of empires in the past, to the current highly structured

Local self-government implies the transference of the power to rule to the lowest rungs of
the political order. It is a form of democratic decentralization where the participation of
even the grass root level of the society is ensured in the process of administration.

History of LSG

Local self-government is nothing new in the Indian history. A Chaupal has always been an
integral part of village life where people, generally elderly, would sit together and discuss
current local affairs. All community matters would get decided in these meetings which in
the recent the centuries came to be known as village Panchayats. A Panch means a
prominent local personality and the Panchayat refers to the gathering of Panchas.

Ever since the Vedic period, local villagers participated in the collective decision making.
Sabhas (gatherings) were the popular platforms through which the common people had a
direct say and control over the local affairs. The village was always a more or less self-
dependent unit. It generated its own resources, had its own functionaries and its own
functional domain. Village and State functions were supplementary and rarely conflicted;
the State performed only those functions which the village could not perform itself. This
naturally evolved system persisted in the ancient period under the Mauryas, Guptas and

However, things began to change in the early medieval period, with the arrival of invaders
and their foreign concept of governance. Shershah Suri divided the Revenue Administration
and Police Administration between Patwari and Muqaddam. The Mughals introduced
middlemen called Zagirdars to collect Revenue from the villager for the State. This
introduction of Zagirdari system created new power centers at the local level and weakened
the self-governing Panchayat system of the village community. This also adversely affected
the village economy due to loss of financial autonomy of the Village Panchayats. But despite
the weakening influence of the Zagirdari system, village Panchayats continued to play
significant role even during the Mughal era.
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But the British rule gave a severe blow to the local independence of the village Panchayats.
They changed the Revenue system that reduced the self-sufficient villages to the status of
dependent units. Their centralized system of governance gave a severe blow to the rather
autonomous indigenous socio-economic system of Indian villages. Since their main aim was
to exploit the natural resources as well as people of India to strengthen the British Empire,
they systematically destroyed all forms of local independence. Thus, they put in place a
system of delegation where power flowed from the Central command and reduced the local
people to the status of non-entities.


Ripon's viceroyalty saw the liberalisation of administration in every sphere. The Resolution
of 1882 stands out as a landmark in the development of local self-government. Ripon
desired the provincial governments to apply in case of local bodies, the principle of financial
Lord Ripon is known as Father of Local Self Government in India.

In 1908, the entire subject of local self-government reviewed by the Royal Commission on
decentralisation. Important recommendations were made almost in every sphere. The
Commission laid emphasis on the development of village panchayats and sub-district

With the coming of the Government of India Act 1919 local self-government became a
'transferred' subject under popular ministerial control. Each province was allowed to
develop local self-governments according to their needs and requirement.


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Later, the conceptualisation of the system of local self-government in India took place
through the formation and effort of four important committees from the year 1957 to 1986.

1. Balwant Rai Mehta Committee (1957)

Originally appointed by the Government of India to examine the working of two of its earlier
programs, the committee submitted its report in November 1957, in which the term
democratic decentralization first appears.

1. Establishment of a three-tier Panchayati Raj system:

a. Gram Panchayat at the village level;

b. Panchayat Samiti at the block level; and
c. Zila Parishad at the district level

2. Village Panchayat be constituted with directly elected representatives;

Panchayat Samiti and Zila Parishad be constituted with indirectly elected members.

3. Panchayat Samiti should be the executive body; Zila Parishad should be the
advisory, coordinating and supervisory body;

4. There should be a genuine transfer of power; adequate resources should be


The recommendation was accepted by the National Development council in January

1958. However, the council did not insist on a single rigid pattern and left it to the
states to evolve their own patterns suitable to local conditions.

Rajasthan was the first state to establish Panchayati Raj in Nagaur district on October 2,

Rajasthan 3 tier system

West Bengal - 4 tier system
Rajasthan & Andhra Pradesh - Panchayat Samiti was powerful
Maharashtra & Gujarat - Zila Parishad was powerful

Ashok Mehta Committee

Janata Government appointed a committee on Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) in

December 1977 under the chairmanship of Ashok Mehta. It submitted its report in
August 1978 regarding strengthening of the declining Panchayati Raj system in India.

Some of its major recommendations were: -

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1. Three-tier PRI system should be replaced by the two-tier system,

Zila Parishad at the district level;
Mandal Panchayat consisting of a group of villages with a total population of 15,000
to 20,000;
2. District should be the first point for decentralization below state level with Official
participation of political parties at all levels of panchayat elections.

3. PRI to have compulsory powers of taxation to mobilize their own finances.

4. Regular social audit of PRI by a district level agency and by a committee of legislators.

5. The state government not to supersede PRI. In case of supersession, elections should
be held within 6 months from the date of supersession.

6. The Chief Electoral Officer of a state in consultations with the Chief Election
Commissioner to organize and conduct the PRI elections.

7. A minister of panchayati raj should be appointed in the state council of ministers.

8. Seats for SCs and STs should be reserved on the basis of their populations.

3. G V K Rao Commitee (1985)

Appointed by the Planning Commission, the committee concluded that the developmental
procedures were gradually being taken away from the local self-government institutions,
resulting in a system comparable to grass without roots.
Zila Parishad to be given prime importance and all developmental programs at that
level to be handed to it.
Post of DDC (District Development Commissioner) to be created acting as the chief
executive officer of the Zila Parishad.
Regular elections to be held

4. L M Singhvi Commitee (1986)

Constituted by the Rajiv Gandhi government on Revitalisation of Panchayati Raj
institutions for Democracy and Development, its important recommendations are:

Constitutional recognition for PRI institutions.

Nyaya Panchayats to be established for clusters of villages
Though the 64th Constitutional Amendment bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 1989
itself, Rajya Sabha opposed it. It was only during the Narasimha Rao governments term that
the idea finally became a reality in the form of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional

Amendment acts, 1992.

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73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment acts, 1992

The acts of 1992 added two new parts IX and IX-A to the constitution.
It also added two new schedules 11 and 12 which contains the lists of functional items
of Panchayats and Municipalities.
It provides for a three-tier system of Panchayati Raj in every state at the village,
intermediate and district levels.

Salient Features of the act

Gram Sabha
Adult people (above 18 years) register in electoral rolls relating to a village comprised
within the area of Panchayat.

Meet twice a year (April 13 & Oct 3) & exercise functions as state legislature determines

In other words, Gram sabha is village assembly of registered voters within panchayat
area to discuss issues related to their areas

3 Tier System
Act provides for a 3 tier system of panchayati raj in every state i.e. Panchayats at village,
intermediate & district level

However, a state having population less than 20 lakhs may not have intermediate level

Members of Rajya sabha, Lok sabha & state assembly in district may be included in
intermediate level panchayat, in which they are registered as an elector
Election of Members & Chairperson
All the members of the panchayat at village, intermediate & district levels shall be
elected directly by the people

Chairperson of panchayat (at intermediate & district levels) shall be elected indirectly by
& among the elected members thereof

Chairperson of panchayat at village level shall be elected in such a manner as the state
legislature determines

Reservation of seats
Reservation of seats of SC & ST (at all 3 levels) shall be in proportion of, their population
to total population in panchayat area
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Further, state legislature shall provide for reservation of offices of chairperson in
panchayat at all levels for SCs & STs

Reservation of not less than 1/3rd of total no. of seats for women, including number of
seats reserved for women belonging to SCs & STs
Further, not less than 1/3rd of total no. of offices of chairperson in the panchayats at each
level shall be reserved for women

Duration of panchayats
Every panchayat shall continue for 5 yrs from the date of its 1 st meeting
It can be dissolved earlier in accordance with the procedure prescribed by the state

In case, it is dissolved earlier, elections must take place within 6 month of its dissolution

Same as state legislature but must have attained a minimum age of 21

Shall be qualified as a member of panchayat by any law made by state legislature

Powers & Functions

It is for the state legislature to determine as to what powers are to be assigned to the
panchayats to enable them to function as an institution of self-government

Powers shall be assigned mainly for social justice & economic development with regards
to 29 matters, included in 11th schedule
Financial matters
State legislature may:

Authorise a panchayat to levy, collect & appropriate taxes, duties tolls & fees

Assign to panchayat to appropriate taxes, duties, tolls & fees levied & collected by state

Provide for making grants in aid to panchayats from consolidated fund of India

Provide for constitution of funds for crediting money to panchayats

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State Finance commission
Within 1 year of coming into force of this act & henceforth every 5 years, state gov.
(Governor) shall appoint a state finance commission, to review the financial positions of the
panchayats & to suggest different means to enhance the same

State Election commission

State election commissioner shall be appointed by governor to suprident, direct & control
elections of panchayats including preparation of electoral rolls. He can be removed on the
same grounds as a judge of HC & his tenure shall be determined by the Governor

Bar on interference by the courts

The act bars the interference by courts in electoral matters of the panchayats

It declares that validity of any law relating to delimitation of constituencies or allotment

of seats to such constituencies can not be questioned in any court

Further, no election to any panchayat is to be questioned except by an election petition,

presented to such authority & in a manner provided by state legislature

Exempted states & Areas

Act does not apply to J & K, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Hill areas of Manipur,
Darjeeling & certain other areas

However, parliament may extend its provisions to these areas under PESA, 1996
(Provision to panchayat extension to scheduled areas)

Compulsory Provisions
Organisation of Gram sabha

Creation of 3 tier panchayati raj at District, Block & Village level

All the seats in panchayati raj shall be filled by people chosen by direct elections from
territorial constituencies in panchayat areas

Minimum age for contesting for elections to panchayats is 21 years, for fixed 5 years

Reservation of seats for SC/ ST in panchayats shall be in proportion of their population


Reservation of women in Panchayats is upto 33 % 9986102277

Each state is to constitute a state election commission to conduct elections & state
finance commission every 5 years to review financial positions of the panchayats

Voluntary Provisions
Providing reservation for backward classes

Giving voting rights to members of union & state legislatures in these bodies

Giving panchayats financial autonomy & powers to levy taxes, fees etc.

74th Amendment and Municipalities in India

Constitution (Seventy Forth Amendment) Act, 1992 has introduced a new Part IXA in the
Constitution, which deals with Municipalities in an article 243 P to 243 ZG. This
amendment, also known as Nagarpalika Act, came into force on 1st June 1993.

Definition of Metropolitan area

Metropolitan area in the country is an area where population is above 10 Lakh. (Article 243P)
Three Kinds of Municipalities
Article 243Q provides for establishment of 3 kinds of Municipalities of every state.
Nagar Panchayat: A Nagar Panchayat is for those areas which are transitional areas i.e.
transiting from Rural Area to Urban areas. Governor will by public notice, will define these
three areas based upon the population, density of population, revenue generated for local
administration, % of employment in Non-agricultural activities and other factors. Further, a
Governor may also if, he fits it necessary, based upon the industrial establishments, can
specify the Industrial Townships by public notice.
Municipal Council: A Municipal council is for smaller urban area
Municipal Corporation: A municipal Corporation for Larger urban Areas
Composition of Municipalities
All the members of a Municipality are to be directly elected by the people of the Municipal
area and for the purpose of making the electorate; the municipal area will be divided into
territorial constituencies known as Wards.
Besides the seats filled by direct elections, some seats may be filled by nomination of
persons having special knowledge and experience in municipal administration.
Persons so nominated shall not have the right to vote in the meetings of the municipality.
The Legislature of a State may, by law, also provide for the representation in a municipality
of members of the House of the People and the members of the Legislative Assembly of the
State representing constituencies which comprise wholly or partly the Municipal area and
also the Members of the Council of States and the members of the Legislative Council of the
State registered as electors within the municipal area.
The manner of election of Chairpersons of municipalities has been left to be specified by
the State Legislature. {Article 243R}
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Ward Committees
There shall be constituted the ward committees consisting of one or more wards within the
territorial area of all the municipalities with a population of 3 Lakhs or more. { Article 243S}

Reservation of Seats: SAME AS PANCHAYAT

Duration of Municipalities: SAME AS PANCHAYAT

Disqualifications of the members: SAME AS PANCHAYAT

Powers, authorities and responsibilities

As per Article 243 W, all municipalities would be empowered with such powers and
responsibilities as may be necessary to enable them to function as effective institutions of

12th Schedule of the Constitution

1. Urban planning including town planning. 10. Slum improvement and upgradation.

2. Regulation of land-use and construction of 11. Urban poverty alleviation.


3. Planning for economic and social development. 12. Provision of urban amenities and
facilities such as parks, gardens,

4. Roads and bridges. 13. Promotion of cultural, educational and

aesthetic aspects.

5. Water supply for domestic, industrial and 14. Burials and burial grounds; cremations,
commercial purposes. cremation grounds; and electric

6. Public health, sanitation conservancy and solid 15. Cattle pounds; prevention of cruelty to
waste management. animals.

7. Fire services. 16. Vital statistics including registration of

births and deaths.

8. Urban forestry, protection of the environment 17. Public amenities including street
and promotion of ecological aspects. lighting, parking lots, bus stops and public
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12th Schedule of the Constitution

9. Safeguarding the interests of weaker sections 18. Regulation of slaughter houses and
of society, including the handicapped and tanneries.
mentally retarded.

Financial Powers: (243X) SAME AS PANCHAYAT

Audit and Accounts

As per article 243Z, the maintenance of the accounts of the municipalities and other audit
shall be done in accordance with the provisions in the State law.

Elections Commission: (243ZA) SAME AS PANCHAYAT

Application to Union Territories: SAME AS PANCHAYAT

Committee for District Planning

(1) There shall be constituted in every state at the district level a District Planning
Committee to consolidate the plans prepared by the Panchayats and the Municipalities in
the district and to prepare a draft development plan for the district as a whole.
(2) The Legislature of a State may, by law, make provision with respect to
(a) the composition of the District Planning Committees;
(b) the manner in which the seats in such committee shall be filled.
Provided that not less than four-fifth of the total number of members of such committee
shall be elected by, and from amongst, the elected members of the Panchayat at the district
level and of the Municipalities in the district in proportion to the ratio between the
population of the rural areas and of the urban areas in the district.
Committee for Metropolitan Planning
(1) There shall be constituted in every Metropolitan Planning Committee to prepare a draft
development plan for the Metropolitan area as a whole.
(2) The Legislature of a State be may, by law, make provision with respect to
(a) the composition of the Metropolitan Planning Committees;
(b) The manner in which the seats in such committees shall be filled:
Provided that not less than two-third of the members of such committee shall be elected by
and from amongst, the elected members of the Municipalities and Chairpersons of the
Panchayats in the Metropolitan area in proportion to the ratio n between the population of

the Municipalities and of the Panchayats in that area.

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Types of Urban Bodies in India
There are several types of urban bodies in India such as

Municipal Corporation,
Notified Area Committee,
Town Area Committee,
Special Purpose Agency,
Port Trust,
Cantonment Board

Challenges before Local self-government

1. Fund

2. Function

3. Functionaries

Fund: Local government has no source of revenue except the grants form state and central,
which has political base rather than requirement

Local government are allowed to collect taxes form locals, but due to inadequate man
power, lack of digitization, and awareness they fails to collect tax and generate revenue.

Function: Although 73rd and 74th amendment provided comprehensive list for area of
function enumerated in schedule 11 and 12 in constitution of India.

Most of these items are overlapping with the functions of the state list. Therefore they have
very less scope to be meaningful.

Functionaries: Due to uncertainty for flow of funds. Local Government are unable to attract
best talent to work with them.

(If organisation is unable to secure funds for itself they how will they pay salaries to the

Other Major problem:

* Lack of Awareness, people are not aware about who actually is responsible for particular

* Corruption, since people are not aware about rights this give opportunity for corruption. It

results in "Trust Deficit", that's why people do not attempt to know. see this brings kind of
vicious cycle.
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The Parliament passed Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas)
Act, 1996 to extend the provisions of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment to the Schedule V
Areas of the country.

The Fifth Schedule covers Tribal areas (scheduled areas) in 9 states of India namely
Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh,
Chattisgarh, Orissa and Rajasthan.

Bihar had Scheduled Areas before the formation of Jharkhand but after the bifurcation,
the tribal population in Bihar is insignificant.

PESA came into force in 1996. Under the Act, the Gram Sabha has been vested with
powers for

Ownership of minor forest produce

Development, plans approval

Selection of beneficiaries under various programmes

Consultation on land acquisition

Manage minor water bodies

Control mineral leases

Towards directly elected and empowered mayors

Why elect mayors directly?
Multiple civic agencies currently make it impossible to hold them accountable for the
irregularities. A Mayor is responsible for governance and remains accountable to citizens.
Also, it is well known that the urban mess that India finds itself today can be largely traced
to weak city-level institutions. Besides, much of the civic mess in major cities arises due to
the lack of executive authority. Hence, an empowered office of a directly elected mayor is

Current setup:
Currently, the executive, financial and administrative powers are vested with the municipal
commissioner and his team of deputies, appointed by the state government and drawn
from the IAS cadre. This system is a colonial hangover and hence, few experts want it to be

Need for directly elected mayors:

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While there are multiple reasons for Indias urban woes, one of the underlying problems is
the absence of powerful and politically accountable leadership in the city. Our cities have a
weak and fragmented institutional architecture in which multiple agencies with different
bosses pull the strings of city administration.
Currently, the head of the municipal corporation, the mayor, is merely a ceremonial
authority and executive decisions are carried out by the municipal commissioner
appointed by the state government.
An elected mayor with substantial powers of his own not only provides a single point
for negotiations with outside agencies and investors but also ensures greater
coordination among the different city departments and promotes decisive decision
A popularly elected mayor with a fixed tenure also offers more stability in
governance as the person is not dependent on the elected members of the council or
on the local or state level political leadership for his survival in office. A stable
leadership can also afford to roll out long term plans that will ensure major changes in
the cities political and economic landscape.

The concept should face the following challenges before it becomes a reality:
State governments do not wish to delegate more authority to city-level institutions.
Often, urban resources are transferred to rural areas in the name of development. Even
if the mayor is directly elected, the state governments can refuse to devolve power and
resources, effectively reducing him to a figurehead.
Municipal commissioner also, sometimes, becomes hurdle. Even if some powers are
delegated to the municipality, the state governments have in place municipal
commissioners to perform the executive functions, again cutting the mayor to size, the
nature of mayoral election notwithstanding.
If a directly elected mayor belongs to a party in minority in the municipality, it becomes
difficult to get other municipality members on board in taking decisions. This was
witnessed in Himachal Pradesh, which ultimately led to the scrapping of this system.
Also, a mayor executing projects will tend to gain popularity at the expense of the local
legislator whose job is to legislate and scrutinise the performance of the executive. A
legislator will always see the directly elected and empowered mayor as a potential
future rival and will do everything in his command to undercut his authority.
It is also widely felt that elected mayors may blur the lines between the three tiers of
government: the Union, the states and the local self governments.

How can we counter these challenges?

In the light of development, state governments should take up this issue seriously and
confer necessary powers upon mayor to effectively discharge his duties.
To avoid conflict between elected mayor and municipal commissioner, mayor may be
made the executive head of the municipality. Additionally, mayor may also be given the
power to authorize the payment and repayment of money relating to the

To check the spread of vested interests, mayor may also be vested with the power to
veto a resolution passed by the municipality.
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Voter awareness is also necessary as it is the only thing that will drive them to vote for
a legislator based on his performance in the state assembly or Parliament and vote for
the mayor and councillors based on their executive performance. This ensures that
there exists separation between the two.

Even if a directly elected mayoral system is a relatively good reform, should it be made
mandatory for all municipalities under the Constitution?
India is one of the few countries where the powers of the local government are laid out in
the federal Constitution. However, local government is still under List II of the Seventh
Schedule of the Constitution. Hence only the State is empowered to make laws on this
subject. In such a federal system, constitutional provisions should only lay down the broad
institutional framework for local governments. But since States are often reluctant to
devolve functions to local government, it makes sense to mandate such devolution in the
Constitution. However, the Constitution may not be the ideal instrument for prescribing the
manner in which the head of a local government is elected.

What else is needed?

Besides direct elections, a fixed tenure should be ensured for Mayors. One or two years, as
provided presently, is not sufficient to ensure the holistic development of urban areas. Also,
frequent changing of mayors results in discontinuation of policies and wastage of scarce
resources. Preferably, the Mayors term should be coterminous with that of the
municipality, and the Mayor should be made the executive head of the municipality.

Way ahead:
A direct election of mayors in the urban centers as currently planned will ensure a sea
change in the political equations at the local level and help launch a new generation of more
charismatic leaders who can mobilise voters and usher in real changes in urban governance.
In fact in some countries like the UK legislative changes were rolled out at the beginning of
the decade to ensure direct elections of mayors in all major cities.

Empowerment of women:

1. Political
(i) Mandatory 33% reservation for women in Panchayats under Art 243D
(ii) Inclusion of SC/ST women in decision-making

2. Social
(i) Since Women and child development falls under the 11th Schedule, women themselves
are responsible for policy formulation
(ii) Charged them with the responsibility of bringing about economic and social justice under
Art 243G
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3. Economic
(i) Formation of common platforms for SHGs
(ii) Planning of schemes related to common village resources like forests, watersheds etc.

The result of this empowerment can be seen under the following heads
1. Political
(i) Enhanced women participation in Gram Sabha and voter turnout
(ii) Percolation of democratic processes to the most marginalized sections

2. Social
(i) Increasing stature of women, thus giving an impetus to their confidence and breaking
(ii) Lower instances of MMR, IMR due to enhanced awareness about schemes like JSY, JSSY

3. Economic
(i) Common platform for women SHGS to share experiences and problems enhancing their
(ii) Improvement in conservation activities like watershed development, JFM etc. improving
village resource productivity

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