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Evolution of Local Governments in Modern India

1. Freedom Struggle for a truly Democratic India : Gandhiji, Jawaharlal Nehru and Jai Prakash Narayan described democracy as the government that gives power to the people. Gandhiji said, "true democracy could not be worked by some persons sitting at the top. It has to be worked from below by the people of every village." A key component of Mahatma Gandhi's vision of free, democratic India was the attainment of genuine people's participation in their governance affairs. He termed it 'Gram Swarajya.' People's participation in a democratic society could be ensured only by way of 'Gram Swarajya' where the people themselves would do the management of the village affairs and issues. The state or central level governments would address only those functions that could not be fulfilled by the village citizens. The British Rule simply did not permit the evolution of such truly democratic governments in the villages. The British, after all, did not have the welfare of Indian citizens as their priority.

2. Local Governments during British Rule: The first attempt at decentralisation was after the 1857 mutiny with the British administration coming under severe financial pressures. In fact, the Visakhapatnam Municipal Association was started as early as 1858. The Resolution on Local Self-Government of 1882 set out principles of decentralization. The resolution recognized the twin considerations of local government: (i) administrative efficiency, and (ii) political education and sought to promote the same. Following the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Decentralisation (1909), the Madras District Boards Act was passed in 1920, resulting in the transfer of administration to elected non-officials and thus setting the framework for decentralisation.

3. Post Independence attempts at Local Governance : Following Independence in 1947, in 1950 the Constitution of India came into force; Directive Principles of state policy mention village Panchayats as units of 'self-government.' Balwantray Mehta Committee was appointed (in 1957) to examine the possibility of local participation in governance process. By 1960, several state governments enacted new Panchayat Acts bringing in three-tier Panchayat system. But the decline of first generation of Panchayat Raj Institutions occurred in the period 1964-77. Attempts were made to revive the Local Governments and the Asoka Mehta Committee (1978) suggested a two-tier structure in place of the three-tier one. In 1989 the 64th Constitutional Amendments Bill for empowerment of Local Governments was introduced in the Parliament but was defeated in the Rajya Sabha. Subsequently, the Parliament passed the 73rd and 74th amendments by 1993. In response, all state governments passed conformity Acts by 1994. These Constitutional Amendments made it mandatory for all states to have regularly-elected local governments. The Andhra Pradesh Panchayat Raj Act (1994) satisfied the requirements of the 73rd Amendment by incorporating various provisions such as five-year term for local governments and one-third reservation of seats for women. However the Act does not have a clear delineation of functions and duties among various tiers of local government.

4. Lok Satta's initiative for attaining genuine 'Swarajya' for India : The experience over the past few decades has shown that the Local Governments as of today, do not have satisfactory control over the funds, functions and functionaries. There is no clear delineation of functions between the three-tiers of local governments (Zilla, Mandal and the Village). Financially, their meager resources are expended on the salaries of the administrative officials at the local levels. To compound the misery, the Government of Andhra Pradesh has diverted the resources allocated to the local governments by the 10th and 11th Finance Commissions. The local governments effectively have little control over even local-level functionaries For instance, in Andhra Pradesh, the Government Order (GO No. 358, 2000) vested all powers relating to teaching and non-teaching staff of schools with the District Educational Officer (DEO) removing them from the hands of the CEOs of Zilla Parishads. This is a regression even from the British times. In light of such clearly un-acceptable attitude towards the local governance, Lok Satta has declared 2003 as the year of local governments and launched a "Little Republics" campaign in Andhra Pradesh. The on-going 1-Crore Signature Campaign aims to showcase the unequivocal public demand for improving the status of their local governments. This movement hopes to complete the unfinished freedom struggle for a genuine democracy in India.



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