28 of the German Basic Law, mandates powerful, democratic,
autonomous and self-reliant local governments in just over
then, our constitutional provisions are not meaningless.
They do provide for mandatory creation of local governments
and periodic elections. Elected local governments can no
longer be dismissed en masse. If a functionary is removed
after due enquiry, there shall be an election within six
months to fill the vacancy only for the remainder of term.
The propensity of partisan state governments to dismiss
local governments controlled by rival parties is thus curbed.
A State Election Commission as an independent constitutional
authority is now mandatory to conduct regular, free and
fair elections. Similarly a State Finance Commission has
been created to recommend distribution of resources to local
preamble, fundamental rights and directive principles embody
the spirit of the Constitution. These three together clearly
point to true democracy defined as self-governance and empowerment,
and popular sovereignty. Article 40, as well as the 73rd
and 74th amendments talk of local bodies as effective units
of self-government. The wording in provisions relating to
creation of parliament (Article 79), state legislatures
(Article 168), and local governments (Art. 243) is identical.
But most states have violated this spirit. Often District
and Metropolitan Planning Committees (Articles 243 ZD and
ZE) and ward(s) committees (Art. 243S) are not created.
Elections have been delayed; the recommendations of State
Finance Commissions are ignored; and even Union grants devolved
on the local governments are appropriated by the states.
Council of ministers and legislature at the Union and State
levels are clothed with great authority not because they
comprise of the greatest or most virtuous citizens, but
because we have elected them to represent us. That is what
democracy is about. It is ironic that governments which
derive legitimacy solely from democratic elections are keen
to undermine local governments elected by the same voters.
corruption in a centralized governance milieu has crippled
the nation. This can only be changed in a decentralized
government where the link between the citizen's vote and
well-being is clearly evident and the local government is
truly empowered. The citizen will realize his vote is more
valuable than the paltry hundred rupees offered during elections.
When people see that the elected functionary can make all
the difference in matters like water supply, drainage, roads,
schools, healthcare, land records and public distribution
system, they will start voting with greater care and judgment.
The distortions will not disappear overnight. But empowerment
of local governments is the key to revitalization of our
have to acknowledge there is corruption in local governments.
Five decades of high and illegitimate election expenditure,
and conversion of public office as a means of self-aggrandizement
and private gain have created a dangerous culture of treating
politics as a big business. Criminalization of politics,
polling irregularities, and local political fiefdoms have
vitiated our parties and democratic institutions. Inevitably,
the same predatory politics has permeated local governments.
But corruption cannot be used as an excuse to deny legitimate
empowerment of local governments. It is not our contention
that local governments are better governments, but it is
easier to check the misrule of a local government and for
people to keep a tab on how their tax money is being spent.
Moreover, when authority and accountability are fused, it
will be difficult for public servants to offer lame excuses
for non-performance. The greatest safeguard against abuse
of authority is citizens' vigil, and people can be effective
watchdogs only at the local level where they understand
the issues affecting their daily lives.
a true democracy, there is no 'central' government away
from citizens. Citizen is the centre. There are only closer
or farther governments; smaller or larger units. The federal
government is the most peripheral government. There are
no hierarchies. Power flows from the citizen in ever-enlarging
concentric circles. That is the reason why local government
can be trusted most.
can be done to translate this principle of subsidiarity
" Article 243 G and W need to be amended to give explicit
authority to local governments. 11th and 12th schedules
of the Constitution should have the same effect as the 7th
Schedule - distributing powers between the Union and States.
" We need to create a single district government for
rural and urban areas at the third tier of panchayats. A
district is larger than about 80 nations in the world. The
idea of a district panchayat only for rural areas is outdated.
" Healthy practices of devolution and decentralization
should be evolved. Transfer of 50% tax resources as untied
grants, de-provincialization of employees entrusted with
local functions, district budgets, local tax avenues, and
restructuring of village panchayats to make them larger
and more viable units of self-government - all these are
vital for effective local governance. Rotation of reservations
can be effected once every two terms to give greater stability
and promote leadership.
" We need to create instruments of accountability to
keep elected governments at all levels under check.
these changes are critical for the future of our republic.
Only a massive people's movement can empower local governments
and rejuvenate our republic.