Read this essay to learn about the central-local relations among the various countries of the world.
A survey of the type of local bodies existing in the world reveals that they are subordinate legislative and administrative bodies and not sovereign entities. This reflects that the Centre exercises control on them. The extent of control, however, differs from a country to country.
In U.K. and U.S.A., the local bodies enjoy substantial autonomy and central control is not excessive. It is said to be peripheral and marginal. In France, Japan, erstwhile U.S.S.R., Central control over local bodies is extremely rigid. The French and Soviet systems in particular are highly centralized.
In France, as already said, it is generally said, “The Minister of Interior presses the button and the prefect, the sub-prefects, the mayors and the deputy mayors do the rest…” About erstwhile U.S.S.R., Grovski remarks, “an American village has a larger measure of independence and self-government than a Soviet republic.”
In India, local bodies at the rural level, do enjoy certain significant powers. The urban local bodies at the highest level are the corporation also enjoy quite a great deal of autonomy. The Municipalities in most of the states of India, however, still groan under the grip of State Governments. They feel virtually suffocated.
In the recent past, growing trend towards centralization of state authority over local government in about all democratic countries has been discernible owing to certain distinct factors:
(a) Lack of financial resources, to meet ever-increasing expenditure on the local services;
(b) Incompetence of some of the local governments in meeting their manifold problems;
(c) A popular belief in the greater efficiency of central governments; and
(d) State action on broad social problems, permitting the performance of essential service over a wide area in accordance with national policy and uniform standards.
Even in the U.S.A. where central administrative control over local authorities was almost non-existent, a few years ago, such a control is gradually expanding. This cannot be considered a welcome development as it produces congestion at the centre and anemia at the periphery, stifles initiative, creates rigid control and reduces local government to “Procrastian land whereas its essence is variety and diversity of pattern.”
How does Centre Control the Local Bodies ?
The Centre exercises control over the local bodies in three ways: (a) Legislative Control (b) Administrative Control (c) Judicial Control.
In U.K. central control over local bodies is primarily administrative in character and therefore is flexible. In the U.S.A., on the other hand, it is chiefly legislative and hence more rigid. In case of France, control is mostly administrative. In India, U.K. pattern in followed. We discuss below these controls over the local bodies which will explain central, local relations in top democracies of the world.
1. Legislative Control:
In almost all democracies, the national or state legislature subject to the provision of the Constitution of the country concerned possesses plenary powers of control over local bodies which in fact happen to be its creatures. As such, they are mere artificial entities, possessing only such powers and functions which the law duly enacted by the legislature confers.
All the legal provisions regulating the organisation, functions and authority of French Local Government constitute a part of French administrative law. In U.K. also Parliament exercises legislative control over local bodies.
Referring to legislative control over local bodies in U.S.A., Chief Justice Dillon remarks, “Municipal corporations owe their origin and derive their powers and rights wholly from the legislature…. As it creates, so it may destroy. It may destroy, it may abridge and control…they are…the mere tenants-at-will of the legislature.”
2. Administrative Control:
In all democracies, the central or state government exercises administrative control over the local bodies through:
(i) The rules and regulations serving as guide-lines;
(ii) The system of grants;
(iii) Confirmation of by-laws;
(iv) Approval of schemes;
(v) Issue of directions;
(vii) Audit of accounts;
(viii) Statutory consultations;
(ix) Occasional inspections;
(x) Approval of budget;
(xi) Appellate jurisdiction;
(xii) Advice, guidance, circulars etc.
(xiii) Supersessions of the local bodies and suspension and expulsion of these members as in India.
The agencies through which such an administrative control is exercised in some top democracies are as follows:
In the case of U K., the Minister of Housing and Local Bodies is the main authority exercising such a control. The Home Secretary, the Ministers of Education, Transport and Health, Agriculture and the President of the Board of Trade are the other controlling ministers. The inspectors also constitute the eyes, the ears and the tongues of the Central or the State government as the case may be.
In case of France, before 1982, the Minister of the Interior was at the apex of the French Local Bodies. The prefects, sub-prefects, the mayors and the deputy mayors danced to his tune. The Prefect was the key field, the tutelage authority of the Central Government. In the words of Barthelemy, “The prefect is a political agent appointed at the will of the government and dismissed at its pleasure.”
Professor W.B. Munro has also drawn a very apt sketch of the prefect before 1982 in the words, “Napoleon created this official in his own image. In each department, he wanted a general manager who could be relied upon to run the affairs of the department in every respect as the emperor wanted them to run…”
The same system was geared to the Republican scheme of government as well. It persisted in France up to March, 1982.
Though the position of the prefect was pivotal, yet he did not cease to be the agent of the Central government. His powers were enormous and authority onerous yet he could not be oblivious of the central control over him. In his turn, he exercised supervisory control over the government of lower local bodies termed as communes. He could suspend a mayor for a month for grave breaches of conduct.
He appointed some Communal officers, approved the budget of the communes, issued direction to the mayors regarding policy matters. However, while dealing with the Communes also, he was guided by instructions from Paris. The era of decentralization dawned with the passage of an Act on March 2, 1982 and subsequent acts and orders.
In the case of U.S.A., a municipal corporation is considered a mere creature of the state. It is subject to quite an imposing administrative control which is exercised through State Boards, officers and commissions acting by virtue of statutory or non-statutory authority through coercive or non-coercive methods.
According to Dale Pontius, administrative control over these corporations is exercised through reports, advice and information, technical aid, inspection by the state authorities, rules and regulations, cooperative administration between the state and local authority in the fields in which they have concurrent or supplementary authority, rules and regulations, orders issued by the state concerning special situations, grants-in-aid, subsidies by the state, loans subject to conditions involving administrative control of local policies, appellate review to state authorities, appointments and removals of local officials by the state, emergencies necessitating such administrative control.
In the case of India, Ministry of Local Self-Government exercises administrative control over the local bodies.
Such control is exercised through:
(a) Rules and regulations concerning local bodies to supplement the laws passed in general by the Parliament;
(b) Approval or rejection of by-laws, schemes, resolutions, appointments and removals of municipal employees, of higher category in particular;
(c) Approval of the budgets of the municipal boards by the state government;
(d) Advice and guidance of the departments of the government to local bodies;
(e) Inspection through inspectors as the eyes and ears of the higher authority;
(f) Performance of an obligatory function by the central authority if the local authority fails to do so, at the cost of the latter;
(g) Through grants-in-aid which may be suspended or reduced if the local authority fails to carry out the functions as intended by the Central Government;
(h) Through audit of accounts;
(i) Supersession of a municipality or any other local authority if it is not competent to perform or persistently makes default in the performance of the duties imposed on it by the Act;
(j) Suspension of resolutions if not in public interests;
(k) Dissolving the corporation councils and ordering of fresh elections;
(l) Through the Deputy Commissioner, who appraises the annual report of the Municipalities, calls for the minutes of their meetings, suspends the execution of any order or resolution of a local body, calls its special meeting to elect a chairman or for consideration of the confidence motion against the chairman or vice chairman, inspect any movable property of the municipalities, and to perform any work which the Municipality could not do though it was necessary to do.
The rural local bodies also are quite effectively controlled by the Deputy Commissioners (D.C)/Collectors in India. For instance, the D.C. can inspect the Panchayats and the Panchayat Samities, can suspend any resolution of the Panchayats and Panchayat Samities and in case of emergency order the execution of work falling within the jurisdiction of Panchayats and Panchayat Samities. In case of Zila Parishads, these powers are exercised by the Commissioner of Division.
3. Judicial Control:
Local authorities are subject to the control of the ordinary courts in countries like U.K., U.S.A. and India. In France they are subject to the control of the Administrative Courts. The Courts constitute the watch-dog of local authorities.
The control of the courts over local authorities in U.K. is exercised in three cases:
(i) When the authorities commit ultra vires acts;
(ii) Where the authorities do not perform their statutory duties;
(iii) Where the authorities exercise functions subject to the appeal to the courts;
(iv) When they commit a tort or criminal offence. In France, the local authorities were under much stricter judicial control than in England. The remedies provided by French administrative courts were also as effective as those provided by British Administrative courts. In fact, they were more easily involved and more efficacious.
In U.S.A. like that of U.K. the judicial control over local bodies is exercised through ordinary courts. Municipal Corporations in U.S.A. are liable for tort in proprietary capacity. However, for acts committed in its governmental capacity, the municipality as an agent of the sovereign state enjoys immunity from liability.
In case of India, judicial control is not very effective as the people do not comprehend the law and do not run to the court for a remedy. Moreover, a case by judicial action is expensive and there is hardly any arrangement for prevention. Besides, action is possible only after the commission of an offence.
An appraisal of legislative, administrative and judicial control of the State Government over the local bodies in some of the top democracies of the world reveals that with the passage of time, there is a tendency towards centralization possibly because of the following factors:
(i) The improved means of communication and transport which have enabled the Central or State governments as the case may be, to control people and organisations from a distance;
(ii) A keen desire to effect uniformity by simplifying the administrative work;
(iii) A craving for more power on the part of the individuals and organisations at all levels;
(iv) Need for central control for ensuring efficiency and economy in local administration.
In fact nowhere in the world, the local authorities enjoy autonomous status. Jackson has rightly remarked, “Local authorities cannot be really independent for that would make them states and take them outside the field of local government.” However, in U.K. and U.S.A., the local bodies enjoy comparatively more autonomy.
In India, the municipalities and the Panchayats still groan under state control. If Local Self-Government (a term coined for local bodies in India only) is to be made a success, the state control over the local bodies should not be negative and formal as is the case in our country. It should be constructive and positive. Undue interference of the Government in the local administration should be avoided.
Moreover, the government should not exercise such a control in an irritating manner. The supersession of a local body is the most powerful weapon but it is invariably used for ulterior motives. In the U.K., the relationship between the government and local authorities is one of partners and not that of an all superior authority and a subordinate agency.
In the U.S.A. also, the concept of state-local relations is primarily state service, state advice and state co-operation. These concepts should serve as beacon-light for the Indian local institutions as well.
The officials should realize that the local institutions have come to stay in India as elsewhere in the world and re-orientated themselves accordingly. Paternalism should be avoided as it strikes at the foundation of democracy. The citizens should no longer remain apathetic, they must inculcate in themselves civic interest, cultivate civic pride and embody in themselves civic virtues.
The author remarks in his published Ph.D. thesis, “One of the important steps needed is to strengthen the foundations of democracy by reorganizing, regrouping and reinvigorating the municipalities, rural local government and other local organisations and institutions. For this purpose imagination and courage are needed from those who are the policy and law makers and a dynamic concept of efficiency among the bureaucracy. It also implies a new attitude of constructive criticism and co-operation on the part of the elite and the organised groups. In course of time, the common man too will have developed sufficient knowledge and consciousness of civic affairs.”