Read this essay to learn about the meaning and existing patterns of local government in India.
1. Essay on the Meaning of Local Governments:
Local governments are infra-sovereign geographic units found within sovereign nation or quasi-sovereign state. Like other units of government, local government units possess a defined area, a population, an organisation and also the authority to undertake and the power to perform public activities.
Within its territory, a local government unit seeks to give opportunities to the people for the expression of their opinion in regard to local affairs. It enables them to choose their representatives to take care of local affairs on their behalf.
However, it would not be correct to say that the local government shares any part of the political sovereignty of the state or the legal sovereignty of the government, within the state. Though the word ‘government’ is used for this politico-administrative organisation, it is not government in the sense of a legal sovereign by any means.
It is a semi-autonomous politico- administrative territorial organisation, having come into existence in many countries as the result of decentralization of powers.
In certain countries like England the process was different. Those politico-administrative organisations sprang up from the local communities. But, before they could claim to have definite and comprehensive powers to conduct local affairs, they had to go to the central government for a title.
It was the Municipal Corporation Act, 1835, which gave the boroughs of England the general frame of local government which they retain till today.
The Local Government Act, 1833 recognized county administration in England by transferring administrative powers to elective county councils. Likewise, the District and Parish Councils Act, 1894 provided for urban and rural districts, known collectively as ‘county districts.
The Local Government Act, 1933 and the London Government Act, 1939, said to be the two modern Acts of Parliament, describe the constitution of several types of public bodies concerning local government. Jackson is of the view that local government as applied to England is hardly capable of precise definition.
However, the term according to him has certain implications:
“It is concerned with localities and not with the country as a whole; it must for this reason be subordinate to the national government. The term further implies (as does any other form of government) some jurisdiction or activity of a public nature; it implies also the existence of authorities empowered to exercise that jurisdiction and activity.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, a unit of local government must exhibit three qualifications;
First, it must exist as an organised entity possessing organisation and some minimum powers.
Second, it must have governmental character as an agency of the public to whom it must be accountable.
Third, it must possess substantial autonomy.
In an article, Duane Lockard has defined the local government as a “public organisation authorized to decide and administer a large range of public policies within a relatively small territory which is sub-division of a regional or national government….Local Government is at the bottom of a pyramid of governmental institutions with the national government at the top and intermediate governments (state, regions, provinces) occupying in middle range.”
One is inclined to agree with the above view. Local Government has only a derivative and not an independent authority. Its powers and functions are determined by the state legislature and these can be altered by law.
2. Essay on the Existing Patterns of Local Governments:
There are numerous local governments in the world. Hence it is difficult to make incontrovertible generalization about the nature of local government. It is difficult even to isolate the critical variables that shape it. However, five main systems of local government may be postulated in the world, viz, unitary decentralized, napoleonic prefect, federal-decentralized, local government system of communist countries, and post-colonial systems.
1. Unitary Decentralized:
Integration of local and central authorities is one of the salient features of the modern English local government and that of the Scandinavian countries. Both constitute part and parcel of one governmental system and their relationship is one of partnership and collaboration in a single organism, possessing one common ultimate purpose, and an integrated system of institutions for that purpose.
The relation between the central government and the local authorities is not that of an omnipotent controlling authority and its agents but of partners in an enterprise the carrying on of efficient administration. Lockard categorizes ‘unitary decentralized system’ as that system (that is non-federal) which has stood for a considerable degree of decentralization of autonomous powers of localities.
2. Napoleonic Prefect:
Quite a different system or set-up prevails in France. The French system of local government is highly centralized.
In the words of Prof Munro:
“Centralization is the essence of this system, centralization raised to a superlative degree. All authority converges inward and upward. It can be chartered in the form of a perfect pyramid.” It is said, “In France the Minister of Interior presses the button and the prefects, the sub- prefects, the mayors and the deputy mayors do the rest.”
According to Lockard, such a system may be described as the Napoleonic Prefect system. The peculiarity of this style of local government is that the Central Government places in sub-regions of the nation an agent of the Central Government to oversee and if necessary to countermand, suspend or replace local government.
3. Federal-Decentralized System:
In U.S.A., Canada, Australia, West Germany and Switzerland, the underlying basis of local government is the principle of local self-determination, according to which every community is given a substantial measure of freedom in the administration of its own affairs. This saves the local governments from rigid control, from the above. However, the degree of autonomy of local governments varies from country to country, but in all cases, a considerable degree of local independence prevails. Such a system has been described as Federal-decentralized system according to the International Encyclopedia.
4. Local Government Systems in Communist Countries:
The local government systems in the communist countries are examples of de-concentration of authority rather than decentralization. In other words, the local governmental unit is an agency of the Central Government and its functions are an integral element of hierarchical administrative system of the state. The area of local independence is narrow and extends only to minor matters whereas control devices are extensive and vigorously applied.
5. Post-Colonial System:
Post-colonial system is the fifth category of local governments in the world.
The creation of new nations from former colonies involves varying degrees of change in local government. In some cases, the imposition of a strong single party political system has subverted old patterns almost entirely; in others, where adjustments rather than revolutionary change have been made, local government patterns have not altered drastically.
The legacy of colonialism is omnipresent, however much the new leaders strive for break with the colonial past.
In India, with the ushering in of independent era, it is being realized increasingly that centralization has produced congestion at the centre and anemia at the periphery.
It is being felt that a dynamic democracy can grow only out of meaningful relationships and spontaneous organisations that spring up among the people when they come together at the local level to solve their basic problems by co-operation among themselves. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, democracy can exist only on trust.
In pursuance of a new policy of decentralization, both the central and the state governments have conducted enquiries into the working of the existing urban and rural local bodies in order to re organize, expand, democratize and revitalize them. That is necessary to form a stable base for the development of national democracy, and also to play an important role in the development of social and economic systems.
On the whole, however, more attention seems to have been paid to the re-organisation of rural local bodies than of the urban local government. That is perhaps because of an explicit provision of Article 40 as a part of the Directive Principles of the State Policy which states that, the “State shall take steps to organize village panchayats and endow them to function as units of self-government.”
India being a land of villages, emphasis on village panchayats is understandable. It should, however, be recognized that the processes of urbanization will gain momentum in the near future and it would have been better if local self-government may also have been mentioned in the Directive Principles.
The goals of the urban local government in the context of changing conditions in the country have been well described by a recent high-powered committee as:
(a) To function as local units of self-government;
(b) To provide public services and conveniences for healthy living;
(c) To ensure planned and regulated development of urban areas;
(d) To mobilize local resources and utilize them to the maximum good of the community; and
(e) To promote social, economic and cultural development in an integrated manner.
Though most of our urban local bodies have failed so far to achieve these goals, yet it cannot be denied that properly managed local governments can significantly promote democratic values, strengthen democratic structures and serve as suitable agencies for socio-economic development in the local areas.