Local government bodies are established as third-tier institutions responsible for administering small areas and municipalities of a region. Such small areas may be classified as villages, towns, or cities. This process of shifting of power from central and state government to local government bodies is deemed to be ‘decentralization’. In a democratic setup, where citizens are authorized to articulate their opinions, decentralizing plays a key role. In this way, citizens are able to participate directly in the decision-making process that concerns them. To put it simply, the local government framework lays emphasis on self-governance.
These local bodies are responsible for performing multiple roles. From ensuring affordable and efficient civil amenities such as education and healthcare to strategizing planning and development of the region, local governments promote the well-being of their citizens. People belonging to their respective communities are more aware of the problems faced by them than any higher level of government. Democratic decision-making becomes more effective when people are given the power of regulating their own public affairs.
In recent times, there has been a change in the nature of functions performed by local bodies. Local governments now play a multifaceted role in incorporating and recognizing the social, economic, and political needs of their region.
- Social infrastructure- Socially, class inequalities and discrimination based on caste, color, creed, religion, gender, etc. are prevalent in municipalities. Local bodies work towards improving social harmony in the territory, which in turn helps in promoting national integration.
- Economic infrastructure- From the economic point of view, problems such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of resources are common in small areas.
- Political infrastructure- Politically, the administrative functions are enhanced by direct supervision from the local government. This way, local governments are required to work towards the overall development of their region. Local governments receive their funds from state governments. Local governments play a key role in the economic development of their region. They are responsible for providing physical infrastructure which includes transportation and communication networks, electricity, water supply, waste management, and so on. At the local level, it is possible to promote engagement of all sectors of the society which results in development and growth at the macro level.
There are three main sources of funds for rural local bodies:
- Funds channelized by the central government for implementation of the centrally sponsored scheme
- Funds received from Central Finance Commission
- Funds transfer from the state government on the recommendation of the State Finance Commission.
Rural Local Government:
In India, it was realized that the system of Panchayati Raj was not able to perform its responsibilities in absence of the support of union and state governments. It was thus important to recognize local bodies in the national constitution which ensured local government autonomy. Without any constitutional provisions available to the local bodies, self-governance is difficult to execute. Beginning from 1992, the Central Government passed the 73rd constitutional amendment act inclusive of the eleventh schedule of our constitution. This schedule included twenty-nine subjects that the Panchayati raj can administer upon. Rural local bodies in India generally consist of a council headed by a sarpanch which is directly elected by the adult population of the village. This body works under the supervision of the voters which form the gram sabha. The two bodies meet annually to approve budget proposals and review the work of the Gram panchayat.
Gram panchayats of different rural areas come together to form Panchayat Samiti or Block Panchayat at the district level and the agglomeration of such Block Panchayats constitutes the Zilla Parishad. Many MLAs of their respective divisions also participate in these district-level local bodies.
Urban Local Government:
The 74th constitutional amendment act of 1992 was another significant step taken by the Government of India for strengthening self-governance. This act was focused on the functioning of municipalities in cities and towns. Municipalities are headed by a mayor who is an elected representative.
The 73rd and 74th amendments in the Indian constitution are regarded as the major political change for increasing people’s participation in rural and urban areas respectively. It is constitutionally mandated that elections to local bodies are held regularly. Some of the seats in the council are reserved for lower classes such as scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and other backward classes and women too. The extent of the power granted to local government bodies depends upon the extent of the constitutional provision available to such bodies.
These local governments form councils which are the vital organ that functions as representative bodies. The members of such councils are accountable to the people. Besides being answerable to the public concerns, some primary functions of local government councils are drafting budget proposals, implementing rules and regulations, organizing regular meetings to discuss policy objectives, and so on. The size of the council is proportional to the population size of the region.
To be sure, local governments still face many challenges in their working, some of them are –
- Lack of political will – While the success of local government largely depends upon the active participation of its members and subjects, there is a lack of political will among the citizens to be a part of direct decision-making.
- Lack of resources – Local governments often face financial constraints in the deliverance of their roles. For example, state governments often deviate from their revenue sharing arrangement which makes it difficult for local bodies to finance their policies.
- Lack of accountability – Due to the absence of communication between the state and local government, state governments which are required to execute policies such as poverty alleviation are not able to work effectively.
Local governments thus act as a channel to complete the efforts of national development. It promotes the planning and implementation of government-led programmes and policies in a myriad of ways. Considering the strong and active relationship between citizens and local government bodies, the latter is aware of the everyday problems prevalent in the region. Local governments are authorized to take decisions on matters such as housing, health, education, environmental protection, etc. which directly influences the way of living of community members. It is also important to note that the role of local government without appropriate fiscal decentralization can hinder the democratic spirit of this third tier of the government. There is no doubt that the existence of local bodies has intensified mass participation in active decision-making.
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