CHAPTER 17 – THE PANCHAYATS, THE MUNICIPALITIES, AND THE COOPERATIVES

 

THE PANCHAYATS, THE MUNICIPALITIES,

AND THE COOPERATIVES

(ARTICLE 243 AND VARIOUS SUB-ARTICLES)

 

 

PART IX OF THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA 

 

 

THE PANCHAYATI RAJ SYSTEM (ARTICLE 243 – 243O)

 

Panchayati raj originated in 2nd millennium BCE in India during Vedic times. Since Vedic times, the village (gram) in the country is considered as the basic unit for regional self-administration. In the old Sanskrit scriptures, word ‘Panchayatan’ has been mentioned which means a group of five persons, including a spiritual man. In the Rigveda, there is a mention of Sabha, Samiti and Vidatha as local self-units. These were the democratic bodies at the local level. The king used to get the approval of these bodies regarding certain functions and decisions. There is a mention of village panchayats in Ramayana, Mahabharata and Kautilya’s Arthashastra.

  • The study of Ramayana indicates that the administration was divided into two parts – Pur and Janpad, the later being the village unit. 
  • As per Mahabharata, ‘Gramik’ was the chief official of the village, while ‘Dashap’ was the chief of ten villages. 
  • In Kautilya’s Arthashastra, the town was referred to as Pur and its chief was the Nagarik.

During the Mauryan and Post-Mauryan periods too, the headman, assisted by a council of elders, continued to play a prominent role in the village life. The system continued through the Gupta period, though there were certain changes in the nomenclature, as the district official was known as the vishyapati and the village headman was referred to as the grampati.

During the medieval period, there were three important officials – Mukkaddam for administration, Patwari for collection of revenues, and Choudhrie for settling disputes with the help of the Panch. However, it is important to note that in ancient as well as medieval India, there is no reference of women heading the panchayat or even participating as a member in the panchayat.

Under the British regime, village panchayats lost their autonomy and became weak. However, the revolt of 1857 put the imperial finances under considerable strain and it was found necessary to finance local service out of local taxation. Hence, in the year 1870, the representative local institutions saw their revival with Mayo’s resolution, which  gave impetus to the development of local institutions by enlarging their powers and responsibilities. Following the footsteps of Mayo, Lord Rippon in 1882 mandated that two thirds of the members of such local institutions need to be elected non officials, and the chairman of these bodies had to be from among the elected non-officials. This is considered to be the Magna Carta of local democracy in India. Local self-government institutions received a boost with the appointment of the Royal Commission on centralisation in 1907 under the Chairmanship of Hobhouse. The commission recognized the importance of panchayats at the village level. However, with limited functions and due to organisational and fiscal constraints, the Panchayats did not become democratic and vibrant institutions of local self government at the village level.

Mahatma Gandhi advocated Panchayati Raj as the foundation of India’s political system, as a decentralised form of government in which each village would be responsible for its own affairs. In the Constitution of India, the Panchayats found their first mention in Article 40 of the Directive Principles of State Policy.

In 1952, India implemented the Community Development Programme (CDP) with the objective to promote rural development with local participation. All the districts of the country were divided into ‘Development Blocks’ and a ‘Block Development Officer (BDO)’ was made in charge of each block. Below the BDO were appointed the workers called Village Level Workers (VLW) who were responsible to keep in touch with 10-12 villages. Thousands of BDOs and VLW’s were trained for the job of carrying out array of government programmes and make it possible to reach the government to villages. 

In 1957, the National Development Council constituted a committee headed by Balwant Rai Mehta to look into the working of community development programme. It observed that the programme had failed to achieve its objective due to excessive bureaucracy, lack of trained staff, lack of finance, and will of local people. The committee suggested a three-tier PRIs, namely, Grama Panchayats (GPs) at the village level, Panchayat Samiti (PSs) at the block level, and Zilla Parishad (ZPs) at the district level.

In subsequent years in order to revive and give a new lease of life to the panchayats, the Government of India had appointed various committees. These include

  1. Ashok Mehta Committee (1977) – Recommended two-tier Panchayat Raj institutional structure consisting of Zilla Parishad and Mandal Panchayat.
  2. Hanumantha Rao Committee (1983) – Emphasised on planning at the district level.
  3. GVK Rao Committee (1985) – Recommended that the district should be the basic unit of planning and programme implementation, and that Zila Parishad should be the principal body of management of all development programs at the local level.
  4. LM Singhvi Committee (1986) – Recommended that the Panchayati Raj should be constitutionally recognised, protected and preserved, by the inclusion of a new chapter in the Constitution.
  5. Sarkaria Commission (1988) – Recommended devolution of administrative and financial powers to the local bodies.

 

 

ARTICLE 243

 

Since the Directive Principles were not binding principles, the result was the absence of a uniform structure of the local bodies throughout the country, which rendered ineffective all efforts to revive local institutions. As a result, need was felt to get constitutional status to local governance. The Panchayati Raj Institutions got the Constitutional status through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act (1992), which added Part IX containing Articles 243-243O to the Constitution of India. It also added 11th Schedule to the Constitution of India. It provided for a 3-tier Panchayati Raj System in India, with Gram Panchayat at the village level, Panchayat Samiti at the block level, and Zila Parishad at the district level.

Originally, the following areas were exempted from the operation of the Act because of the socio-cultural and administrative considerations:

  • Scheduled areas listed under the V Schedule in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa and Rajasthan.
  • The states of Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram.
  • The hill areas of district of Darjeeling in the state of West Bengal for which Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council exists.

However, currently, the Panchayati Raj system exists in all states except Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Mizoram, and in all Union Territories except Delhi.

 

 

FEATURES OF THE PANCHAYATI RAJ SYSTEM (ARTICLE 243A – 243O)

 

 

GRAM SABHA

 

ARTICLE 243A

The Act provides for a Gram Sabha as the foundation of the Panchayati Raj System. It is a body consisting of persons registered in the electoral rolls of a village within the area of the Panchayat. Thus, it may be referred to as an assembly of all eligible voters in a village. It may exercise such powers and perform such functions at the village level as may be determined by the Legislature of the state. 

 

 

THREE TIER PANCHAYATI RAJ SYSTEM

 

ARTICLE 243B – 243C

These deal with panchayats at the village level, block level and district level. All members in a panchayat are directly elected. However, if a state so decides, members of the state Legislature and Parliament may also be represented in a district and middle-level panchayats. The state may also determine the exact composition of their respective Panchayats.

 

VILLAGE PANCHAYAT (GRAM PANCHAYAT)It is the lowest level of the local self government in India, which has a Constitutional status i.e. the state is obliged to establish the institution of panchayat at village level. The Gram Panchayat shall be divided into wards and each ward shall be represented by a Ward Member, also referred to as a Panch. All the seats in a Gram Panchayat shall be filled by persons chosen by direct election from territorial constituencies in the panchayat area. For this purpose, each Gram Panchayat area shall be divided into territorial constituencies in such a manner that the ratio between the population of each such constituency and the number of seats allotted to it should be, as much as possible, the same throughout the Gram Panchayat area. Also the ratio of population in a Gram Panchayat to the number of seats allotted to it should be, as much as possible, same throughout the state.

The Chairperson or Sarpanch of a Gram Panchayat shall be elected in such manner as the Legislature of a state may, by law, provide. Therefore, the Chairperson of the Gram Panchayat may either be chosen through direct election like others or indirectly by the other elected members of the Gram Panchayat.

The Secretary of the panchayat is a non-elected representative, appointed by the state government, to oversee panchayat activities.

 

BLOCK PANCHAYAT (PANCHAYAT SAMITI) It is the panchayat at a block or tehsil level. It shall have jurisdiction over all the village panchayats that lie within a block or a tehsil. It serves as a link between various Gram Panchayats under it and the District Panchayat. It is known as by a few other names such as:

  1. Mandal Praja Parishad in Andhra Pradesh
  2. Taluka Panchayat in Gujarat and Karnataka
  3. Panchayat Samiti in Maharashtra

A block panchayat collects and consolidates all the prospective plans prepared at village panchayat level and processes them for funding and implementation by the district administration.

The composition of Block Panchayat is mostly ex-officio i.e. its membership is acquired as a result of membership of other institutes or positions. It is composed of:

  1. Chairpersons of all village panchayats within the block or tehsil.
  2. MLA representing the area under the block.
  3. Member of Lok Sabha representing the area under the block.
  4. Members of the Rajya Sabha if they are registered as voter in such a block.
  5. Members of the state Legislative Council (if any) if they are registered as voter in such a block.
  6. Block Development Officer of the District.
  7. Other such members as are specified by the state government.

However, the Chairperson of the Block Panchayat must be elected from amongst the elected members of the Gram Panchayat.

Article 243B provides that Block Panchayats need not be constituted in states having population less than 20 lakhs.

 

DISTRICT PANCHAYAT (ZILA PARISHAD) – It is the third tier of the Panchayati Raj system. It shall have jurisdiction over all Gram as well as Block panchayats within the district. It is also known by different names in different areas such as –

  1. Tribal Council in Meghalaya
  2. Zila Parishad in Assam

Like Gram Panchayat, it is also an elected body. The district is divided into wards and each ward is represented by a Counsellor who is elected on the basis of adult franchise for a term of 5 years. In addition, the Legislature of the state may provide for representation in the District Panchayat, of,

  1. the Chairpersons of all the village or block panchayats.
  2. MLAs representing the area under the district.
  3. Members of the Lok Sabha representing the area under the district.
  4. Members of the Rajya Sabha if they are registered as voter in such a district.
  5. Members of the state Legislative Council (if any) if they are registered as voter in such a district.
  6. The Deputy Commissioner, who is the ex-officio Chairman (CEO) of the district panchayat. He is assisted by other district and block level officers.

District panchayat shall have a minimum of 50 and maximum of 75 members. There are seats reserved for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and women.

The district panchayat consolidates the plans received from the village or block panchayats, and prepare a holistic plan for the district. They do the financial estimation for such plans and send the demand for funds to the state as well as central governments. They distribute the funds received for the district among such activities which meet the various development needs of the people of the district as well the villages therein.

 

 

RESERVATION OF SEATS

 

ARTICLE 243D

  1. Seats must be reserved for SCs and STs in proportion to their ratio in the total population of a Panchayats.
  2. One third of the seats reserved for the SCs and STs must be reserved for women among such SCs and STs.
  3. One third of the total seats of a panchayat must be reserved for women.
  4. Similar provisions must exist for the position of Chairperson at village and block level.
  5. The Legislature of a state can provide for reservation to any other backward class of people.

THE CONSTITUTION 83RD AMENDMENT ACT (2000)

Arunachal Pradesh is a state inhabited fully by indigenous tribal people. No Scheduled Castes exist in the state. As such, there shall be no reservation of seats for the Scheduled Castes in the state of Arunachal Pradesh.

 

DURATION OF PANCHAYATS

 

ARTICLE 243E

Every Panchayat shall have a term of 5 years from the date of its first meeting. Elections must be held before the expiry of the term of the current (incumbent) panchayat. The panchayat can be dissolved earlier in accordance with the procedure prescribed by the state law. If a panchayat is dissolved earlier than its full term, elections must be held within 6 months of such dissolution. The new panchayat formed after such an election shall hold office only for the remainder term. However, if the remainder term is less than 6 months, it shall not be necessary to hold elections.

 

 

QUALIFICATIONS TO BE A MEMBER OF A PANCHAYAT

 

ARTICLE 243F

  1. Any person who is eligible for election to the state Legislature.
  2. Any person who has attained the age of 21 years.

 

 

POWERS, AUTHORITY AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF PANCHAYATS

 

ARTICLE 243G

The Legislature of a state can confer upon Panchayats, such powers, authority and responsibilities, as may be necessary for them to function as institutions of self-government. The state Legislature may entrust them with the powers and responsibilities with respect to,

  1. the preparation of plans for economic development and social justice.
  2. the implementation of plans or schemes.
  3. the matters listed in the 11th schedule which contains 29 items. The 11th schedule distributes powers between the state Legislature and the Panchayats.

 

 

FINANCIAL RESOURCES OF PANCHAYAT AND ITS POWERS TO IMPOSE TAXES

 

ARTICLE 243H

The Legislature of a state may, by law, 

  1. authorise a Panchayat to levy, collect and appropriate certain taxes, duties, tolls and fees as may be specified in such law.
  2. assign to a Panchayat certain taxes, duties, tolls and fees levied and collected by the state Government for such purposes, as may be specified in the law.
  3. provide grants-in-aid to the Panchayats from the Consolidated Fund of the state.
  4. provide for constitution of Funds for crediting of all moneys received or withdrawn by the Panchayats.

 

 

STATE FINANCE COMMISSION

 

ARTICLE 243-I

  1. The Governor of the state shall, at the expiration of every 5th year, constitute a Finance Commission to review the financial position of the Panchayats and to make recommendations to the Governor regarding –
    1. the principles that should govern,
      1. the distribution between the state and the panchayats, of the net proceeds of the taxes, duties, tolls and fees collected by the state government.
      2. the determination of taxes, duties, tolls and fees that may be assigned to the panchayats.
      3. the grant in aid to the panchayats from the consolidated fund of the state.
    2. the measures needed to improve the financial position of the panchayats.
  2. The Legislature of a state may, by law, provide for the composition of the Commission, the qualifications required to be members of the Commission, and the manner of selection of the members of the Commission.
  3. The Governor shall cause the report submitted by such a Commission to be laid before the Legislature of the state.

 

 

AUDIT OF THE ACCOUNTS OF PANCHAYATS

 

ARTICLE 243J

The Legislature of the state may require maintenance of accounts by the panchayats and the auditing of such accounts.

 

 

STATE ELECTION COMMISSION

 

ARTICLE 243K

  1. In every state there shall be a state Election Commission consisting of the state Election Commissioner, responsible for preparing electoral rolls and conducting elections for all the panchayats within the state.
  2. The Governor of the state shall appoint the state Election Commissioner and determine the terms of his office, subject to the legislation in this regard by the Legislature of the state. The state Election Commissioner shall not be removed from his office except in the manner and on the grounds same as needed to remove a Judge of a High Court and the conditions of service of the state Election Commissioner shall not be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment. The Governor shall, when so requested by the state Election Commission, make available such staff as may be necessary for the discharge of its functions.

 

DESCRIPTION

It must be noted that elections to the state Legislature is conduced by the Election Commission of India, and not the state Election Commission.

The state Election Commission envisaged under under Article 243K conducts elections only for the local government institutions such as panchayats and municipalities within the state.

All disputes related to elections to PRIs can be adjudicated by the competent courts. The court having jurisdiction to try such election petitions shall be –

    1. In the case of a village panchayat, the Munsiff’s Court having jurisdiction over the place in which the headquarters of the panchayat is located; and
    2. In the case of block panchayat or district panchayat the district court having jurisdiction over the place in which the headquarters of the panchayat concerned is located.

The Government shall, in consultation with the High Court notify the appropriate courts in the Gazette.

 

 

MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS

 

ARTICLE 243L Application of provisions related to panchayats to Union Territories
ARTICLE 243M Prohibition/Restriction on application of provisions related to panchayats to certain areas.
ARTICLE 243N Continuance of existing law related to panchayats unless repealed or modified by the Legislature of the state. 

 

 

BAR TO INTERFERENCE BY COURTS IN ELECTORAL MATTERS OF PANCHAYATS

 

ARTICLE 243-O

  1. The validity of any law relating to the delimitation of constituencies or the allotment of seats to such constituencies, made under Article 243K, shall not be called in question in any Court of Law.
  2. No election to any panchayat shall be called in question except by a petition presented to such authority and in such manner as is provided for by or under any law made by the Legislature of a state.

 

 

PROVISION OF THE PANCHAYATS (EXTENSION TO SCHEDULED AREAS), PESA ACT 1996

 

 

PESA ACT, 1996

 

Article 243M provided that provisions of Part IX of the Constitution are not applicable to scheduled and tribal areas.  However, the Parliament may extend these provisions to such areas with such exceptions and modifications as it may think fit. Under this provision, the Parliament has enacted the PESA (Provision of the panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act in 1996, that extends the provisions of Part IX of the Constitution of India to the scheduled and tribal areas specified in 5th Schedule of the Constitution.

The 5th Schedule of the Constitution deals with the administration and control of scheduled areas as well as of scheduled tribes residing in any state other than the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. By 2013, all the nine states mentioned in 5th Schedule of the Constitution had complied with the provisions of the PESA Act. 

 

OBJECTIVES OF THE PESA ACT, 1996

  1. To extend the provisions of Part IX of the Constitution, providing for panchayati raj institutions, to the scheduled areas with certain modifications, to  enhance people’s participation in decision making and self governance.
  2. To safeguard and preserve the traditions and customs of the tribal communities.
  3. To safeguard and preserve the community resources.
  4. To safeguard tribal communities from exploitation by empowering them with political rights to take decisions regarding their area and resources.
  5. To enable the local community to resolve disputes through customary mode of dispute resolution.
  6. To prevent the panchayats at the higher level to assume the powers and authority of panchayats at the lower level.

 

FEATURES OF THE PESA ACT, 1996

PESA empowers the Gram Sabha,

  1. by guaranteeing it the right to be consulted in case of land acquisition, and resettlement as well as rehabilitation of displaced people.
  2. by empowering it to prevent land alienation and restore alienated land.
  3. by entrusting it with planning and management of minor water bodies.
  4. by making it mandatory to get prior approval from Gram Sabha for prospective licenses/lease for mining and exploitation of minor minerals in the area.
  5. by guaranteeing it the ownership of minor forest produce.
  6. by authorising it to regulate the sale/consumption of intoxicants in the area.
  7. by authorising it to manage village markets.
  8. by authorising it to regulate money lending in the area.
  9. By allowing it to have control over institutions and functionaries in social sector in the area.

 

REVIEW OF PESA ACT, 1996

  1. There is little or no awareness among people living in scheduled or tribal areas about the provisions of the PESA Act. It is imperative that all people residing in PESA area are made aware about their rights through intensive public awareness programmes.
  2. Physical infrastructure in such scheduled and tribal areas must be strengthened to enable such communities to better manage their resources.

 

 

EVALUATION OF THE PERFORMANCE OF THE PANCHAYATI RAJ INSTITUTIONS

 

If the goal was to create another layer of government and political representation at the grass-roots level, then definitely there is no parallel to the success of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs). While India has always had reservations for elected representatives from disadvantaged groups like SC/STs, this is the only level of government with reservation for women which has led to more and more women empowerment. And this is the only level of government, where SC/ST candidates have a genuine voice in governance (unlike the candidates from reserved constituencies at the parliamentary level). With 2,50,000 PRIs across the country and about 32 lakh (i.e. 3.2 million) elected representatives of PRIs across India, this has been one of the world’s biggest democratic decentralisation.

However, if the goal was to provide better governance, then PRIs have not succeeded in achieving its goals. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act (1992) only mandated the creation of local self-governing bodies, and left the decision to delegate powers, functions, and finances to the state legislatures. And therein lies the reason for the failure of PRIs. There has been very little devolution of authority and functions by the state governments to their respective PRIs in the last 25 years. As a result, people still look forward to MLAs or MPs for their local needs which largely go unnoticed and unaddressed. Moreover, the interference of area’s MPs and MLAs in the functioning of panchayats also adversely affects their performance. The development approach is still top to bottom, with PRIs serving the orders of the state governments and not representing the aspirations of local communities. On the top of that, all the government departments owe their authority either from the state or the Union. Therefore, they don’t accept any command or directions from the local representatives of the PRIs. This makes PRIs less effective in getting their plans implemented by concerned government departments.

There has also developed a holy nexus between the state governments and the PRI representatives, who toe party lines to move up to become part of the state level government. Various political parties spend a lot of money to get their workers into such PRIs, who are expected to serve as their influencers in the region. Union government has further centralised service delivery by using technology, and panchayats are nothing more than front offices for several Union government programmes. 

Criminals and contractors win elections through bribing voters and striking deals with different groups, and unabatedly exploit the mineral resources of the region without any fear of government action, by funding political parties of the state and the Union. Furthermore, higher officers posted at the behest of Members of Legislative Assemblies, often on payment of bribes, extract bribes from local governments for plan clearances, approving estimates and payments. Thus, a market chain of corruption has been further strengthened through misuse of PRIs.

Though women and SC/STs have got representation in PRIs through reservation mandated by 73rd amendment but rather than truly empowering them, we often see cases of proxy representation whereby the husband, or a powerful person of the area wields effective powers.

PRIs suffer from structural deficiencies since there is no secretarial or technical support at lower level, which restricts the aggregation of bottom up planning. They are often unable to solve even the most basic local governance needs.

Though social audits, of various government schemes and programs mandated through Gram Sabha, have helped in better targeting of schemes or programs in rural areas but still there is a need for effective implementation of the social audit practice which currently is mostly symbolic. 

The biggest failure of the 73rd Amendment is making PRIs dependent for finances on state Legislation. Most of the state governments have not legislated on the matter, due to which such PRIs have neither been able to generate their own funds nor been able to get such committed funds from the state. Though finance commissions, at every level, have advocated for greater devolution of funds by the state governments to their respective PRIs, there has been little action by states to devolve such funds. As a result, PRIs are so starved for funds that they are often unable to meet even payroll obligations. They are reluctant to take on projects that require any meaningful financial outlay, and are often unable to solve even the most basic local governance needs.

 

WAY FORWARD

First and foremost, there is a need for genuine fiscal federalism where PRIs are able to raise their own revenue. Then only the PRIs can emerge as independent layer of governance that truly works for the betterment of local community from where it only would then derive its authority. The Gram Sabhas must not just be looked upon as an occasional assembly of the village voters. There should be mechanisms within the PRIs to consistently stay in touch with them to understand their needs and get their feedbacks through various surveys, evaluations forms etc. Also, it should be made mandatory by law for the PRIs to meet once in a week or a month. Social Audit must be made mandatory for schemes or programs of the governments at various levels. The state Election Commission must ensure that politicisation of such PRIs is checked. Rather than just working for the welfare of the people, the PRIs must be enabled to work for the empowerment of the people through skill development initiatives, through setting up of entrepreneurial hubs specialising in local art and craft, through establishing better access to credit, and much more. Also there must be a National Platform of Panchayat Representatives where the PRI representatives could meet and exchange ideas on best practices. Unless our PRI representatives move out of their confined zones, we cannot expect them to bring change in their areas. Training should be provided to local representatives to develop expertise so that they contribute more in planning and implementation of policies and programmes. The government must also provide training to panchayat raj employees to effectively carry out social audits. Apart from this other institutions such as various NGOs must train and enable villagers to participate in such social audits. To solve the problem of proxy representation social empowerment must precede the political empowerment. Recently states like Rajasthan and Haryana have set certain minimum qualification standards for Panchayat elections. Such necessary eligibility can help in improving effectiveness of governance mechanism.

The dependence on state government for everything from power, functions and authority to finances, just doesn’t serves the purpose, and to change this needs a serious will power on part of the Union government to modify the provisions of the Constitution in this regard to best suit the demands of such a democratic decentralisation in the truest sense. 

 

 

PANCHAYATI RAJ INSTITUTIONS IN RECENT TIMES

 

  1. The Panchayati Raj Ministry has pitched to Finance Commission for a fivefold increase in funding for rural local bodies. It asked for INR 10 lakh crore from 15th Finance Commission, in comparison to the INR 2 lakh crore allocated under the 14th Finance Commission.
  2. Road construction and maintenance, as well as drinking water supply have been the major projects carried out by panchayats using Finance Commission grants.
  3. Panchayats have also gained importance as crucial nodal points in times of crisis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they ran more than 38,000 quarantine/isolation centres, apart from medical camps and contact tracing.
  4. However, the Ministry has admitted that a major challenge during the pandemic and lockdown was that most panchayats could not provide cooked food at short notice. Therefore, the Ministry has proposed that community kitchens be set up in each panchayat and be operated by local self-help groups.
  5. Also, the panchayats need to play a key role in generating employment for the newly returned migrant workers under the newly launched Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan.

 

 

PART IX-A OF THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA

 

 

THE MUNICIPALITIES (ARTICLE 243P – 243ZG)

 

Part IX-A of the Constitution gives constitutional foundations to the local self government units in urban areas. It was added to the Constitution of India through the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (1992), which added Articles 243P – 243ZG to the Constitution.

At the Union level, the subject of urban local government is dealt with by three Ministries:

  1. Ministry of Urban Development, created as a separate Ministry in 1985.
  2. Ministry of Defence, in case of Cantonment Boards.
  3. Ministry of Home Affairs, in case of Union Territories.

The 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (1992) made it constitutionally obligatory for the state governments to establish the system of local self governance through Municipalities.

 

 

DEFINITIONS

 

ARTICLE 243P

For the purpose of this part, a metropolitan area refers to an area having a population of ten lakhs or more. Also, a municipal area means the territorial area of a Municipality as is notified by the Governor.

 

 

FEATURES OF MUNICIPALITIES (ARTICLES 243Q – 243ZG)

 

 

TYPES OF MUNICIPALITIES

 

ARTICLE 243Q

NAGAR PANCHAYAT – For a transitional area i.e. an area in transition from a rural area to an urban area.

MUNICIPAL COUNCIL – For a smaller urban area.

MUNICIPAL CORPORATION – For a larger urban area.

It is not mandatory to set up Municipality in area declared by the Governor of the state as Industrial Township. 

Also the Governor of the state shall have the power to define what constitutes a transitional area, smaller urban area and larger urban area.

 

 

COMPOSITION OF MUNICIPALITIES

 

ARTICLE 243R

  1. All the seats in a Municipality shall be filled by persons chosen by direct election from the territorial constituencies in the Municipal area and for this purpose each Municipal area shall be divided into territorial constituencies to be known as wards.
  2. The Legislature of a state may, by law, provide for representation in a Municipality of,
    1. persons having special knowledge or experience in Municipal Administration.
    2. the members of the Lok Sabha and the members of the Legislative Assembly of the state representing constituencies which comprise wholly or partly the Municipal area.
    3. the members of the Rajya Sabha and the members of the Legislative Council of the state (if any) registered as electors within the Municipal area.
  3. The Legislature of a state may, by law, also provide for the manner of election of the Chairperson of a Municipality.

In most municipal corporations, while the Mayor is the ceremonial head, the executive powers of the corporation are vested with the state government-appointed commissioner. This disjuncture in municipal governance has been exploited by state governments to ensure that no city-level politician challenges their control over a city.

 

 

WARD COMMITTEES

 

ARTICLE 243S

  1. There shall be constituted Wards Committees, consisting of one or more Wards, within the territorial area of a Municipality having a population of 3 lakhs or more.
  2. The Legislature of a state may, by law, provide for
    1. the composition and territorial area of the Ward Committees.
    2. the manner in which the seats in a Wards Committee shall be filled.
  3. A member of a Municipality representing a ward within the territorial area of the Wards Committee shall be a member of that Committee.
  4. Only a member representing the Ward in the Municipality could become the Chairperson of a Ward Committee.
  5. Nothing in this article shall be deemed to prevent the Legislature of a state from making any provision for the Constitution of Committees in addition to the Wards Committees.

 

 

PROVISIONS SIMILAR TO PANCHAYATS

 

ARTICLE 243T Reservation of Seats in Municipalities. Same as for Panchayats
ARTICLE 243U Duration of Municipalities. Same as for Panchayats
ARTICLE 243V Qualifications to be a member of a Municipality. Same as for Panchayats
ARTICLE 243W Powers, authority and responsibilities of Municipalities. Same as for Panchayats, but relates to items mentioned in the 12th Schedule of the Constitution.
ARTICLE 243X Financial Resources of Municipalities and its power to impose taxes. Same as for Panchayats
ARTICLE 243Y Role of the state Finance Commission w.r.t. Municipalities. Same as for Panchayats
ARTICLE 243Z Audit of the accounts of the Municipalities. Same as for Panchayats
ARTICLE 243ZA Role of the state Election Commission w.r.t. Municipalities. Same as for Panchayats
ARTICLE 243ZB Application to Union Territories. Same as for Panchayats
ARTICLE 243ZC Prohibition/Restriction on application of provisions related to Municipalities to certain areas. Same as for Panchayats
ARTICLE 234ZF Continuance of existing law related to Municipalities unless repealed or modified by the Legislature of the state.  Same as for Panchayats
ARTICLE 243ZG Bar to interference by courts in electoral matters of Municipalities. Same as for Panchayats

 

 

COMMITTEE FOR DISTRICT PLANNING

 

ARTICLE 243ZD

  1. There shall be constituted at the district level in every state, a District Planning Committee to consolidate the plans prepared by the panchayats and the municipalities in the district and to prepare a draft development plan for the district as a whole.
  2. The Legislature of the state, may by law, make provisions regarding the composition, power and functions of such committees.
  3. The Legislature of the state, may by law, provide for the manner of election of the chairpersons of such committees.
  4. The Chairperson of every District Planning Committee shall forward the development plan, as recommended by such Committee, to the Government of the state.

 

 

COMMITTEE FOR METROPOLITAN PLANNING

 

ARTICLE 243ZE

  1. There shall be constituted in every Metropolitan area, a Metropolitan Planning Committee to prepare a draft development plan for the Metropolitan area as a whole.
  2. The Legislature of the state, may by law, make provisions regarding the composition, power and functions of such committees.
  3. The Legislature of the state, may by law, provide for representation in such committees of the Government of India and the Government of the state, and of such organisations and institutions as may be deemed necessary for carrying out the functions assigned to such committees.
  4. The Legislature of the state, may by law, provide for the manner of election of the chairpersons of such committees.
  5. The Chairperson of every Metropolitan Planning Committee shall forward the development plan, as recommended by such Committee, to the Government of the state.

 

 

EVALUATION OF THE URBAN LOCAL GOVERNANCE IN INDIA

 

More than one third of India’s population lives in Urban areas, yet the combined expenditure of all urban local bodies in India, according to NITI Aayog is just 1 percent of the GDP. The most recent report by United Nations on world urbanisation suggests that by 2050, more than 50 percent of India’s population will be residing in urban areas.

Even with only a third of its population living in cities, civic anarchy is rampant in the country. Lack of affordable housing has led to the proliferation of slums, lack of enforcement of building norms has left the urban areas heavily congested, and poor investment in public transport has fuelled unsustainable levels of private vehicle use. Besides this the metropolitan cities are grappling with unsustainable levels of air and water pollution. A recent data released by the World Health Organisation shows that 14 Indian cities are among the top 20 worldwide for the worst air quality profiles. Add to this, the unscientific management of solid and plastic waste which is simply being dumped somewhere in the outskirts. Such a dismal scenario is only going to get worse with higher population concentrations in coming times, unless the urban governments get on their own.

Although the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (1992) provided constitutional status to Municipalities, yet they have been provided very limited role as institution of urban local government.

The elected representatives of the Municipalities are rendered powerless by making them subservient to the state government. In most municipal corporations, while the Mayor is the ceremonial head, the executive powers of the corporation are vested in a Commissioner, appointed by the state government. This disjuncture in municipal governance has been retained by the state governments to ensure that no city-level politician challenges their control over a city. 

Municipal Corporations are further denied their political role by the continued operation of various urban development bodies set up by state or Union government. These bodies are autonomous and accountable only to the state or Union government, and not to the local government in the form of Municipalities. The Union governments’ Smart City programme goes a step further and does not devolve its funds to the Municipalities. Infact, it requires the states to constitute Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) to ring-fence these grants to prevent their mixing up with municipality budgets. Corruption has been rampant in urban planning and development due to opacity and non transparency in their decisions and operations. Most of the times, the urban development bodies and SPVs work in close chambers with the state Government and the real estate sector for vested interests. The decisions as to which areas must be developed and to what extent are often determined by business interests rather than public interest.The democratically elected local government has no say in urban planning and development since this work is delegated by the state Governments to such urban development bodies and SPVs, leaving just the most basic works such as water supply, sanitation, street lights, street roads and community assets to the management of the Municipalities. This is in contrast to the local governments in rural India, which, though also limited in their functionality, have significantly more power than their urban counterparts. 

According to the Niti Aayog, India requires a INR 40 trillion investment until 2030 to overhaul its infrastructure whereas the revenue of all the municipal corporations put together is not more than INR 1.2 trillion. In the absence of financial autonomy, the Municipalities depend mostly on state Governments for grants, which most of the times are themselves running short of finances. As such the quality of even such services provided by Municipalities has been not upto the mark. This shortage of funding is most hurting in solid and plastic waste management. Instead of scientific management of such waste, we are still dumping it in nearby outskirts. The situation with regard to public transportation systems is similar where due to lack of funds, the quality and frequency of public transport has been deteriorating. This has been forcing more and more people to go for private vehicles, aggravating the problem of congestion as well as pollution. Moreover, there has been a reluctance on part of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) to recognise the issue of urban poverty or of finding adequate space for the urban poor to live. It is only recently that the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 has obligated the ULBs to look at this part of the informal economy and make it a planned activity. 

For political parties, elections to urban local bodies appear to be a preparatory ground for consolidating their positions and widening their support base for winning the Assembly elections. For voters, these elections provide an opportunity to express their views on different political parties struggling to capture the state or Union government. Rather than considering the programmes of the respective parties on improving the civic services, the voters get swayed by emotional appeals on various regional or national issues. Such politicisation of local elections to mimic larger questions of ideology related to regional as well as national politics restricts the space of local democracy, and allow the contestants to ignore the questions related to improvement in civic services.

 

 

PART IX-B OF THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA

 

 

THE COOPERATIVE SOCIETIES (ARTICLE 243ZH – 243 ZT)

 

The cooperative sector has made signification contribution to various sectors of the national economy and achieved a tremendous growth. A leading example in this regard would be ‘Amul Dairy’ which not only empowered dairy community but also bought milk revolution in India. Cooperative Societies are a subject in the state list and as such the Legislatures of the state had enacted legislations regarding the functioning of such Cooperative Societies. However, in absence of constitutional safeguards, it was a challenge to enforce the accountability of such cooperatives to their members, and to their customers as well. There have been instances where some of the cooperatives used to get hijacked by nominated members, in collusion with state authorities. 

The 97th Constitutional Amendment Act (2011) gave constitutional status and protection to cooperative societies. It made following amendments in the Constitution of India:

  1. It made the right to form cooperative societies a Fundamental Right under Article 19.
  2. It included a new Directive Principle of State Policy on promotion of cooperative societies, through Article 43B.
  3. It added a new Part IX-B (Article 243ZH-243ZT) in the Constitution of India.

 

 

COOPERATIVE SOCIETIES

 

ARTICLE 243ZI

Subject to the provisions of this Part, the Legislature of a state may, by law, make provisions with respect to the incorporation, regulation and winding up of co-operative societies based on the principles of voluntary formation, democratic member-control, member-economic participation and autonomous functioning.

 

 

TERMS OF THE BOARD OF A COOPERATIVE SOCIETY

 

ARTICLE 243ZJ

  1. The board shall consist of such number of directors as may be provided by the Legislature of a state, provided that the maximum number of directors of such a board shall not exceed twenty one. 
  2. The Legislature of a state may, by law, provide for the reservation of one seat for the members of Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes and two seats for women in board of every co-operative society.
  3. The term of office of elected members of the board and its office bearers shall be five years from the date of election. The board may fill a casual vacancy in the board through nomination out of the same class of members in respect of which the casual vacancy has arisen, if the term of office of the board is less than half of its original term.

 

 

OTHER PROVISIONS

 

  1. No Board shall be kept under suspension for a period exceeding 6 months. However, the board of any cooperative society shall not be superseded or kept under suspension where there is no government shareholding or loan or financial assistance. In case, a board is suspended, the cooperative society must arrange for elections within 6 months of such suspension.
  2. The accounts of every cooperative society must be audited within 6 months of the closing financial year. The audit report of the apex cooperative society must be laid before the Legislature of the state.

 

 

KEY FACTS

 

  1. The first Municipal Corporation of India was set up in Madras in 1687.
  2. Lord Ripon’s Resolution of 1882 has been hailed as the Magna-Carta (founding document) of local self governance in India. He is known as the Father of Local Self Government in India.
  3. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs publishes annual report in global trends in urbanisation – ‘Revision of the World Urbanisation Prospects‘.
  4. Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, provides that the Gram Sabha, or village assembly, will pass a resolution recommending whose rights to which resources should be recognised, and this resolution shall be screened and approved at the level of the sub-division (or taluka) and subsequently at the district level. The screening committees consist of three government officials (Forest, Revenue and Tribal Welfare departments) and three elected members of the local body at that level. These committees also hear appeals.