The Constitution of India provides for a three tier system of government at the Union, state and district levels. While great emphasis is laid on the powers assigned to the Central and state governments with concurrent powers also listed where both these political entities could jointly function, with overriding powers invested in the Central Government, the third tier of our democracy, panchayats and the ULBs, have been victims of long neglect. In fact, it was only after the 73rd and 74thAmendments of the Constitution were brought on the statute book that there were some efforts on the part of the Central government and some progressive state governments to give effect to the spirit of these amendments.

In this context, it is perhaps appropriate to recall an observation made by the 13th Finance Commission: “Approximately 30 lakh representatives are regularly elected to about 2.5 lakh local institutions all over the country. Providing basic services at the grassroots level makes them the primary interface of the citizens’ interaction with the government. The principle of subsidiarity implies that matters are best handled by the least centralized competent authority. Following this, these institutions need to be adequately empowered-both functionally and financially- to enable them to fulfill the role envisaged for them in the Constitution.” Apart from the Finance Commission, all the important bodies set up by the Union Government to study its working such as the Second Administrative Reforms Commission and the Standing Committee on Urban and Rural Development, 2004 have commented on the failure of the Union and state governments in implementing the provisions of the Constitutional Amendments.

In order to revive the dialogue on this extremely important issue on which the future of the three tier system of our democracy hinges, Common Cause in collaboration with the Institute of Social Sciences, organized a Seminar on March 28, 2012 on the subject of ‘Local Self Government- the Unfinished Agenda’. The Seminar drew speakers from public life, policy planners, administrators, researchers and activists. It was inaugurated by the Union Minister for Panchayati Raj and Tribal Affairs, Shri Kishore Chandra Deo. The keynote address was delivered by Prof. K.C.Sivaramakrishnan, Chairman and Research Professor, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. The Programme was well attended by a diverse group of participants ranging from senior administrators, academicians, activists and panchayat representatives.

At the end of the daylong Seminar, the following conclusions and recommendations were reached:

  • The Union government should exhort the state governments to ensure that elections to the panchayats and ULBs are held regularly, as contained in the Constitutional Amendments (Art.243 E and 243 U). At present, many state governments do not attach adequate importance to this.


  • While some state governments have devolved some of the powers and functions in respect of certain departments like Health and Minor Irrigation, this has been done dejure, not de facto.


  • Some Central laws and several legislations of state governments which were enacted before the 73rd/74th Constitutional Amendments have specific provisions which come in the way of devolution. These must be identified forthwith and consequential legislative changes made in them.


  • Many state governments have consistently neglected the pleas of Panchayats and ULBs to give them requisite administrative and financial powers as well as the necessary manpower. At present most panchayats and local bodies function without the assistance of key functionaries such as


    panchayat secretaries, accountants etc. It needs to be emphasised that these are the basic prerequisites for any scheme of decentralized democracy.
  • The Union government should issue orders to its own administrative Ministries devolving authority and finances to panchayats and ULBs in respect of all Central Schemes, centrally sponsored schemes and National Mission Mode programmes like ICDS, NRHM, SSA, PMSY etc and also to explore wherever scope for further devolution exists. In many states zila panchayats at the district levels and block panchayats and intermediate as well as equivalent bodies are in a state of dysfunction. These need to be activated.


  • It is felt that the performance and accounts of panchayats and ULBs are generally in a state of disarray. These should be monitored and audited by an institutional social audit system and C&AG.


  • State governments should explore all avenues of broadening and deepening the revenue base of the panchayats and ULBs with a view to make them as self reliant as possible.
  • As indicated in Articles 243 G and 243 W of the Constitution, the state governments may be exhorted to devolve all or as many of the subjects listed under the Eleventh and Twelfth schedules.


  • An intensive capacity building initiative needs to be started at both the central and state levels so that all planners and functionaries are made fully aware of their roles and responsibilities.


  • The Union government may issue a directive to all central ministries to ensure that while drafting programmes and schemes, the views of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj may invariably be obtained so as to ensure that the issues of local government are adequately addressed.


  • The Road Map identified by the MOPR of having a common district council or common zila parishad needs to be pursued. Another important idea brought out in the MOPR’s Road Map, of giving representation to panchayats and ULBs in the Legislative Councils, also needs serious engagement.


  • The MOPR should revisit Art 243 Q of the Constitution which provides for exemptions for certain townships like industrial area townships from having their own self government. This provision militates against the raison d’etre of participatory democracy.
  • To work towards preparing a common election code .This is a task long overdue and must be addressed with some urgency.


  • Many centrally sponsored schemes and national programmes, even when ensuring involvement of panchayats and local bodies, tend to look upon them as agents of government rather than as institutions of self government in their own right. This focus must be corrected.
  • The involvement of women, Backward Communities, SC/STs and Minorities may be promoted through appropriate incentives and initiatives

April – June, 2012