Issues of Local Self-Government

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    In Context

    • 2023 is the 30th anniversary of the passing of the 73rd and 74th Amendments.

    About 73rd and 74th Amendments

    • The Amendments: 
      • 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments were passed by Parliament in December 1992. 
        • The Acts came into force as the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 on April 24, 1993 and the Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992 on June 1, 1993. 
      • Through these amendments, local self-governance was introduced in rural and urban India.
    • Addition of Part IX & Part IXA:
      • These amendments added two new parts to the Constitution, namely, 73rd Amendment added Part IX titled “The Panchayats” and 74th Amendment added Part IXA titled “The Municipalities”

    Salient Features of the 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendment Acts 

    • Panchayats and Municipalities will be “institutions of self-government”
      • Basic units of the democratic system-Gram Sabhas (villages) and Ward Committees (Municipalities) comprising all the adult members registered as voters
      • Three-tier system of panchayats at village, intermediate block/taluk/mandal and district levels except in States with population is below 20 lakhs (Article 243B)
    • Composition:
      • Seats at all levels to be filled by direct elections [Article 243C (2)]. 
      • SCs and STs:
        • Seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) and chairpersons of the Panchayats at all levels also shall be reserved for SCs and STs in proportion to their population. 
      • Women:
        • One-third of the total number of seats to be reserved for women. 
        • One-third of the seats reserved for SCs and STs also reserved for women. 
        • One-third offices of chairpersons at all levels reserved for women (Article 243D)
    • Duration:
      • Uniform five year term and elections to constitute new bodies to be completed before the expiry of the term. 
      • In the event of dissolution, elections compulsorily within six months (Article 243E)
    • State Election Commission:
      • Independent Election Commission in each State for superintendence, direction and control of the electoral rolls (Article 243K)
    • Functions:
      • Panchayats to prepare plans for economic development and social justice in respect of subjects as devolved by law to the various levels of Panchayats including the subjects as illustrated in Eleventh Schedule (Article 243G)
      • 74th Amendment provides for a District Planning Committee to consolidate the plans prepared by Panchayats and Municipalities (Article 243ZD)
    • Funds: 
      • Budgetary allocation from State Governments, share of revenue of certain taxes, collection and retention of the revenue it raises, Central Government programmes and grants, Union Finance Commission grants (Article 243H)
    • State Finance Commission:
      • Establish a Finance Commission in each State to determine the principles on the basis of which adequate financial resources would be ensured for panchayats and municipalities (Article 243I).

    Significance of the Amendments

    • The 73rd and 74th amendments did achieve a lot. 
      • In some areas, they led to the state acquiring a distinct presence on the ground; 
      • They gave millions of citizens identities as representatives
      • They provided a conduit for sharing power
      • They created deliberative spaces
      • Led to the creation of new norms, especially around the participation of women and a churn in local elites
      • They slowly built up local capacities, and 
      • Led to a wide range of functions being devolved to local government.
    • Apart from that, 
      • Panchayati Raj has also increased cooperation among people, their democratic participation and representation.
      • It has played an important role in decentralisation of power and has made India more inclusive.
      • Gram Panchayats provide basic services in villages and also plan for local economic development of the population.
    • Development plans & efficiency:
      • Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP) improves efficiency of public services.
      • It helps in ensuring Good Governance as the Panchayati Raj system works on the pillars of ‘Consensus’ and ‘Participation’ which form an important part of Good Governance.

    Challenges

    • Local government requires many technical, administrative and financial fixes
    • Low spending:
      • India has the lowest spending on local government as a proportion of resources.
      • The state at local levels is competent, it is just constantly being let down by lack of support and investment from the top. 
    • Constraints:
      • The constraints placed on them by a combination of bureaucratic control and deliberate underinvestment in capacity, and the lack of political pathways for successful panchayat performers to rise in their parties, limit their salience.
    • Obsolete distinction between Panchayats & municipalities:
      • There is a case to be made that the distinction between the 73rd and 74th amendments is now obsolete.
      • There are opinions for the creation of a unified district-level local government rather than a distinction between urban and rural. 
        • Many of the decisions consequential for India’s urbanisation, like land use change, for example, are being made in “panchayats”; there is arbitrage over how a settlement gets classified, and rural and urban is now, at best, a continuum.
    • Lack of Computer-based knowledge and Infrastructure:
      • The government initiated the e-panchayat project in about 360-gram panchayats. 
      • However, most of these districts lack infrastructure, skills and have poor broadband internet connectivity.
    • Proxy Presence of female Gram Pradhans:
      • Female pradhans are more likely to be influenced by the family members to stand for the polls and post winning; most of the work is handled by the male family members. 
      • On the face, the women won the election but are indirectly being controlled by the male members. 

    Way ahead

    • It is high time that specific corrective action should be taken to ensure a truly representative form of governance. 
      • These issues can be combated, but it requires cooperation by the people to accept these changes.
      • Funding must be adequate in order to run these institutions effectively and smoothly. 
      • There must also be accountability at all administrative levels in order to hold corrupt officials responsible. 
      • The focus must be on the training and development of human resources to eliminate any conceptual inconsistency. 
      • Women’s role in the panchayat must be recognised and not taken over by the male family members. 
    • The state would be better served by 
      • decentralisation than centralisation, 
      • transparency instead of opacity (hence the RTI Act), 
      • public reason instead of administrative discretion (hence independent regulators), 
      • local capacity instead of concentrated authority, 
      • active participation instead of subject status.

    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] The non-seriousness about the 73rd and 74th amendments is a lack of seriousness about democracy itself. Analyse.