Decentralization in India:
- A vast country like India cannot be run only through two-tiers of government as discussed above.
- States in India are as large as independent countries of Europe.
- In terms of population, Uttar Pradesh is bigger than Russia
- Maharashtra is about as big as Germany.
- Many of these States are internally very diverse in terms of dialects or local languages spoken, in terms of eating habits and cultures.
- So, federal power sharing in India needs another tier of government, below that of the State governments.
- This is the rationale for decentralization of power.
- The basic idea behind decentralisation is that there are a large number of problems and issues which are best settled at the local level.
- People have better knowledge of problems in their localities.
- They also have better ideas on where to spend money and how to manage things more efficiently.
- Besides, at the local level it is possible for the people to directly participate in decision making.
- This helps to inculcate a habit of democratic participation.
- Local government is the best way to realise one important principle of democracy, namely local self-government.
- A major step towards decentralisation was taken in 1992.
- The Constitution was amended to make the third tier of democracy more powerful and effective.
- Now it is constitutionally mandatory to hold regular elections to local government bodies.
- Seats are reserved in the elected bodies and the executive heads of these institutions for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.
- At least one-third of all positions are reserved for women.
- An independent institution called the State Election Commission has been created in each State to conduct panchayat and municipal elections.
- The State governments are required to share some powers and revenue with local government bodies.
- The nature of sharing varies from State to State.
- Rural local government is popularly known by the name
- Each village, or a group of villages in some States, has a gram panchayat.
- This is a council consisting of several ward members, often called panch, and a president or sarpanch.
- They are directly elected by all the adult population living in that ward or village.
- It is the decision-making body for the entire village.
- The panchayat works under the overall supervision of the gram sabha.
- All the voters in the village are its members.
- It has to meet at least twice or thrice in a year to approve the annual budget of the gram panchayat and to review the performance of the gram panchayat.
- The local government structure goes right up to the district level.
- A few gram panchayats are grouped together to form what is usually called a panchayat samiti or block or mandal The members of this representative body are elected by all the panchyat members in that area.
- All the panchayat samitis or mandals in a district together constitute the zilla (district) parishad.
- Most members of the zilla parishad are elected.
- Members of the Lok Sabha and MLAs of that district and some other officials of other district level bodies are also its members.
- Zilla parishad chairperson is the political head of the zilla parishad.
- Similarly, local government bodies exist for urban areas as well.
Municipalities are set up in towns.
- Big cities are constituted into municipal corporations.
- Both municipalities and municipal corporations are controlled by elected bodies consisting of people’s representatives.
- Municipal chairperson is the political head of the municipality.
- In a municipal corporation such an officer is called the mayor.
How the third tier strengthened the democracy
- This new system of local government is the largest experiment in democracy conducted anywhere in the world.
- There are now about 36 lakh elected representatives in the panchayats and municipalities etc., all over the country.
- This number is bigger than the population of many countries in the world.
- Constitutional status for local government has helped to deepen democracy in our country.
- It has also increased women’s representation and voice in our democracy.
Challenges faced by the third tier
- At the same time, there are many difficulties.
- While elections are held regularly and enthusiastically, gram sabhas are not held regularly.
- Most state governments have not transferred significant powers to the local governments.
- Nor have they given adequate resources.
- We are thus still a long way from realizing the ideal of self government.