What is local government in India


Case study: India
By Luise B. Rürup

With a constitutional amendment (73rd and 74th Amendment) in 1992 the functions of the Indian municipal councils (the rural Panchayats and urban Nagar Palikas) defined constitutionally for the first time. Up to this point in time, individual Indian states such as West Bengal, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh had passed laws regulating the tasks of local councils, but there was no uniform national framework legislation. The constitutional amendment of 1992, which the tasks of the rural (with the 73rd Amendment) and urban (with the 74th Amendment) Communities defined separately have been celebrated as milestones for local self-government, especially with regard to the participation of disadvantaged population groups, in India. Five years after the amendment to the constitution was passed, the euphoria of many has turned into disappointment. The hopes for an authentic decentralization process raised by the constitutional framework law have so far hardly become a reality.

Today around 840 million people live in India. Within the next 40 years India will overtake China with an annual population growth rate of 2.1% (1994) and become the most populous country in the world.

The local political institutions in India work under "difficult conditions": Even after fifty years of independence, India is still predominantly a rural society. Around 75% of the population still live in rural areas. Over 40% of the rural population live in settlements with fewer than 500 inhabitants, another quarter live in settlements with 500-1000 inhabitants, so Indian society is largely a very rural, in many parts feudal society

of the Indian population (291 million adults) can neither write nor read. The average literacy rate is below 50%, for women it is significantly lower (34%). In some rural districts, such as Rajasthan, the literacy rate for women is below 10%. Since over 60% of the Indian population earn less than US $ 1 per day (UNDP), Indian society must also be described as a society that is largely still extremely poor. 15% of the population belong to the so-called scheduled casts, the low castes or casteless ones (dalits), and about 7% belong to the indigenous population groups (scheduledtribes or adivasis), which are promoted through "positive discrimination" in accordance with the constitutional mandate. These groups are still most affected by poverty and marginalization. The infrastructure (electricity, water, roads, public transport, functioning schools, basic health care, etc.) in the majority of rural communities can be described as absolutely inadequate.

Local Self-Government - An Indian Invention?

The Panchayat ('Council of Five') is often described as a - thousands of years old - traditional institution of village self-government in India. In fact, the 'Council of Five' was first mentioned about 3000 years ago in the Rig-Veda, the first written document of Hinduism. However, the traditional panchayat institution in India has little in common with the modern notion of village self-government. Panchayat members were not elected, they did not hold office for a limited period of time, caste and religious affiliation were key selection factors for membership, and women and casteless people were not represented in panchayats. Panchayats appeared as administrative institutions when around the year 500 BC. C. The first time taxes were levied. The Panchayats, however, were dominated by the land-owning castes for centuries and were primarily concerned with social and religious tasks.

Panchayats played an important role in the philosophy of the national independence movement. The concept of village self-government was a core element of Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy. Village / communal self-government (grief raj) was the prerequisite for independence for Gandhi (swaraj): "My idea of ​​the village swaraj is that it is a complete republic, independent of its neighbors for its own vital wants and yet interdependent for many others in which dependance is a necessity."

After India's independence, the panchayats did not play a decisive role for many years in the context of the centrally planned economy and a restricted federal structure (so-called "federalism from above"), in which the federal competencies are severely restricted by the Union government. The recommendations of a committee set up in 1957 (Balwant Rai Mehta Committee) accordingly, laws regulating the tasks of the panchayats in rural development were passed in some Indian states in the late 1950s. In the 1960s and 1970s, however, the process of decentralization and the legal definition of the role and function of municipal institutions at the central government level stagnated.

It was only in the 1980s that interest in decentralization and the legal definition of the role of the panchayats - which still existed in the traditional form in the villages - reawakened. Under Rajiv Gandhi, a law was introduced into parliament in May 1989 that was supposed to regulate the constitutional status of the Panchayats. After the law, although the lower house (Lok Sabha) had happened, it failed - in October 1989 - in the House of Lords (Rajya Sabha). The criticism of the MPs related primarily to the extensive delegation of functions from the central state to the municipalities, without taking sufficient account of the federal level. In 1992, a revised version of the law was passed as constitutional amendments by both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.

The strengthening of India's municipal institutions through the 1992 constitutional amendment

On April 24, 1993, the two constitutional amendments for rural and urban municipalities came into force. The roles and functions of 225,000 village communities, each with approx. 1,500 to 8,000 inhabitants, of 5,000 district parliaments (block level panchayats) with approx. 80,000 to 200,000 inhabitants each and 500 district parliaments (district level panchayats) with approx. 1 to 2 million inhabitants each were thus constitutionally regulated.

As a national framework legislation, the constitutional amendment had to be ratified by the Indian states within one year by April 24, 1994 and implemented in federal legislation. The state parliaments were urged to "by law, to endow the panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government." After the ratification of the constitutional amendment, the Indian states had the freedom to legislate for local self-government in rural communities (Panchayati Raj Act) to adapt to the specifics and interests of your state.

The following provisions are made by the constitutional framework law:

  • New elections must be announced within one year after the municipal legislation has been passed. The tripartite municipal system provides for direct elections to the municipal parliaments, which are to be monitored by state election commissions. The local council chairpersons are elected indirectly by the local councils. The local parliaments are elected for five years. All adults aged 21 and over are entitled to vote.
  • One of the most innovative requirements of the constitutional amendment is certainly the reservation of 33% of the seats in the local parliaments for women. In order to bring women into the local political parliaments, constituencies are reserved for the exclusive candidacy of women among each other. The constituencies to be reserved are selected anew for each election

    is carried out by the electoral commission. In accordance with their share of the population, seats are also reserved for casteless and indigenous people (15-18%). The reservation for women also applies to disadvantaged population groups, i.e. one third must be women here too.

  • The Panchayats are tasked with drawing up plans for the economic development and social justice for the three levels of local self-government.
  • According to the framework legislation (11th schedule) the following 29 areas of responsibility can be delegated to the municipalities: “1. Agriculture, including agricultural extension, 2. Land improvement, implementation of land reforms, land consolidation and soil conservation, 3. Minor irrigation, water management and watershed development, 4. Animal husbandry, dairying and poultry, 5. Fisheries, 6. Social Forestry and farm forestry, 7. Minor forest produce, 8. Small scale industries, including food processing industries, 9. Khadi, village and cottage industries, 10. Rural housing, 11. Drinking water, 12. Fuel and Fodder, 13. Roads, culverts, bridges, ferries, waterways and other means of communication, 14. Rural electrification, including distribution of electricity, 15. Non conventional energy resources, 16. Poverty alleviation programs, 17. Education, including primary and secondary schools, 18. Technical and vocational training, 19. Adult and non-formal education, 20. Libraries, 21. Cultural activities, 22. Markets and fairs, 23. Health and sanitation , including hospitals, primary health care centers and dispensaries, 24.Family welfare, 25. Women and child development, 26. Social welfare including welfare of the handicapped and mentally retarded, 27. Welfare of the weaker sections, and in particular the scheduled castes and tribes, 28. Public distribution system, 29. Maintenance of community assets. "
  • Independent finance commissions are to be set up at the state level to devise a system for dividing tax revenues and grants between states and local government institutions. In principle, panchayats should be able to mobilize their own financial resources (taxes, fees, customs duties, levies, etc.).

Implementation of constitutional legislation and local policy practice - has the decentralization process taken place?

With a few exceptions - one of which is Bihar, one of the largest Indian states - elections to local parliaments took place in all Indian states in the period 1995/96. Approx. 3 million community, county and district council members were elected for all of India. As a result of the constitutional securitization of local political institutions, the interest of the media, research institutes and institutions of civil societies in local politics has grown significantly, and with it the public's interest in the proper implementation of the elections.

With the help of the statutory 33% reservation for women, around 1 million women have been elected to local parliaments for the first time. The fears that were often expressed at the beginning that not enough women could be found as candidates have proven to be invalid. Although the majority of Indian women have so far been restricted to the domestic domain, their interest in more responsibility and influence - also outside the home - seems to be very pronounced. The fear that has often been expressed that the elected representatives are only "dummy candidates" who are set up by male family members and later "represented" by them has been put into perspective. The skills and success of the newly elected local politicians depend heavily on the respective regional-specific circumstances and factors such as the availability of training and advisory services.

The proportion of seats taken by casteless and indigenous groups should now correspond to the proportion of the total population within a constituency. The socio-structural composition of the municipal parliaments has thus changed significantly. In a society that extremely discriminates against people because of their caste membership, this is certainly a great step forward. Still hindered the pronounced

social and economic inequality, equal participation in local parliaments is essential.

However, the framework legislation still leaves some crucial aspects open for real decentralization. Although the communal system is usually referred to as three-tiered, there is a fourth tier: the village assembly (grief sabha). As a grassroots democratic institution that is accountable to the local council, it plays an important role as a supervisory and voting body. In the framework legislation, the grief sabha Although mentioned, the size, tasks and functions of the village assembly are not defined, but left to the regulation of the federal states. Only in Kerala and Madhya Pradesh has the role of the village assembly been clearly clarified by granting them authority to give instructions to the Panchayats by law.

The need for training and counseling for first-time elected councilors is immense in India. So far there have been neither sufficient educational offers nor a comprehensive training policy, especially for the specific needs of disadvantaged population groups. The pilot training projects of NGOs can gain methodological, didactic and organizational experience, but they cannot meet the enormous demand.

Relations between the levels of government (federal parliaments and the three-tier local parliaments) are not clearly structured. The political parties play an important role as 'transmission belts' between the different levels of the legislature. The role of the parties in local politics is not uniformly regulated. Not everywhere do the candidates run as representatives of political parties in local elections. There are a number of voices that explicitly oppose the "party politicization" of Indian local politics.

The horizontal networking of the municipalities has so far been little developed. There is one All India Panchayat Parishad, an association of local governments. However, this is in fact not functional. There is no central municipal association - for example based on the federal republican model - in India.

The delegation of tasks to the municipal institutions (devolution of power) has so far only taken place hesitantly in most cases. The principle of subsidiarity has not been strictly applied in the framework legislation. In practice, it has been found that members of the state legislature, like administrators, have little inclination to delegate powers and resources to the lower levels. The administrative institution that occupies a central position in rural areas, the District Rural Development Agency - with the one above District Collector—, is also usually hardly interested in delegating competencies and resources to the municipal parliaments.

In most states, only a number of state social and employment programs have so far been delegated to municipal institutions - and often only on paper. Unbound funds for their own organization, however, are hardly available to community politics. In practice, for example, the Panchayats receive funding only for the execution of state programs. These hardly offer their own design options. In general, the financial resources of the Panchayats are absolutely inadequate. The finance commissions, which according to the law had to be set up by the federal states to regulate the financial resources of the municipalities, have so far only received their reports in exceptional cases. Concepts presented.

The accountability of government institutions to the citizens is so far not very pronounced in India, embezzlement and corruption are widespread. The organization Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghathan (MKSS) in Rajasthan has started a campaign for the right to information, in which administrative officials and local councils through public hearings in the villages to disclose books, files and documents. be stopped. Of the approximately 8 billion rupees (400 million DM) that the Union government provides for rural development programs every year, only a fraction reaches the target group, the poor rural population.

In India, too, the decentralization process is being accelerated by the liberalization policy that was launched in 1991 under pressure from the

Fund was initiated. With the withdrawal of the (central) state, the federal level gains in importance - for example in the case of foreign investments and loans from bilateral and multilateral organizations. Against this background, the regional disparities within India seem to widen further.In this context, decentralization can mean that tasks are delegated to lower levels without being equipped with the associated resources and competencies. There is a risk that the state will do away with its tasks at the level of the Union and state governments without sufficient care being taken to ensure that these are taken over by the subsidiary levels - due to a lack of resources, competencies and control mechanisms.

Decentralization and local self-government have made significant progress in India with the 1992 amendment, the ratification of the law by the states and the successive elections. in the 73rd and 74th Amendment the local political institutions are now legally anchored. This is the beginning of a real decentralization process. The practical implementation of laws and the monitoring of the implementation of these laws are now the decisive factors for deeper decentralization. The political will to do so does not seem to be particularly strong at the state level so far. Systematic lobbying by municipalities and institutions of civil society such as NGOs and the media will be required to mobilize this political will. The guaranteed access to political decision-making positions at local level for women and disadvantaged population groups with the help of the 33% reservation is without a doubt a ray of hope with regard to the further democratization of political representation structures in India. For the further decentralization process, however, the institutional integration of the local parliaments into a real federal system is certainly decisive. As long as the Panchayats are seen as "development agencies" - similar to NGOs - and not as integral institutions of a federal state, local self-government in India remains a vision of the future.

Feminization of local politics?
First experiences of women in local parliaments in India

Since the majority of the local elections took place in 1995/96, no comprehensive studies on the participation of women in local politics are yet available. Exceptions are the states of Karnataka and West Bengal, which

had reserved seats for women (25%) even before the amendment to the constitution. There, the proportion of women in local councils has gradually increased and has now exceeded the quoted seats. In the last local political elections, 41% women were elected in Karnataka and 38.8% in West Bengal.

Initial case studies in some municipalities show that the reservation has allowed women to participate more in the political process not only as candidates but also as voters and campaign workers. Women who were previously restricted in their activities to the domestic sphere are discovering the public domain. Many self-help organizations, which are primarily concerned with the economic and social betterment of women, now recognize participation in local politics as an important field of action.

Socio-cultural factors within India have a major impact on the way women participate and the implementation of the quota. In southern Indian states such as Kerala and Karnataka, where the literacy rate of women is higher and the room for maneuver is greater, political participation is easier to achieve and at the same time is more widely accepted. In states like Rajasthan and Haryana, where women usually leave the house veiled and where literacy rates are very low, equal participation of women in the political process will require even more support. First case studies of the experiences of local women politicians in Haryana show that women in the new positions are also beginning to question traditional authority structures and inefficient practices in local councils.

Local politicians elected for the first time in rural communities have a great need for training and support. Since many women are not literate, have hardly been active in community politics and usually have no experience in political decision-making positions, accompanying training and counseling programs are required. Indian NGOs have taken on an important role in training, advising and supporting women in this context.

FES measures in the field of promoting local political institutions and the participation of women in local self-government

In cooperation with the partner organization Haryana Social Work and Research Center the FES runs a training program for women elected for the first time. In one Training for trainers local trainers are trained who can then offer training, advice and support themselves in the medium term.

Within the framework of national workshops, municipal council members, representatives of non-governmental organizations and state institutions can exchange experiences about training content, methods and materials as well as discussing the decentralization process and the work of the municipalities. An empirical study on the first experiences of women politicians in the local councils in Haryana has presented results relevant to training on the work of local politicians (priorities, difficulties, etc.) and on the effects of local political training programs.

Training material for women in community politics was developed together with various partner organizations. A set of five training manuals was developed in Hindi with the partner organization ISST. The organization DRISHTI, which specializes in audiovisual training material, was supported in the production of audiovisual training material for local political work.

The work in the field of promoting the political participation of women is not limited to the local political area. As part of a comprehensive study, the situation of women in political parties and the women's political programs of the parties were examined. This study was entitled 'Crossing the SacredLine - Women's Quest for Political Power ' released. Political gender equality strategies at local and state level as well as economic support programs for women were in the foreground of an information program that was prepared for the chairperson of the National Commission for Women as well as members of the State Commissions for women was completed in Germany.

© Friedrich Ebert Foundation | technical support | net edition fes-library | March 2000