The values of local self-governance

Source– The post is based on the article “The values of local self-governance” published in The Hindu on 5th January 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- Devolution of powers and finances up to local level and challenges therein

Relevance– Issues related to panchayat and municipalities.

News– The article explains the working of local self-governance in India. It also explains the normative basis of local self-governance.

What is the normative basis of local self-governance?

Local self-governance is linked to the idea of subsidiarity. It is based on two broad arguments.

First, it provides for efficient provision of public goods. Governments with smaller jurisdictions can provide services as per the preferences of their residents.

Second, it promotes deeper democracy. Governments that are closer to the people allow citizens to engage with public affairs more easily.

India’s decentralisation agenda is also driven by these values. The 73rd and 74th amendments require States to give powers to local bodies to enable them to function as institutions of self-government.

These amendments also provide for the regular conduct of local elections, reservation of seats for backward sections. They also institute participative forums like gram sabhas in panchayats and ward committees in municipal corporations.

What are the issues with local governments in India?

Despite the constitutional mandate, local governments operate with limited autonomy and authority. It may be attributed to the inherent limitations of the 74th amendment.

There is failure on parts of State governments and courts to implement and interpret the amendment in letter and spirit. States have been provided with discretion regarding devolution of powers and levying of local taxes.

State governments are reluctant to implement the 74th amendment. Cities are economic powerhouses and controlling urban land is important for financing State governments and political parties.

How recent order of Patna High Court is pathbreaking?

It declared some provisions of the Bihar Municipal (Amendment) Act, 2021 as unconstitutional.

The 2021 amendment had transferred the powers of appointment of Grade C and D employees from the of the municipality to the State government. The court held that these provisions violate the 74th Amendment.

How can the local governments and federalism  be strengthened?

As centralising tendencies are increasing in India, there’s also been a renewed assertion of federalism. However, this assertion of State rights is hardly articulated as value-based normative claims.

Hence, debates on federalism should include larger discussions on how power should be divided and shared between governments at the Union, State, and local level.

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