Whither Self-governance?

In our fight for independence we rightly said, “Good governance is no substitute for self-governance”. But when our local governments (very often our bureaucrats and ‘superior’ politicians only refer to them as local ‘bodies’ not even giving them a status of a government) seek more autonomy, the immediate response from one and all is that local representatives are inexperienced and incompetent, corruption will skyrocket, and citizens are illiterate and ill-informed.

Popular Sovereignty and Local Governments

It is now over ten years since the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution were enacted with great hope and anticipation. Unfortunately, local governments in most parts of the country continue to be feeble and anaemic. As has now become the habit, our law-makers are loquacious without substance. Together the two amendments are about 7700 word-long, and yet the key provisions regarding the powers and functions of panchayats (Article 243-G) and municipalities (243-W) are vague and feeble.

Reclaim “Swarajya”


I would like to narrate an event that took place in Calcutta some 80 years ago. Sri Chittaranjan Das (C R Das) was elected as the  Mayor of the newly constituted Municipal Corporation of Calcutta in 1924. He argued with the British Governor of the province that as the elected head of the local government he should have the right to appoint his own chief executive officer (Commissioner). Even though the British offered him any ICS official of his choice, Das declined and won the right to appoint his own man. Das selected a bright 27 year old as his Commissioner.

Inhabitants or Citizens?

This weekend LOK SATTA will be celebrating the successful completion of “One Crore Signature Campaign.” Often, we were asked why is it we want to empower the local governments. Our answer has always been that it is not merely about empowering local governments. Rather, it is also about empowering people. There are many well-intentioned people, who are appalled at the existing state of affairs and want to contribute to the well being of the society.


“Nowhere has democracy functioned well without a large measure of local self-governance” – Friedrich Von Hayek in “The Road to Serfdom”

Ensuring Accountability in Local Governments

During the Chief Ministers’ Conference on June 29th 2004, the Prime Minister of India has set the proverbial cat among the pigeons by urging the Chief Ministers to consider the possibility of “providing block grants to districts based on their incidence of poverty to plan and implement strategies that optimize their resource potential.” This, he said, “would ensure that district level planning as envisaged in the Constitution Amendment on Panchayat Raj becomes a reality.”

Empowered Local Governments

A large-sized district in India is larger than about eighty (80) nation-states in the world in terms of population. Most of our larger states would be among the large nations of the world. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and West Bengal - each would be the largest nation in Europe if independent. Even a truncated Uttar Pradesh would be the world's sixth largest nation! Given these mind-boggling demographic realities, coupled with unmatched diversity, our centralized, somewhat imperial style of governance is archaic and ineffective.

We, the middle class, must take to politics

dir="ltr">The low polling percentage in MCH elections – about 50% – has raised many eyebrows. Elections are the very lifeblood of a democracy. Honest and capable citizens freely chosen as their representatives in a fair election process constitute the essence of good governance. An election is therefore about ‘who’ get elected, ‘how’ the election is conducted and ‘what’ they do after the election. Elections involve organization of political parties, evolving a platform, mobilizing public opinion, campaigning to convey the message to the voters, and obtaining support to get elected.

Local Governments and Fiscal Management

Local governments have been constitutionally mandated with the enactment of the 73rd and 74th amendments in 1993.  Sadly, the Constitution only provides for over-structured and underpowered local governments. The results are mixed. The role of local governments as schools for democracy is well recognised.  Chittaranjan Das, Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhashchandra Bose, Prakasam Pantulu and several other stalwarts started their political careers in local governments.

Stake-holders Must Become Power-wielders

With MCH elections round the corner, many people are wondering what all this fuss is about. Roads will only receive periodic make-up, garbage will not be cleared and streets will not have lights. We will continue to wait endlessly at MCH office for simple services or shell out a bribe and people will be figuring out ways to avoid taxes for services they do not receive. The Mayor and Council have no real powers. So what can we the citizens do?

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