By Saurav Das, School of Law, Christ University.

Local Self-government is the management and governance of local affairs by a local body or authority. These local bodies may be municipal corporations or panchayats. According to D. Lockard, local government may be loosely defined as a public organization, authorized to decide and administer a limited range of public policies within relatively small territory which is a subdivision of a regional or national government. A nation develops from its roots and for a nation to develop we need a strong base and in a country like India, the base is the local self-governments like municipalities and panchayats etc. These are the grassroots of a democracy in our country. It gives a good amount of exposure to the people who participate in the governance and running of these institution, in both political and social aspects. In rural areas the self-governing bodies are the Panchayats and in urban it is the municipal corporations etc.


In India, villages are always considered as strength of this country. Village is a type of institution that govern itself contributing majorly in the growth and development of the country. It is said that the soul of India lives in villages and a majority of 60% of the total population currently lives in rural areas and in villages. These villages have a basic governance system called Panchayats, with a Sar Panch. This system is an image of the modern courts, with a judge. Here, the judge is the Sar Panch and decides all matters vis- a- vis the village and its affairs. The decisions by the panchayat and the Sar Panch are final. In India, The Panchayat Raj is also called the local self-government.

The history of legalized or institutionalized Panchayats (initiated by the British in different parts of India in the later part of the 19th century) is not very old. However, the spirit, in which this is viewed in independent India, is believed to be ancient. In the early ages, when the emperor’s rule hardly reached remote corners of the kingdom, villages were generally isolated and communication systems were primitive, village residents gathered under the leadership of village elders or religious leaders to discuss and sort out their problems. This practice of finding solutions to local problems collectively, has been found mention in ancient texts like Kautilya’s “Arthshastra” and in subsequent years, in Abul Fazal’s “Ain-E-Akbari and are still prevalent in different forms all over the country.


In India, the institutions of local self-governance were first recognised after the Constitution was framed and implemented in 1950. The Principles of Panchayat Raj are mentioned in the Part IV, Article 40 of the Constitution. Organisations of villages’ panchayats come under The Directive Principles of State Policy. The turns and twists were witnessed from 1950-1952 after the formation of the first Planning Commission. At that time, the Balvant Rai Committee  recommended for the development of Panchayats in villages and introduction of a three tier panchayat raj system in India.

The committee recommended for the three-tier Panchayati Raj system in India. The system of three-tier consists of:

  • The Gram-Panchayats at the village level or at the bottom,
  • The Panchayat Samiti at the block level or in the middle and
  • The Zilla Parishad at the district level.

References to the GVK Rao Committee (1985) and the LM Singhwi (1986) Committee were also made. Both the committee reports were almost on the same lines and wanted to institutionalise the Panchayats and the governance of villages.

The most landmark and the remembered year in the history of Panchyat Raj and Self-Government is the year 1992, when the 73rd Amendment was incorporated in the Constitution. Article 243  recognised Panchayats as  self-government in villages. The major features of the 73rd Amendment Act 1992 were:

    1. States having population of 25 lakhs should have a three tier system
    2. States with less than 25 lakhs should have a two tier system
    3. Panchayats in villages were told to plan out procedures of governance for economic, political and social justice
    4. There shall be State Election Commission in each state which shall conduct elections to the local bodies in every five years.

The local self-government system has some obvious limitations. It has been alleged that the services rendered by the local self-government often become discriminatory.

The local self-government often makes residential arrangements for the elderly people or hostel accommodations for the handicapped students, which may be considered as discriminatory services. If the administration is run by the local self-governmental institutions, it may encourage not only regionalism but also narrow-mindedness and such a tendency will always go against the democratic system practiced at the national level. However, refuting these allegations, the exponents of the local self- government institutions hold the view that such local self-governments are the basis of democracy and the best way to develop political consciousness among the people. Through the local self-government, the regional and local interests convert into national interest.

The local self-governments have their own advantages. Some of them are:

  1. Quick and easy solutions at low levels
  2. Encourages local political and social leadership
  3. New experiments can be made with respect to new laws in a grass root level


The ulterior motive of a local self-governing body is to create effective and democratic local governance framework  according to the needs of the people with just laws and believes. It is made keeping in mind the greater good of the people and for the welfare of the state. Above we discussed about the Panchayat Raj system in the Rural Area, likewise in the urban area we have the Nagar Palika Act, 1992 which is the main statute for establishment of municipal bodies in the urban areas.

Necessary relating provisions were added in 1992 by the way of the 74th Amendment Act, 1992. The 1992 amendment to the constitution bifurcated the Urban Self Government system and included such provisions in article 243 of the Indian Constitution

The Nagar Palika Act, 1992 provides for the three tier governance system in the cities just like what we saw in the Rural Self Government body system. The tier system and the size of the municipal body in the locality or the city are based on the decisions taken by the state legislatures. As mentioned earlier the 12th Schedule of the Constitution of India, 1950  lists the provisions for the local self-governments in a city or a village, namely Municipality or a Panchayat. The schedule also mentions eighteen functions that the municipalities are supposed to perform. The functions range from reservation of seats of SC/ ST/ OBC & woman as similarly provided in the Panchayat Raj system. These Municipalities or Nagar Palikas conduct their separate elections for the governance of the municipality.


The importance of Local government can hardly be overemphasized when we consider the range, the character and the impact upon the daily life of the citizen of the functions which local authorities carry out. Local Government provides public amenities and services which are necessary for the convenience, healthful living and welfare of the individual and the community. Breaking down of municipal services means the entire dislocation of social and economic life of the community. If these services were suddenly to cease, we should relapse into chaos. Though at times, the self-government bodies especially in villages inflict a rule of man than a rule of law, we cannot deny the fact that they are the grassroots of our democracy.

Local Governments both in urban and rural areas have, thus, to shoulder manifold and complex responsibilities. The central and state governments are conscious of the short-comings from which local government suffered in the past.