Local government is government at the village and district level. Local government believes that local knowledge and local interest are essential ingredients for democratic decision making. They are also necessary for efficient and people-friendly administration. The advantage of local government is that it is so near the people.
In India, elected local government bodies were created after 1882. Lord Rippon, who was the Viceroy of India at that time, took the initiative in creating these local bodies. However, due to slow progress in this regard, the Indian National Congress urged the government to take necessary steps to make all local bodies more effective. Following the Government of India Act 1919, village panchayats were established in a number of provinces. This trend continued after the Government of India Act of 1935.
When the Constitution was prepared, the subject of local government was assigned to the States. It was also mentioned in the Directive Principles as one of the policy directives to all governments in the country.
In 1989 the P.K.Thungon Committee recommended constitutional recognition for the local government bodies. A constitutional amendment to provide for periodic elections to local government institutions, and enlistment of appropriate functions to them, along with funds, was recommended.
In 1989, the central government introduced two constitutional amendments - 73rd and 74th amendments. These amendments aimed at strengthening local governments and ensuring an element of uniformity in their structure and functioning across the country. Later in 1992, the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments were passed by the Parliament.
The 73rd Amendment is about rural local governments (which are also known as Panchayati Raj Institutions or PRIs) and the 74th amendment made the provisions relating to urban local government (Nagarpalikas). The 73rd and 74th Amendments came into force in 1993.
All states have a uniform three tier Panchayati Raj structure. The Panchayati Raj system is the first tier or level of democratic government.
1. Gram Panchayat
At the base is the Gram Panchayat. A Gram Panchayat covers a village or group of villages. The Gram Panchayat meets regularly and one of its main tasks is to implement development programmes for all villages that come under it. The work of the Gram Panchayat has to be approved by the Gram Sabha. The Panchs and the Gram Panchayat are answerable to the Gram Sabha because it is the members of the Gram Sabha who elected them.
2. Panchayat Samiti
The intermediary level is the Mandal (Block or Taluka). These bodies are called Mandal or Taluka Panchayats. It is also called the Janpad Panchayat or the Panchayat Samiti. The Panchayat Samiti has many Gram Panchayats under it. The intermediary level body need not be constituted in smaller states.
3. Zilla Panchayat
Above the Panchayat Samiti is the District Panchayat or the Zila Parishad. The Zila Parishad makes developmental plans at the district level. With the help of Panchayat Samitis, it also regulates the money distribution among all the Gram Panchayats.
All the three levels of Panchayati Raj institutions are elected directly by the people. The term of each Panchayat body is five years. One-third of the positions in all panchayat institutions are reserved for women. Reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are also provided for at all the three levels, in proportion to their population.
29 subjects, which were earlier in the state list of subjects, are identified and listed in the Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution. These subjects are to be transferred to the Panchayati Raj institutions. These subjects were mostly linked to development and welfare functions at the local level.