Structure of PRIs
Number of Tiers
- Article 243 B makes it mandatory for every State with a population exceeding 20 lakhs to have three tiers of Panchayats at the Village, Intermediate and District levels.
- In a vast and complex country, it is not feasible to prescribe nationally any specific pattern of local governments. In Kerala, there are only about 999 Village Panchayats in 14 districts. Clearly a mandatory intermediate tier Panchayat would be redundant in Kerala. Even larger States, with generally smaller habitats mostly want to treat a group of villages as the unit of local government. In such a case again, Intermediate Panchayats may be redundant.
- Also, the states should have freedom to experiment and improve the design from time to time.
- If the States wish to have three tiers, they should be free to adopt them. So the tiers of local government should be left for the State legislature to decide.
Inclusion of MPs and MLAs in Local Bodies
- Article 243 C stipulates that the State Legislature may by law provide for the representation of the MPs and MLAs at local government levels other than the village level.
- But the imposing presence of MPs and MLAs in the Panchayats would subdue the emergence of local leadership. So they should not become members of local bodies.
- The sheer accident of elected urban local governments coming into being first during the colonial era led to parallel and disjointed development of panchayats and municipalities.
- Its negatives are as follows:
- There is an artificial divide between the rural and urban populations even in matters relating to common needs and aspirations. For instance, health care and education. A district hospital does not cater to only the urban population in the district town.
- In a rapidly urbanising society, the boundaries between rural and urban territories keep shifting. It is absurd in an expanding city to have the peripheral areas managed by Panchayats. The need for coordination between rural and urban local governments at the district level gave rise to institutions like DPCs. But they have proved to be too weak and non-starters in many states.
- Finally, in the public eye there is no single, undivided local government at the district level. Not surprisingly, the office of collector continues to remain the real symbol of authority in the district. But this is not healthy for the growth of local self government bodies.
- Planning is an essential function of government. Creating a separate authority in the form of DPC with no governmental authority has no logic.
- So there must be a single elected District Council with representatives from all rural and urban areas, that will function as a true local government for the entire district.
Size of the Gram Panchayat
- The Constitution does not stipulate any size for Panchayats, either in terms of population or in area. Larger panchayats mean greater efficiency of scale in delivery of services. Their negative is lower citizen participation in the Gram Sabhas.
- There is a historical idealised notion that there should be one Panchayat for each village. But this leaves many Gram Panchayats too small to function meaningfully.
- Option of ward sabhas can be explored.
Ward Sabha in Rural Areas
- Larger panchayats mean lower citizen participation. Hence the creation of an intermediate body-Ward Sabha – is desirable as it would facilitate greater people participation and at the same time ensure administrative viability of the Gram Panchayat. It already exists in Karnataka.
- A Ward Sabha should articulate the needs of the ward as a whole. They should be assigned the function of identification of beneficiaries. The list thus prepared should be placed before the Gram Sabha for its approval. They should also be given a role in prioritisation of schemes pertaining to their area.
Structure of Urban Bodies
Ward Sabhas in Urban Areas
- In rural areas, the proximity and small size of the Village Panchayat facilitates greater participation by the citizens, whereas in urban areas, such participation becomes difficult.
- The Constitution makes creation of such Ward Committees mandatory in all cities exceeding a population of 3 lakhs. Still they have not yet been constituted in some States.
- In most States, the membership of the Ward Committee is by nomination. This is partly because of the propensity of the State Government to gain partisan advantage in nomination, and partly because of the genuine difficulty in identifying legitimate citizen representatives within the ward.
- They have an ambiguous mandate. No clear activities have been devolved on them. This further limits citizen participation.
- In many large cities, there are Ward Committees combining several wards leading to each ward sabha covering a large population exceeding 5 lakhs in some cases. This undermines the very intent behind creating the Ward Committees.
- The three tiers of urban local body governance should be as follows:
- Municipal Council/Corporation (by whatever name it is called).
- Ward Committees.
- Area Committees or Sabhas.
- Ward Sabhas should be constituted by the chairpersons of the Area Sabhas. There should be direct election of the Ward Councilor who would be the Chairperson of the Ward Committee who would represent the ward in the municipal body.
- In smaller towns also, with populations of less than 3 lakhs, we should have the above structure of Area Sabhas and Ward Sabhas.
- Ward Sabhas must be given legitimate functions in clear terms like street lighting, sanitation, water supply, drainage, road maintenance, maintenance of school buildings, maintenance of local hospitals/dispensaries, local markets, parks, playgrounds.
- It should have supervision over the employees involved in the functions entrusted to it. It should be able to determine the salaries of all such people on the basis of their performance.
- It should have separate funds allocated to it. Its budget should be taken into account while formulating the overall municipal budget.
- Meetings of Ward Sabhas must be regular.
- Because non residential stakeholders like business are also interested in an area, they should be given some representation in the Ward Sabha preferably through their business associations.
- An Area Sabha would preferably not cover more than, say, 2500 voters.
- Role of the Area Sabhas: It should be the functional equivalent of the Gram Sabha in villages. It should not be merely a political space for opinion formation. It should be a formal space, and given explicitly defined functions like prioritising developmental activities and identifying beneficiaries under various schemes. It should have separate budget for the discharge of its functions and meet regularly.
- Members of the Area Sabha: Each Area Sabha should elect a small Committee of Representatives. The Committee of Representatives would elect one person who would chair the meetings of the Area Sabha and would represent the Area Sabha in the relevant Ward Committee. The election of the Committee of Representatives should be held by the SEC.
Office of the Mayor
- Mayor vs state government
- In most states, the Commissioner, appointed by the State Government, has all the executive powers. This leads to a dilution in the role of the elected Mayor and is violative of the spirit of self-governance and local empowerment.
- Directly elected mayor
- One concern in such a case is that abuse of authority by the Mayor with a fixed tenure cannot be easily checked. However, in such a case, the council, public opinion and media will act as a check. An independent local body Ombudsman will always act as an effective check against abuse of authority at all levels.
- When a Mayor is elected by popular vote and the Council members are elected by a separate ballot, it is possible that the Mayor and a majority in the Council may belong to two different parties. This may lead to problems. However a clean separation of powers will prevent such tensions. On the other hand, it may improve accountability as each acts as a check against the other, but cannot stop legitimate exercise of power.
- When a Councillor elected to represent a ward is elected as the Mayor indirectly, often it is difficult to enlarge his/her vision for the whole city.
- Also, the direct popular mandate gives the Mayor the legitimacy to represent and speak for the whole city.
- If the Mayor is directly elected, the party will have to put up its best candidate in the city from that category and there is likely to be better leadership that emerges.
- Role of the Mayor
- Should there be a separate Chairperson to chair the meetings of the Council and a Mayor to head the executive branch of the city government?
- This is in keeping with separation of powers and is somewhat similar to the way our National and State Legislatures have their own presiding officers, while the executive government is headed by the Prime Minister/ Chief Minister.
- However, such separation of the functions of Chairperson and Mayor at the local level is unnecessary and cumbersome. In all rural local governments, the Chairperson is also the executive authority.
- Who should be the Chief Executive – the elected Mayor or the appointed Commissioner?
- Clearly the elected Mayor because basic democratic legitimacy demands that power is exercised by the elected executive.
- In large cities, how should the Mayor’s executive authority be exercised?
- As cities grow larger, the Mayor needs the support and help of a group of persons to exercise executive authority under his overall control and direction. Therefore, some form of cabinet system is desirable.
- In systems where the chief executive is directly elected, and separation of powers is practised, the cabinet is often drawn from outside the legislature.
- But in a city government, the imperatives of separation of powers should be tempered by the need for greater harmony between the elected council and the Mayor. It is therefore desirable to draw the Mayor’s cabinet or committee to discharge executive functions from the elected council.