In the Article immediately preceding, we have considered the problem of distribution of governmental powers territoriality from the standpoint of the manner in which these powers may be distributed as between the Central Government and the various political units into which all countries of considerable size are divided. And we brought out in that consideration two distinct types of government, the unitary and the federal. In the former, the territorial units, generally called provinces, are created, their powers defined and their form of organization determined by the central government. They remain, for all intents and purposes, integral parts of that government. In a federation, the constituent units enjoy a juridical status and a corporate personality. Their powers are the grant of the constitution which can neither be altered nor amended by the central government. It needs amendment of the constitution if any change is desired to be made therein and all this means equality of status between the two sets of government; the one is not simply the creation of the other. The major territorial divisions of both unitary and federal governments are further divided into smaller areas. But the problem here, too, is whether the smaller territorial areas should be governed from the seats of government of the major territorial divisions or they should be entrusted with certain specific powers which they may exercise locally. The answer to this question constitutes what is known as the problem of local government.
Need for Decentralization for local government.
The government of the provinces of a unitary State and the constituent states of a federation within their jurisdictions is unitary. This is an» important point. The work of the government is concentrated in the “capital” or “seat” of the government and all important decisions of policy are taken at this place. It is there that the legislature meets and laws are passed, the High Court decides all points in the interpretation of laws, and rules and regulations are framed by the superior officials in the executive departments. The whole governmental life of a province or a state, in brief, is centralized at one place.
The position is similar to one which necessitates the territorial division of the country into major political divisions and distribution of governmental powers between the central government and the provincial or state governments. Such are the amount and variety of work to be done that it is impossible for a single authority directly to undertake the performance of all those duties adequately, effectively and efficiently. In fact, the provincial government has neither the time nor the requisite knowledge of all the diverse problems which are peculiar to different areas. “We cannot realize the full benefit of democratic government,” says Laski, “unless we begin by the admission that all problems are not central problems, and that the result of problems-in their incidence require decision at the place, and by the persons, where and by whom the incidence is most deeply felt.” This constitutes the real problem of local government and from this problem emerges the need for decentralization.
Decentralization means distribution of governmental powers and responsibilities between the Center and the local areas in which the country, if it is small in size like Britain, or the provinces of a big unitary State, or the states of a federation, are divided for administrative convenience. The provincial or state government is the central government for all local areas within its jurisdiction. Decentralization is, thus, a centrifugal movement which aims a entrusting local organs created in local areas with powers local in character, the presumption being that people belonging to the locality can know best and appreciate their own problems and needs and can solve them best. The entire problem of local government is the problem of personal touch with the affairs concerning the locality and their solution. If the local people are denied association with local life, they would not only stultify their talent, energy, initiative and enterprise, but they lose all sense of responsibility.
Meaning of Local Government.
Local government, therefore, refers to the operations of corporations, municipalities, district boards, panchayats in The Country and other bodies which are entrusted with the execution of functions relating to and concerning the residents of a given area or locality. These functions do not concern the community as a whole, but embrace only a portion of the total population and territorial area of the State. The essence of all such functions is that they are purely local in character and need local solution in deference to the requirements of the people inhabiting that locality. The extent of the territory covered and the number of persons ruled over do not make any difference in the nature of local government. The Corporation of Calcutta or Mumbai (formerly Bombay) exercises its authority over a vastly greater number of people and considerably more extensive area than the Municipal Committee of Patiala or Kapurthala or a village Panchayat. And yet all are the units of local government performing more or less identical functions and occupying the same constitutional position.
Sidgwick says that the term local government in a unitary State means organs, which though completely subordinate to the central legislature, are independent of the central executive in appointment and to some extent in their decisions, and exercise a partially independent control over certain parts of public finance. As regards the constitutional relationship between the central government and local government, the latter derives its powers from the former and is subordinate to the authority that created it. But though a subordinate body, yet it,has certain independence of action within the sphere assigned to it. It can make its own rules and regulations, or by-laws, to perform its functions and to control its finances.
This brings into prominence the question of the functions of local bodies. According to Maclver the State seeks to fulfill three types of functions. In the first place, there are some functions which concern and affect the whole community and are of national importance. All such functions must belong to the national or central government There are other functions which are of a universal character, but which for their efficient fulfillment, or on other grounds, may be assigned to the provincial governments. Lastly, there are functions which are of peculiar concern of the locality, for example, water Supply, sanitation, maintenance of hospitals and libraries, running of public utility services, like supply of electric energy, tramway or omnibus transport. These services have reference to the local needs and it seems reasonable that the locality should have direct and fairly complete control over them. The efficient performance of all these functions requires local experience and knowledge of local details. As Laski put it, “Local Self-Government offers the best opportunity to the people to bring local knowledge, interest and enthusiasm to bear on the solution of their own local problems.”
It isn’t, however, possible to rigidly separate the functions of local bodies. Local interests, as MacIver says, “merge into national interests in variant degrees,” particularly with the emergence of the Welfare State there are hardly any matters of local concern that are not matters of national concern. Subjects like education and health for example, are local in character and require local solution, but they are really of national importance and the central government cannot remain unconcerned about them. The control of local government over subjects which vitally concern the locality can never be absolute in this era of conscious, consistent and sustained process of economic and social planning. The problem of local government is, therefore, not to draw sharp lines between the functions of central and local governments. The real problem, as MacIver says, “is to assure at once the reality and responsibility of local government.” So long as the local body does not exceed its powers or is not found guilty of some flagrant piece of negligence, the central government should not interfere in its performance. Professor Jenks rightly remarked that So long as the local authority does its best and keeps within the law, however mistaken that may be, the central government has no right to interfere, even on the request of the persons suffering the consequences of the mistake.
Functions of Local Government.
The functions of local bodies, broadly speaking, fall under two heads: direct services to the public, and indirect functions. Under the latter the local bodies are required to conduct election of their members, to provide legal advice and action, to assess property for taxation, to plan, to control and audit local finances. The functions performed under the heading direct services are important in the interests of public welfare and are sub-divided into three groups:
1. Functions Relating to Cultural Developments.
In this category are included functions of providing instruction, control of environments by planning the town or the city, maintaining and supporting of art galleries, museums, zoos, libraries and other places of public recreation such as parks and gardens and centers for games and sports.
2. Social and Physical Functions.
The local bodies look after sanitation, provide a proper system of sanitary drainage, conservancy arrangements and other conditions necessary for preserving public health. Closely connected with it is the provision for medical relief and other arrangements for checking the spread of diseases and epidemics. Then, come services like construction, maintenance and repairs of roads, lighting of streets and thoroughfare, promotion of local safety against fire and other accidents and regulation of structures and traffic.
3. Under the third category come functions of providing and regulating water supply, peat, light, public transport, collection and disposal of waste and regulation of food supplies through healthy markets.
Some major local bodies render certain public utility services such as revision of water supply, gas, electric, light, bus or tram and local train services. There has been a remarkable expansion in the activities of local bodies in Britain and the United States. But the scope of these functions is somewhat limited in India. In the undertaking of ambitious civic schemes desired to inculcate aesthetic, cultural and economic activities, the Acts creating local-bodies do not offer sufficient scope, though an appreciable change has been made in the case of panchayats.
Assessment of Local Government.
The institution of local government is at its best in countries which are governed on democratic lines. It is the experience of many countries that all matters of a local concern are ultimately best administered by a properly organized system of local government. Local government means the regulation and administration of local affairs by the people inhabiting the locality through representative bodies composed mainly of elected representatives. These local assemblies of citizens, says De Tocqueville, “constitute the strength of free nation‘s. Town meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it within the people’s reach; they teach men how to use and how to enjoy it. A nation may establish a system of free government, but without the spirit of municipal institutions it cannot have the spirit of liberty.” This foundation aspect of local government is described as “grass-roots” democracy, a phrase which has become popular. Local bodies serve as a training ground in the art of self-government and the experience and knowledge acquired in local governance can best be utilized for the wider affairs of central government.
Laski says that the institution of local government is educative in perhaps a higher degree than any other part of government. It cultivates a sense of civic duties and responsibilities and inculcates among citizens a corporate spirit of common administration of common interests. “Whoever learns to be public spirited, active and upright in the affairs of the village,” says Bryce, “has learnt the first lesson of the duty incumbent on a citizen of a great country.” Local institutions train men not only to work for others but also work effectively with others. The citizens develop common sense, reasonableness, judgment and sociability, the qualities of moderation, accommodation and social dependence, which are so essential for the success of democracy. It is a process of political socialization. De Tocqueville especially argued that local government was valuable because it associated citizens with each other and with the government. It fosters in the citizen a sober love of the laws of which he is himself the author.”
When all problems of administration are not central problems the obvious inference is that those functions of government which affect mainly or solely the inhabitants of a limited portion of a country should be placed under the special control of this section of the community. Local knowledge brings about a closer adaptation of administrative activity, for there is a consciousness of common purposes and common needs. “Neighborhood,” says Laski, “makes us automatically aware of interests which impinge upon us more directly than upon others.”
The central government is very often indifferent to these interests, and if it interests itself in them at all, its transactions are Subject to red-tap ism which unnecessarily delay the plans requiring immediate execution. Moreover administration. which is not local is unresponsive to local opinion. It is, thus, “bound in the nature of things, to miss shades and expression of thought and sentiment the perception of which is in a real degree urgent to the success of administration.” The central government, in other words, cannot grasp the genius of the place. Being government from without, it fails to evoke either interest or responsibility from the people it seeks to control. It may well evoke indignation, but it does not succeed in eliciting the creative support of citizens. It is a matter of conunon knowledge that what is done by our common counsel in the solution of our common problems gives us a degree of satisfaction which is unobtainable when .it is done for us by others from outside.
Both John Stuart Mill and De Tocqueville argued that local institutions of government promote virtue in their citizens. The small unit of government, which they hold, fosteres civic morality by linking the exercise of political power with the consequence flowing therefrom. A citizen of a locality feels that he is a trustee of the public good. He delegates it his authority of governing himself to his fellow citizens and assesses whether they are deserving or unworthy of that trust. If they betray the trust reposed in them the confidence is withdrawn and others who are deemed worthy of the job are entrusted with it. It is a continuous process of responsibility and vigilance which is the essence of a democratic arrangement.
Moreover, central government inevitably aims at uniformity and not variety. Local problems need variety, because they are peculiar to the needs of a particular area. Uniformity is usually cheaper, “because it is almost always easier to make a single solution and apply it wholesale than to make a variety of solutions and have them piecemeal.” But uniformity is only a mechanical solution of all problems. Problems peculiar to a particular locality are not standardized in character. They must be individually solved with reference to the conditions which demand their solution.
Local government aims at division of governmental functions and it lightens the burden of the central government. If the central government is overloaded with work, it becomes incompetent and it would do things tardily, expensively, and above all inefficiently. At the same time, centralization means the presence and functioning of a strong . bureaucracy. Bureaucracy may create and provide for conditions of an effective and efficient government which is, no doubt, the nature of a good government, but a good government is no substitute for self“government Unless local bodies are entrusted with active powers, the central authority will not merely stifle all local initiative, but destroy also that well-spring of local knowledge and local interest without which it cannot possibly exercise its functions. Local government, therefore, is necessary for efficiency and responsibility. Inaugurating the first Local Self-Government Ministers Conference (India) in 1948, the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, observed: “Local Self-Government is and must be the basis of any true system of democracy. We have got rather into the habit of thinking of democracy at the top and not so much below. Democracy at the top may not be a success unless you build on this foundation from below.” It is only through local government that self-government becomes real. To put it in the words of Bryce, “The best school of democracy and the best guarantee for its success is the practice of self-government.”
Economy is secured by local government. Local functions are performed by local authorities out of funds raised locally. Equity demands that services rendered exclusively or mainly to a limited population, who live within a certain area, should pay for them. The incidence of such services should not be shifted to others who expect no gain therefrom. As the inhabitants of the area have to pay for the local services, it is natural for them to demand proper control over those services. It has three results. In the first place, participation in the work of local bodies tends to develop among the people a sense of mutual interest in their common affairs and trains them to work for others honestly and efficiently. Secondly, the people entrusted with the management of local affairs will manage them more efficiently in order to keep their bill of costs as low as, possible. Finally, by making responsibility widespread the institution of local government encourages a spirit of self-help and self-dependence. The institution of local government is, as such,a great advancement in the realization of true citizenship, Burke has cogently said, “To be attached to the sub-division; to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle, the germ as it were of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and mankind .”
The vigorous development of local government is the only means of realizing the welfare purpose of every progressive State. Welfare services require a flexible technique to cater for individual cases. The local bodies, on account of their nearness to the people, their wider representative character, their natural familiarity with the details of the situation, and their intimate knowledge of the means and wants of the inhabitants are eminently suited to evolve such a technique. The State has really found in them its most effective instrument for social amelioration.
Soviet Russia was the home of socialism, both national and local. The town Soviets, which were the Russian prototypes of Indian Municipal Committees, besides exercising the usual municipal functions, regulated also the entire political and economic life of the local community. Commerce, industries, retail trade, cooperation, housing, land partition, criminal justice, recruitment and mobilization, protection of the revolutionary regime, supervision and application of the national progress, etc., all came under its jurisdiction, The Soviets also supervised and controlled all the organs and institutions of government functioning within their area, and would voice the dissatisfaction of the local community with any of them when necessary. They acted in the dual capacity of agents (if the central government and the representative bodies of the local community .
Compared with local bodies of advanced countries, the functions of municipalities in India are less extensive principally in three directions, namely, police, trading enterprising and the big group of social services comprising health housing, sickness and unemployment insurance. Some of these functions are not even legally permitted to the municipalities. Apart from the legal restrictions, the main difference between Indian municipalities and their foreign prototypes is that in respect of legally permitted functions, like education or water supply, the actual standard of development here is very low.
Then, the government of the local bodies in India is neither local nor is it self-government. They have not the means to extend their activities even if permitted by law. Their own resources are not Sufficient. They have to depend to a large extent on the financial help of the State governments through grants-in-aid, loans, etc. The authority that pays must also control and direct. The autonomy of the local bodies, accordingly, vanishes under all encroaching control and direction of the Deputy Commissioner. The Control of the State government is ubiquitous and a minor lapse may mean suppression of a local body. The action may even be politically motivated.
Critics of local government assert that local home rule narrows the outlook of the people and breeds local patriotism. Such an attitude stifles the life of the community. What is political virtue in the local context becomes parochialism on the national stage. The good local citizen of nineteenth and twentieth century France or Germany was often the bad national citizen. It is further pointed out that devolution of authority to local bodies not only multiplies administrators, but also results in divided responsibility.
The obvious result is inefficiency, delinquency, waste and incompetence. The officers of local bodies succumb to all sorts of local influences as they are “locally selected and locally directed and locally control.” Devolution of authority also deprives local bodies of central direction and advice. With scanty resources at their disposal, and a meager source of information and knowledge at their command, local bodies cannot perform their functions adequately and effectively, and if they do, they do it tardily and inefficiently.
What the critics of local government say is true to a great extent, particularly in a country like India where the vision of the people is blurred by the barriers of local-ism, regionalism, caste and religion. To love one’s homeland locality is the natural instinct of man and there is nothing wrong in it provided it. does not inhibit men in performing their higher duties towards their country and its people as a whole. It is our membership of the State which bestows upon us the benefits of devolution of, authority and the privileges of working for others with others living in our neighborhood. Once this becomes the norm “of the political behavior of man, local government fulfills the purpose of common consciousness of common good. It binds the people living in different areas in a community of feelings and interests and in these feelings narrow local ism finds no place.
Willoughby suggests a concrete reform. He says that local officers should be appointed by the State or provincial Government, but a local advisory council in each area, consisting of the eminent and trust Worthy citizens, may be associated with them. The advisory council should be given the responsibility and duty of advising local officers with local problems, to bring to the attention or their superior officers all cases of lapses on the if part and failures to perform their duties properly and diligently, to suggest to such authorities proposals which they deem advisable, and to protest against the action of the overnrnent where they believe that their areas are not receiving equitable treatment. But this is not the real solution of the problem. Nor does it advance the cause of local government which aims to inculcate the spirit of intelligent and creative citizenship.
Whatever be the defects of local government, “grass-roots” democracy forms a vital element of democracy for the modern State. The absence of healthy local political roots is a disaster. Robson has cogently said, “Democracy on the national scale can function tn a healthy manner only if it is supported and nourished by democratic local government ?” De Tocqueville relevantly argued that local institutions have a special role to play in the preservation of liberty and independence and decentralization of political power is the necessary component of democracy. Local democracy gives many people a voice in matters touching them most immediately. It associates citizens with one another, with the process of government, and with the rules of government of which they are in part the authors. Access to the government broadens popular participation and fosters public virtue in the participants and energy in the people. “Popular government,” as Carl Friedrich says, “includes the right of the people, through their majority, to commit . mistakes.” The decisions, which local people make, may seem unwise from the standpoint of experts and technicians, but the citizens “will discover it in time and they may learn a vital lesson in self-government.” Local government is the best school of citizenship. Such homilies as “democracy stops beyond the parish pump” and “charity begins at, home indicate that grass-roots democracy holds a special place in American folklore and they are accustomed to thinking of dispersed power as more democratic and more conducive to liberty than concentrated.
Relation between Local and Central Governments.
The powers, functions and constitution of local bodies are determined by statute. Within the limits fixed by law creating local bodies, they are independent subject to such powers of direction, Control and advice which have been specifically retained by the central government. But how far is control by the central government desirable? This is, of course, one of the most baffling problems of local administration. There is no uniform practice followed even by the most advanced democratic countries. In France, local government is highly centralized and from the Commune right up to the Ministry of the Interior the whole administration is linked up with one chain. This centralization and uniformity in France is a sharp contrast to the decentralized character of local government in Britain. The principle accepted and followed in Britain is that a local area has the inherent right to conduct its affairs in its own way, and consistent with its requirements without the interposition of the central authority, unless supervision is clearly demanded in the interests of the public. But in Britain, too, the centralizing tendency, during recent years, has assumed alarming proportions.
The position in the United States is rather appreciable and there is complete local autonomy. Every township IS a local democracy, a republic within a republic. The authority of the superior officials of state government over the affairs of the local bodies has been constitutionally reduced to the minimum. If local authorities exceed the powers vested in them by law or abuse their authority, there is the usual method of judicial redress through courts. In India, the recent Panchayat Acts passed by the state legislatures have revolutionized the nature of local government.
It may generally be said that matters assigned to independent local organs should be those in which local separation of interests is clearly marked, local knowledge most important, the need of uniformity least evident, and the cooperation of private and governmental agencies likely to tell most. Where the interests concerned are clearly common to all parts of the State or where the advantages of uniformity are overwhelming control over the administration should be national and not local. But a rigid separation of local interests is rarely complete.
A carefully adjusted cooperation of local and central organs is often required to obtain the, best results Experience has shown that the central government should exercise some control over local bodies, because, as Sidgwick points out, “the central government has greater enlightenment derived from greater general knowledge, wider experience and more highly trained intellects.” But such a control should be exercised with a view to the efficient discharge of local duties and responsibilities. Undue interference and direction is bound to destroy local initiative and local responsibility, Excessive central control may also encourage favoritism in the local services, thus,vitiating the very idea of local government. Whenever party spoils intervene, efficiency disappears and development at all levels is severely retarded.
While we do not discount the practical utility of central control over local bodies, it may, however, be emphasized that the degree of control should vary in proportion to the efficiency of a local body. Were all local bodies of the same standard of efficiency, the problem of supervision and apportionment of functions would have been easier. But this is not so. Everywhere the central government is continually faced with the difficulty that all local bodies are not equally efficient.
This may be essentially due to the differences in the size of local areas and resources of local bodies. The smaller municipalities, howsoever noble the ideal of public spirit of the citizens may be, cannot be expected to maintain the same services as the larger bodies. They have to depend on the doles of the central government which necessitate more rigid control on their activities. Moreover, the traditional View that local functions are the concern of the locality itself has lost its validity.
There are no local functions in that sense now. The making and maintenance of local roads, lighting, drainage, cleansing, etc., have, under modern scientific analysis, been found to involve important national aspects as well. Under these conditions there can no longer be any clear-cut demarcation of spheres of influence between central and local governments. They must collaborate, consistent with the requirements of the Welfare State, over the entire field of governmental activity. This means a close integrated partnership between central and local authorities for high achievements in municipal administration. It is, however, essential to avoid reducing local authorities to the position of mere agents of the central government if they are to continue to make their indispensable contribution to the democratic way of life.