Local Government is an integral part of the three-tier system of the government introduced on the recommendation of Balwant Rai Mehta Committee on its report 24 November 1957 establishment of the scheme of ‘democratic decentralisation’ which finally came to be known as Panchayati Raj. A democratic form of Government must be sustained by a system of vigorous local self-governing institutions. Local Government institutions provide an opportunity to the people to participate freely and actively in the Government which they formulate for their areas. These are necessary to encourage and foster initiative, independence and enterprise on the part of the people. First prime minister of India, pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, while inaugurating the first Local self-Government Ministers’ Conference in 1948, said, “Local self have got rather into the habit of thinking democracy at the top and not so much below. Democracy at the top may not be a success unless you build on its foundation from below.”
“The local assemblies of citizens,” says De Tocqueville, “add to the strength of free nations.” “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 free Government, but without local institutions it cannot have the spirit of liberty. Democracy on the national scale can function in a healthy manner only if it is supported and nourished by democratic Local Government.” Emphasizing the importance of Local Self Government. Local Self-Government offers the best opportunity to the people to bring local knowledge, interest and enthusiasm, to bear on the solution of their problems. The Local Government fulfils all the domestic needs of civilized community. It also creates among the citizens personal interest in their common affairs and throws the field open for their constructive and creative activities. It also serves as an expression of political consciousness and as a means of political education and renders the citizens fit for their civic duties and responsibilities, by enabling them to participate in public affairs. It also generates in people an aesthetic sense that makes them beautiful and adorns the land they inhabit. It provides the best opportunity to men and women to bring their local knowledge and enthusiasm to bear on the solution of their own peculiar problems.”
Lord Rippon’s resolution of 1882 emphasized the need for political and popular education through Local Government: “It is not primarily with a view t improvement in administration that this measure is put forward and supported. It is chiefly designed as an instrument of political and popular education.” Highlighting the importance of Local Government as an educational institution, Laski says, “the institution of Local Government is educative in perhaps a higher degree at least contingency, than any other part of Government. And it must be remembered that there is no other way of bringing the mass of citizens into intimate contact with persons responsible for decisions.”
Local Government is a system which ensures effective participation of citizens in administration and makes them realize their responsibilities towards the society. The Local Government acts as a school of democracy. The success of national democracy largely depends upon the success of democracy at the grassroots level. The proposition that self-governing localities are the citadels and schools of democracy has been stressed by an Advisory Committee of the Commission on inter-Governmental Relations (U.S.A.) as follows: “Local Governments are to total Government what basic tissues are to human body. Without them, Government would have no vitality. The counties, cities, Towns, Villages and Boroughs serve as training schools for the leaders of Government, and in the affairs of Local Government are tried those who aspire to state and National offices.”
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru underlining the importance of Local self-Government in free democratic India remarked, “Local self Government is and must be the basis of any true system of democracy.” Democracy is nothing unless it means in the last resort, letting the people have their own way, not only in the mass, by means of an aggregate vote in a nation-wide scale, but also in their lesser groups and societies of which greater societies are made up, and through which it is made articulate in such a way that the less clamorous voices can be heard.” Democracy on the National scale can function in a healthy manner only if it is supported and nourished by democratic Local Government”. Local Government functions as a training ground for emerging leaders, who, after acquiring experience in the art of politics and Government at the local level, rise to the State and National level. In our country Local Governments have produced many leaders of national eminence and stature like ferozeshah Mehta, Motilal Nehru, Subhash Chander Bose, Vallabhbhai patel, Lala Lajpat Rai, etc., who were shining examples of sober and healthy local politics and restored to these local institutions, the authority and dignity they deserved. Lord Bryce has remarked, “it is enough to observe that the countries in which democratic Government has most attracted the interest of the people and drawn from their ranks have been Switzerland and the United States, especially those Northern and Western States in which rural Local Government has been most developed. These examples justify the maxim that the best school of democracy and the best guarantee for its success is the practice of Local Self Government”.
The three tiers of Rural Local Government are:
Gram Sabha has been envisaged as the foundation of the Panchayati Raj system. A Gram Sabha consists of members that include every adult of the village. It is generally formed in villages with population at least exceeding 1500 people. However, in some states, a Gram Sabha may be formed even if the population is less than 1500. If the population of several villages are less than the prescribed minimum, then the villages are grouped together to form a Gram Sabha. The members of the members of the Gram Panchayat are elected for five years.
Meeting and quorum of Sabha:
Every Sabha shall hold four general meetings in each year and every meeting shall held on the first Sunday of January, April, July and October and it shall be the responsibility of the Pradhan to convene such meetings Provided further that the Pradhan may, at any time or upon a requisition in writing of not less than one-fifth of the members of the Gram Sabha or if required by the Panchayat Samiti, Zila Parishad or the Deputy Commissioner, shall, within 30 days from the receipt of such requisition, call an extraordinary general meeting: Provided further that where a Pradhan fails to convene the meetings under this sub-section, the prescribed authority shall convene such meetings within a period of thirty days.
The time and place of all the meetings of the Gram Sabha shall be published in the prescribed manner.
For any general meeting of the Gram Sabha, representation of at least one-third of the total number of families represented by one or more members of the Gram Sabha shall form a quorum and decision will be taken by a majority of members present and voting: Provided that for a meeting adjourned for want of quorum,
Representation of at least one-fifth of the total number of families represented by one or more members of the Gram Sabha] shall be required for holding the adjourned meeting.
The meeting of the Gram Sabha shall be presided over by Pradhan or in absence of Pradhan by Up-Pradhan. In the event of both Pradhan and Up-Pradhan being absent, the meeting of Gram Sabha shall be presided over by a member of the Gram Sabha to be elected for the purpose by the majority of members present in the meeting.
Every member of the Gram Panchayat shall, in respect of his ward, prepare agenda items in consultation with the Sabha members of such ward and shall submit the same to the Pradhan and the Secretary at least thirty days prior to the date of meeting of the Gram Sabha. The following items place compulsorily in the agenda:Resolutions adopted in the previous gram sabha meeting and action taken thereon.
Activities carried out by the panchayat and through sectoral Departments.
Informing the Gram Sabha about beneficiaries who have secured benefits from the schemes of the previous year.
Placing the statement of expenditure for social audit.
Previous year’s audit objections and the explanations given by the panchayat.
Selection of individual beneficiaries for the current year of schemes, particularly those especially providing housing and credit facilities under poverty eradication schemes after considering the conditions of the families in the Gram Sabha meeting.
Selection of individual beneficiaries for schemes of poverty alleviation and housing to be implemented by the Rural Development Department.
The items to be discussed in the Gram Sabha meeting have to be prepared and approved by the village panchayat at a special sitting.
The venue, time, date and day of the Gram Sabha meeting have to be communicated seven days in advance through notices and by placing announcement boards in the panchayat office and in the places where people gather.
The president can invite the important personalities in the village personally and the Ward Members can personally invite the people of their Ward to attend the Gram Sabha meeting.
To spread the message, leaflets, tom and loudspeaker announcement can be used. The panchayat assistant can also be involved in creating awareness among the people about the importance of the Gram Sabha.
A festival mood can be created among the public for two or three days before the Gram Sabha meeting.
Awareness can be created among the people about development programmes, panchayat activities and the Gram Sabha through public debate, street plays, puppet shows and so on and so forth.
The pamphlets issued by various Departments on different activities can be collected from the Departments and distributed the Gram Sabha meeting.
Photographs must be taken during the Gram Sabha meeting.
The Gram Sabha meeting must be conducted in a commeon place, which is accessible to all people. It may be a school or a community hall or even an open ground.
All the documents relating to panchayat activities and accounts must be exhibited in the panchayat office with proper protection.
The president of the meeting must read out the items one after the other and after discussion each item has to be entered in the Minutes book and it should be approved. Finally, signatures must be obtained from all the members present there.
The president has to respond calmly when questioned and criticized and should explain the facts with necessary documentary evidence.
People must also behave in a positive and decent manner.
To explain the statement of expenditure for various activities, a black board can be used.
The decisions taken must be communicated to the necessary and relevant Departments.
The panchayat president and the members of the Gram Sabha must behave in a dignified manner.
MLAs and MPs should not expect any special provision, and they can participate only as members of the Gram Sabha or voters of the constituency.
When the quorum is below 1/10, the Gram Sabha should not be conducted.
Once a resolution is passed, no further discussion on it is allowed.
Unnecessary expenditure like pandal and grand decorations must be avoided.
The Gram Sabha should not be conducted during night.
The Gram sabha should not be conducted in a small room.
No furniture must be used.
No special care and attention to individuals and no disrespect to individuals. There should not be any garlanding or presentation of shawls to anybody at the Gram sabha meeting.
No individual comments on any individual or the government or any government official or any other institution or any other local boidy is permitted. Lapses and commissions and acts of commission should be mentioned with authentic records.
Since Local Governments have to play a significant role in the promotion of social and economic development in India, it is imperative that people constitutional amendment act has provided the Gram Sabha for the direct and effective participation of the people in panchayati Raj institutions. The effective participation of the people depends upon the perception of the people about the Gram Sabha, panchayati Raj institutions and development programs.