Meaning and Functions of Local Governments are described below:
Meaning and Importance of Local Self Government:
By local self-government we mean the administration of local areas run by its elective representatives.
If the administration of local areas is run by the provincial or central government officers, the administration shall be local but it shall not be local self-government.
In modern states there is a great importance of the local self-government because the burden of the provincial and central government is lessened by it. Local self-government is also essential for the success of democracy. These institutions impart training to the citizens in the running of the government. Moreover, democracy is made real in local self-government.
De Tocqueville observes, the local assemblies of citizens constitute 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 system of free government, but without the spirit of municipal institutions, it cannot have the spirit of liberty”.
Experience gained in the local institutions is useful for those who connate elections to legislature or who becomes ministers and run the administration Leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and Subhash Chandra Bose gained experience through these institutions. Laski says, “the institution of local government is educative to, perhaps, a higher degree than any other part of government”.
Through local self-institutions the spirit of the performance of duties and responsibilities is inculcated among the citizens and their interest is aroused in the administration. Bryce says, “Whoever learns to be public spirited, active and upright in the affairs of the village, has learnt the first lesson of the duty on a citizen of a great country”. Bryce further says, that local institutions not only impart training to the citizens in public affairs, but they also train them to work along with other people. These institutions inculcate the spirit of intellect, appropriateness, justice and social spirit which is essential for the success democracy.
The central or the provincial government cannot perform local functions properly because they have neither time to pay attention to the local Problems nor do they have any interest in them, because they are engaged in solving important problems. Therefore, it is essential to divide the provincial and local functions and interests. Thus by allocating the local functions to local bodies, the people will take keen interest in them and they will work with more efficiency ability.
Inaugurating the first Local Self-Government Ministers’ Conference (India) in 1948, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru observed that “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 at the bottom. Democracy at the top may not be a success unless you build on this foundation from below”.
Functions of Local Governments:
Division of subjects among local, provincial and central governments:
There is no rigid rule for the division of subjects among the central, provincial and local governments. But generally the importance of subjects from national, provincial and local points of view is kept in mind. Subjects like Foreign Relations, Defence, Railways, Post and Telegraph, Currency and Notes, Weights and Measures, Foreign Trade, Planning etc. are the subject of national importance and they are given to the centre.
The subjects which are of provincial importance are given to the provincial or state governments. These subjects are Law and Order, Justice, Agriculture, Police, Management of Jails, Education, Co-operation, Land Revenue, Public Health and supervision over Local V If-Government, etc. Local governments are given the subjects of local importance, such a local education, sanitation and health care.
Functions of local governments:
Local institutions include Panchayats, Municipalities, Panchayat Samitis, Zilla-Parishads and Corporations. The functions of these institutions are the functions of the local governments.
These institutions perform the following functions:
(1) They take care of local health. They check the spread of diseases. They kill mosquitoes, flies, rats and other disease-spreading insects. They check food adulteration. They stop the sale of rotten things.
(2) They arrange the primary education.
(3) They arrange lighting and cleanliness in their areas.
(4) They arrange cremation grounds and open Reading Rooms, Libraries, Parks, Hotels and Restaurants.
(5) They issue licenses to the people for the opening of slaughter houses and dairies.
(6) They can stop trading in dangerous and harmful drugs.
(7) They ply trams and buses.
(8) They repair the roads and bridges.
(9) They impose restrictions on adulteration and begging.
(10) They sanction the house-building plants.
(11) For entertainment, they make arrangements for the opening of cinemas, theatres, wrestling arenas and swimming-pools.
Sources of Income of Local Bodies:
The following are the main sources of the income of the local bodies:
(1) House Tax;
(2) Income from the property of local bodies;
(3) Income from water, electricity, trams, buses, etc.
(4) Grants from the Provincial Government;
(5) Tax on the sale of animals in the market and fairs;
(6) Passenger tax in fairs;
(8) Income from licenses issued to Commission Agents; Brokers and Weigh-men;
(9) Local rate which is realised along with the land revenue.
(10) Income from the Municipal shops and markets;
(11) Income from selling filth which is utilised as fertilizer by the farmers.
How Far the Centre or States Should Control Local Bodies?
The local bodies should get sufficient freedom in local matters, so that the people are able to get primary education in democracy. But this does not mean that the local bodies should be completely free from the control of provincial or central government. In our country, usually the central government has no relation with the local governments and only the provincial governments have relation with the local bodies. But in certain countries with unitary government, the central government maintains relation with the local governments.
Provincial or state government gives financial aid to local bodies and therefore, it becomes its duty to see that this aid is not misused. To check it the state government appoints auditors and they audit the accounts of local bodies.
Besides the state government has to see that all local bodies adopt a uniform policy towards education, eradication of diseases, improvement of public health and other important subjects and there is administrative efficiency, the state government keeps a check or control over the budgets of local bodies through the Deputy Commissioner or Divisional Commissioner.
In case the management of a local body is defective, or there is corruption, of if the public money is being misused by it, the state government can suspend that local body and take its administration into its own hands. For the purpose of running the administration of that institution, the State Government can appoint an administrator.
The Director of Panchayat also has a great control over the Panchayats. The Director is a high government officer Local institutions have been given powers to impose taxes to some extent not only in India but also in England, France, America and other countries. They can also take loans and grants from the state and central governments. The state governments have the right to take administration of local bodies in their own hands if their administration proves to be defective.
The State Government can also take steps to prevent the misuse of funds and also to relieve the local bodies of heavy debts. The state government can make rules and regulations for the administration of local bodies.
Therefore, whereas it is desirable that the local bodies should be given autonomy in their own administration, it is also essential that under certain special circumstances the state or central government should have the right to regulate their affairs.
The first advantage of the local self-government is that the people get training in democracy. That is why it is called the primary school of democracy. Secondly, the people get interested in the administration and their co-operation is increased.
Thirdly, it brings efficiency in the administration because the representative of local areas understand local problems well and they can solve them in a better way. Fourthly, through local self-government there is a great saving of money in the administration, because the people of local areas pay the taxes and their representatives know well how difficult it is to pay taxes.
Thus there is no misuse of the taxes. Fifthly, the workload of the provincial governments is lightened by entrusting work to local bodies. The local functions are efficiently performed by the local institutions and not by provincial government, because, the latter is already overburdened with work.
Sixthly, the local bodies are useful because they provide pure milk, ghee, food-grains, drinking water, cheap electricity, clean roads and streets, good drains, good libraries and reading rooms, museums, zoos and beautiful parks etc.