Gram Swaraj and Local Self Government

Gram Swaraj and Local Self Government

Author: Stuti Agarwal, School of Law, Christ (Deemed to be University)

1. Introduction

Gram Swaraj also called village self-rule, was a pivotal concept in Gandhi’s thinking. According to Gandhi’s thought, the village was his priority for political and social organization. The village was his center of attention for this organization.

The governmental jurisdictions below the state level are called local governments in India. According to the Constitution of the country, India Consists of three spheres of government including the Central, state, and local governments. It is a federal republic. According to the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments as per the Constitution of the country, there is recognition and protection given to local governments in the country besides each state having its own local government legislation.

2. Gram Swaraj

2.1 Origin

According to Gandhi’s thought, Gram Swaraj could be understood as twin beacons of truth and nonviolence. The concept of Gram Swaraj states that every village should be independent and should be its only republic. The village should be independent of its neighboring villages and should not be dependent on them for any of its vital needs and wants. However, the villages can be dependent on each other for some needs and wants in which dependency is a must. Basically, Gandhi wanted that each village should be self-sufficient and self-sustaining as far as basic necessities of life were concerned which included clean water, sanitation, housing, education, food, clothing, and so on. It also included self-defense and the government and all other societal needs which a man wants. For example, this also includes having a movie theatre in the village for its self-sufficiency. Gandhi wanted that in the country of India, every village should be self-reliant and should be a republic having full powers of its own. Then, as now, these were revolutionary ideas.

2.2 Development benefits

Gandhiji’s idea of Gram Swaraj has a unique bearing and aptness. Taking into consideration the social and environmental sustainability of development. Gandhiji believed that ‘there is enough on earth to satisfy everybody’s need but not for anybody’s greed’. After the 2008 global financial crisis, the principle of too big to fail is no more considered valid in this world. Even the most prominent banks went bankrupt during the financial crisis of 2008 because of the US housing bubble. India, at this stage, needs to take active steps to ensure the protection of its economy that is facing a recession in the present. Gandhiji’s idea of gram Swaraj can be an Indian version to help grow the aggregate demand in the economy through income generation. When the aggregate demand will rise, it will result in more money generation, employment generation, and various other benefits that would benefit the country. The fundamental reasons for the lack of required aggregate demand include deprivation of rural masses of productive resources and the absence of sustainable growth in the economy and problems in earning a daily livelihood by the citizens of the country. Gandhiji’s idea about Gram Swaraj giving village self-reliance even at individual levels can result in potential exploitation of small-scale industries and cottage industries. It will not only provide employment to the rural people and peasants but also help in the decentralization of production, making rural areas urban and improving the self-sufficiency of every village.

2.3 Present scenario

COVID-19 has created havoc across the world. India has the second-highest number of cases in the world and pleasantly reporting around 40,000 cases daily. Cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, and Calcutta which are large employment centers are struggling to contain the spread of the deadly disease. The problem has increased for the people who live in slums and rural areas. It is even more difficult for them to face such an uncertain future. Maybe the brand-new problem does not need a brand-new solution. The father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi had suggested that I am Swaraj which means self-rule of each village. In this scenario, it is necessary for every village and city to not be dependent on other cities and villages for essential and vital goods and produce all the vital goods by themselves. This will help to reduce the spreading of the disease in the country. Therefore, in the present scenario, it is really important that government implements Gram Swaraj in the country.

3. Local self-government

3.1 Origin

Since the year 1992, local governments in India take place in two very distant forms. The 74th amendment to the Constitution of the country covers urban localities which have Nagar Palika but they get their powers from individual state governments while the Panchayati Raj system formalizes the powers of the rural localities as per the 73rd amendment to the Constitution of India. The Panchayati Raj should be seen to get the history of traditional local government in India and South Asia.

As of 2017, India has 4657 urban, 2,62,771 rural and 2,67,428 local government bodies. Out of all the rural local governments, 6672 are Panchayat Samitis at the block level and 632 hours Zilla Parishad at the district level. Also, 2,55,466 are gram panchayats at the village level. The Panchayati Raj system in India is a three tire system that has elected bodies at three levels which include a village, taluka, and district. The modern system of this is based on the traditional system which includes the Panchayati Raj also called Panchayat governance. It was as per the vision of Mahatma Gandhi and it was the work of various committees to harmonize the Indian governmental administration which was highly centralized with a degree of local autonomy. The main purpose of it was to create large-scale participation and involvement in local government by the people of the country and more successful execution of rural developmental programs. As of 2015, Even though there was an intention to have gram Panchayat for every village or group of villages for self-dependency of every village, a tehsil level council, and a Zilla panchayat at the district level, the implementation in India has not been completed.

Rural local governments (or panchayat raj institutions):[5]

  • Zilla panchayat
  • Mandal or taluka panchayats
  • Gram panchayats

A committee which was led by Balwant Rai Mehta Committee, in 1957 studied the Community Development Projects and the National Extension Service and evaluated the extent to which the movement had been successful in making use of local initiatives and in making the institutions secure continuity in the process of refining economic and social environment and surroundings in rural areas. 

The committee was of the opinion that the developments would only be of use and survive when the Committee led by Balwant Rai Mehta was involved in the planning, decision making, and implementation of the process. As per the committee, the suggestions were as follows:

  1. And the prompt and timely foundation of elected local bodies and devolution to them of essential resources, powers, and authority.
  2. Since the area of jurisdiction of the local body should neither be very large nor very small, That the basic unit of democratic decentralization was at the block level.
  3. Search bodies must not mannered by excessive command by the government agencies or by the government.
  4. The body must be constituted for the period of five years by-elections that are not direct, from the village panchayats.
  5. Its purpose must include the development of agriculture in all aspects and should promote the local industries of the country and others,
  6. Services such as drinking water, road building, various essential other services.

The PRI structure could not establish democratic momentum in the country and it did not pass to cater to the requirements of the rural development.

Later, as per 73rd the Constitutional amendment act, which was passed by the government of Narasimhan Rao, which came into being on April 24, 1993, was to convey the constitutional sanction to set up democracy at the grassroots level as it was established at the national level and state-level of the country. The main characteristics of the act are as follows:

  1. The village assembly which is also called the gram Sabha as a deliberative body to decentralized governance has been forecasted as the foundation of the Panchayati Raj system the Indian amendment empowered the gram Sabhas to manage social audits as well as their functions.
  2. There was a consistent three-tire structure of panchayats and village add block and district levels.
  3. There was a requirement to encourage the bottom of planning, the district planning committee which is also called as DPC well-established in every district according to the constitutional status.
  4. Not less than one-third of the total membership seats in addition to the office of chairpersons of each tire needed to be preserved for women.

3.2 Development Benefits

All the acts of municipal nature in the country of India give the provisions for powers, responsibilities, and functions which are to be performed by the municipal government. These have been split into two categories which involve obligatory functions and discretionary functions.

Obligatory functions:

  1. Providing and giving affordable and fresh and on contaminated water
  2. Building and establishment of public streets
  3. Proper maintenance of public streets including watering and lighting. The public streets should be correctly lighted.
  4. Cleaning of public streets, sewers and other places.
  5. Maintenance of public hospitals
  6. Maintenance and formation of schools for the purpose of education of small kids.
  7. Registration of data involving deaths and births of people.
  8. Conservation and maintenance of law and public order

Discretionary functions:

  1. Conducting various surveys.
  2. Providing basic necessities such as housing for people with low income.
  3. Public buildings
  4. Providing with transport facilities with the help of municipality.
  5. Encouragement and furtherance of welfare of employees of municipality.
  6. Sewing plants and trees and maintenance of public areas such as roads.
  7. Establishing and maintenance of public parks, rest houses and other amenties such as rescue homes for woman

3.3 Present scenario

As of now, there are about 30 lakhs representatives which are elected at various levels of the Panchayat, of which about 13,00,00 are women. More than 2.4 lakh gram panchayats are represented by these members. About 6000 intermediate-level tires and greater than 500 district panchayats. More than 96% of India’s greater than 5.8,00,00 villages and 99.6% of the rural population are covered by panchayats. The Indian constitution invasions panchayats as institutions of self-governance.

However, due thought and consideration are given to the federal structure of India’s polity, and most of the powers of financial nature and authorities to be endowed on panchayats have been left at through the judgment of concerned state legislatures. As a consequence of it, the functions and powers vested in PRIs vary from state to state. These provisions merge representative and straight democracy into synergy and are anticipated to have an outcome in an extension and deepening of democracy in the country of India.

  1. Conclusion

Gram Swaraj as suggested by Gandhiji is a very outgoing concept that can help the village call group of villages to be self-reliant and self-sufficient which will also reduce the transportation costs and which would provide employment to villagers and rural people. It will help to increase equality in the country. It will also help in the equal development of all the cities and villages in the country. This step will help to curb unequal developments because generally, developed cities become more and more developed the time and underdeveloped cities remain underdeveloped for a long period of time.

Jawaharlal Nehru and most other Congress leaders were not fascinated or interested or inspired by the ideas of Gandhiji. Gandhiji wanted a broad and complete transformation of Indian society and polity for the purpose of true independence. But as per Nehru, this meant no political freedom for India from the country of Britain. Nehru was considered the political successor of Gandhi Ji, but in actuality, he was an orthodox democratic socialist. Nehru did want to make India a modern nation having large scale and heavy industries. He did want to make India an industrialized and democratic socialist nation-state. He was a believer in large-scale industries to increase the wealth of the nation. He believed that only this would make India modern. He was not in favor of giving the villages individual powers and self-reliance. He did not believe in the fact that ‘small is beautiful. He did not believe in clusters of villages. He disagreed with Gandhiji on this concept of Gram Swaraj and he never solemnly think about making this concept a truth. He did agree with some elements of Gandhiji’s gram Swaraj program which included scrapping off and the abolition of untouchability. But he never agreed with the concept of Gram Swaraj.

This was the reason that Gram Swaraj was not included in the Constitution of the country. There was a philosophical gulf between Gandhiji and virtually all the top political leaders at the time of Independence. Gandhi ji wanted equality, and Nehru did not like it. Gandhiji did not want India to become a pyramid with lakhs of villagers at the bottom supporting the rich at the top. However, Nehru was comfortable with his position at the top, including all the other political leaders.

To attain the constitutional status, panchayats have travelled from an institution within the culture of the country for the purpose of local self-government.