The devolution deficit

Why we need to revisit the 74th Amendment

The National Panchayati Raj Day to mark the enactment of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment was observed on April 24 with due ceremony but little hype. Whatever the reasons for the celebration, even those are not available for the 74th Amendment dealing with municipalities.

The Government of India's first line of defence on this issue is that these are state subjects. Nevertheless, the Union government did enter the domain of the states substantially, despite opposition from chief ministers like Jyoti Basu, M. Karunanidhi and N.T. Rama Rao. Between the governments of Rajiv Gandhi, V.P. Singh and P.V. Narasimha Rao, the 73rd and 74th Amendments required five different drafts, two joint parliamentary committee reports and ratification by the states before they became law in 1992.

Article 243B requires every state to establish panchayats at the village, intermediate and district levels. In the case of municipalities, Article 243Q contains a similar stipulation, but it is followed by a proviso that a municipality may not be constituted in an urban area if it is specified as an industrial township where municipal services are provided by an industrial establishment. The preceding Article 243P states that a "municipality means an institution of self-government constituted under Article 243Q". The emphasis is on self-government, not on water supply and drainage. It should also be mentioned that this proviso was absent in the bill introduced in Lok Sabha in September 1991 and it was not an issue for consideration for the JPC. The proviso was introduced as a government amendment only after the bill was received from the JPC in July 1992 and a most important purpose of the 74th Amendment, that of creating constitutionally mandated municipal bodies of self-governance for all urban areas, was sidetracked.

According to Census 2011, there are 7,935 urban places. Of these, 4,041 are clothed in the garb of a corporation, municipality or nagar panchayat. The remaining 3,894 are only census towns, which have to remain content with that statistical certification. The list of such census towns without urban local self-government includes Noida and Kharagpur, and makes for extraordinary reading.

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