Currently, there are more than 250,000 local government bodies across India with nearly 3.1 million elected representatives and 1.3 million women representatives.

How is the system structured?
With the introduction of the constitutional amendments, India’s two-tier system of a central and state government was transformed into a three-tier one, now with a local level below the state.

In the case of rural areas, there are three nested bodies. At the apex, is the district council or zilla parishad, which is made up of a cluster of block councils or panchayat samitis, which in turn, are made up of village councils or gram panchayats. Each village has a village assembly or gram sabha comprising all adults in the village, who have the power to directly elect members of the panchayat. States with a population of less than two million (such as Arunachal Pradesh) may also choose to have a two-tiered structure, without the intermediate block-level institution.

In urban areas, there are three types of local bodies: municipal corporations or mahanagar palikas for areas with a population of more than one million, municipal councils/ municipalities or nagar palikas for areas with less than a million people, and town councils or nagar panchayats for areas transitioning from rural to urban. For ease of administration, large municipal areas may be further subdivided into wards.

What are the functions of local government?
In line with their objectives of promoting local economic development and social justice, local government bodies have the power to:

  • Prepare development plans for the areas they serve.
  • Implement a wide range of schemes relating to 29 core areas for rural local governments, and 18 for urban local bodies. These include (but are not limited to) health, education, poverty alleviation, housing, and the promotion of small-scale industries, among others.

However, since individual state governments (rather than the centre) are responsible for the functioning of their respective local governments, the actual powers and functions of these institutions are highly dependent on the laws of the state in which they operate.

Read the full article about local government in India at India Development Review.