Development of local self-government in colonial period


Local government in India refers to jurisdiction of government below the level of state. India has three spheres of government: central, state and local. India has federal structure. Local government is the government of the village and district level. It is the government closest to the common people that involves in day-to-day life and attempt to resolve problems of ordinary citizens.

Democracy is in fact about meaningful participation and also about accountability. Hence, strong and vibrant local governments ensure both active participation and purposeful accountability.

Objective of development of local self-government.

Panchayat raj institutions, is basic units of local self-government have as instruments of socio-economic transformation in rural India. Socio economic development is involvement of people at grass root level. It aims at bringing socio-economic development. Panchayat raj is appearance of democratic decentralization in India. It is aiming to involve people in the decision-making process. Being closer to people it will be more responsive.

Theme of local self-government.

  • Direct democracy-need of participation
  • Participative democracy- 3rd tier of government local self-government is very close to common people.
  • Decentralization- it is done to distribute power. Reason is absolute power will make absolute corrupt.

Panchayat Raj during British period:

The britishers came to India as trades. Their main focus was on the trade and less on governance and development. The local government was rarely their first priority. In fact till the advent of British rule in India, the rural republic had flourished and thrived. With the emergence of British Raj in India, panchayat ceased to play role that it once played. But, local self-government as a representative institution was the creation of British.

In starting days British have very limited interest only to the creation of local bodies with nominated members. In the year 1687, a municipal corporation came to be formed at madras. Set up on the British model of town council, they collect taxes for building of halls and schools. Gradually similar bodies were set up in different towns and this model became widespread, helping the britishers to widened there their power to collect tax.

It was lord mayor, and then viceroy of India (1869 to 1872). Who felt the need of decentralization of powers to improve administrative efficiency and in year 1870 introduced the concept of elected   representative in urban local self govt.? Therefore, it was out of fiscal compulsion lord mayo’s resolution was adopted. And that compulsion was revolt of 1857 that caused huge financial burden on britishers.

The Bengal chowkidar act of 1870

During the colonial rule the Bengal village chowkidar act was passed and it passed in year 1870 and formally village self-government was introduced in province of Bengal. Village chowkidar is village night watchman. According to this act the village chowkidar were placed under the control of a village body named as panchayat.

Lord Ripens resolution (1882)

Lord Ripon made outstanding contribution in development of local self-government. In 1882 he abandoned the existing system of local government by officially nominated people. As to this plan, the local boards were split into smaller units to achieve more efficiency. For participation, he introduced an election system for local boards. The government resolution of 18th may 1882 stands as a landmark in structural evolution of local gives a local board consisting of large majority of elected non official members and presided over by non-official chairperson. This is considered to be the Magna Carta of local democracy in India. District Board, Local Board, and Union Committees Under the Bengal Local Self Government Act of 1885, the Road Cess Committee of 1871 was renamed the District Board. The Act of 1885 created a network of rural local bodies at two levels: district and sub divisional, known as the District Board and Local Board, respectively.

Royal commission

Long after that, the report of the Royal Commission on Decentralization in India (1907-09) proposed that people be involved in local village affairs by village Panchayats in order to achieve successful decentralization.

Resolution of Lahore

A resolution was adopted at the 24th session of Congress in Lahore in 1909, urging for early measures of elected local Panchayats upwards with non-official Chairman for the local bodies and financial support. The British government did not pay attention to it or put much effort into it. Montagu Chelmsford reforms Montagu Chelmsford laws were passed in 1919 against this backdrop. The subject of local government was transferred to the provinces as a result of this reform. The reform also proposed that local authorities have as much public authority as possible, as well as the greatest possible freedom from outside control. Village panchayat acts had been passed in eight provinces. But these panchayats have covered limited no of villages with only few and limited functions. However, in terms of panchayat democratisation, this reform was ineffective and resulted in significant organisational and fiscal constraints. the Government of India act (1935) This is regarded as a significant milestone in the creation of panchayats in British India. With provincial governments elected by the people, almost all provincial governments felt obligated to implement legislation to further democratise local self-government structures, such as village panchayats. Although the common government in the Congress-controlled provinces vacated office after the declaration of World War II in 1939, the situation in local government institutions remained unchanged until August 1947, when the country gained independence. Despite the British government’s disinterest in village autonomy, they were compelled to do so in order to maintain their rule in India and, more importantly, to fulfil financial obligations. Before the arrival of the British, the Indian rural republic thrived. Under the British occupation, it suffered a setback. Village societies and panchayats that were self-contained lost their substance. They were replaced by formally established village administration institutions. Village sovereignty seems to have been lost in the highly centralized British rule structure.


  • According to Mahatma Gandhi India lives in villages that means every village should be self-sufficient in such a manner that they don’t need to migrate to other area. Mahatma Gandhi was absolutely right. India has
  • Otherwise, we cannot see the vision of developed India if village continuous to remain dependent on other institution. It is duty of center to implement Panchayati raj. It is created primarily to give effect to the art 40. Of Indian constitution which deals with panchayat.
  • As to my view if villages will be properly handled then there will be no migration of people and big cities get over populated due to this so by developing villages cities will get less burdened. And this is only possible when local self-government is properly developed in India.


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