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Development Of Local Self Government In India

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Published: Thu, 04 May 2017

The British entered the political scene in India when the Mughal reign was in decline. The Mughals had carried out many reforms with regard to the system of administration in their empire. But they had little control over the country when the British started to expand their sphere of influence within the country. The Mughals’ control over the country was in tatters and the British influence over their territories was on the rise. The system of administration developed by the Mughals was in a state of disorder of the existence of a number of small, virtually independent provinces where the Mughal rulers had no control. They were governed by the local rulers in their own way, with the rules and regulations changing according to the whims and fancies of these people. And the British did not understand very well, even for the territories where the Mughals still had some control, the systems of administration and the various local customs and the different religious laws and beliefs, and they were perplexed. For their ease, they started to consolidate and codify the law in various aspects of administration. And this consolidation and codification helped them in administration. But after some time their way of administration started to alarm Indians who felt that the British were out to destroy their culture and their way of life. This was due to the reason that the Indians did not fully understand the actions of the British and their motives behind such acts. This resulted in the people uniting against the British and the development of the ideal of nationalism, and led to the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885. Initially the Congress was viewed as an ally in the process of governance but after some time it came to be seen as an obstacle and an impediment to the British rule. To pacify the feelings of the Indians the British decided to introduce the concept of self- government to India on a limited scale. The people were allowed to have a say in the performance of some of the functions that the British previously used to perform by themselves, now.

But did the people of India really get to put in practice the concept of local self- governance during the British rule? Or did the British give them what was only an illusory right? It is in this context that the researcher tries to find out whether the concept of local self- government was really implemented in India under the British rule.


This paper looks at the situation as regards local self- government under the British rule in India and the development of this concept in India.


The researcher analyses the development of the concept of local self- government in India under the British rule and tries to find out whether the introduction of local self- government made any real difference to the Indian scenario.


The concept of local self- government is not something that is new or unfamiliar to India. In fact it has been practised since the ancient times in India. In India it has its origins in the Vedic period. It was during this period that the concept of having a village assembly called Samiti, and a head of the village, called Gramani, came into existence. They represented the king’s authority in the matters of civil and military administration and these were used to collect the revenues and various dues on behalf of the king. Gradually these institutions came to enjoy greater independence. And some time later came into vogue the formation of panchayats which became ultimately became the basic governing institutions for villages. But at the beginning of the consolidation of power by the British in India these institutions suffered a decline. [1] This was because the British at first did not understand the way these institutions functioned, considering that there were a number of small states and there existed, inevitably, differences in administrative and governance practices that were followed. Therefore the British tried to create and impose their own systems of administration. The British first attempted to introduce municipal government outside the Presidency towns in 1842, by means of the passing of the Act X of 1842. But in 1850 the Act was revoked and now another Act, known as Act XXVI was enacted. This Act aimed to set up municipal institutions in various provinces of India.

But after the First War of Independence in 1857 they realised that there was a chasm between them and the Indians as far as the administration of the country was concerned and that the Indians had to have a better say in the administration of India. And so it was that, in 1861, the power of legislation, which had been taken away from the governments of Madras and Bombay under the Charter Act of 1833, was given back to these Presidencies. Through this Act legislative authority was given to the Governor- in- Council of these Presidencies. The Governor could fix the time and place for a meeting and his assent was required for the laws enacted during such a meeting to be valid. [2] But in the course of time the people of India became more conscious of the world around them and demanded a greater say in the administration of the country. And in 1881, the government headed by Lord Ripon passed a resolution which, in the main, aimed to inculcate a sense of responsibility, action and involvement of public representatives on the local bodies. This resolution also expressed the intention to make the provincial governments put considerable resources at the disposal of the local self- governments so that they had adequate funds to meet their expenses. And they were to handle matters which were of local importance. [3] 

Then in 1882, another resolution was passed on Local Self Government. This resolution aimed to establish local Boards throughout the length and breadth of the country. It also stated that they were to be provided with definite funds and duties. And it replaced the Local Consultative Committees, which were functioning in the rural areas, with the local Boards. And there was to be a District Board which would exercise controlling powers over the local Boards. It was aimed to keep the Urban Boards independent as far as possible, but in some cases the District Boards were allowed to assume controlling powers. It was also provided in the resolution that at no point of time the number of official members of a Board exceed more than one- third of the total number of members. This was to ensure that the non- official members remained in a majority in both the urban and the rural boards. And this resolution sought to make use of the principle of election for the local boards as far as circumstances were favourable for such an exercise. [4] 

But even though the intention behind these resolutions was to make the local institutions work for the benefit of the people and to make the local people feel involved in the administration of their locality and provinces, it did not turn out to work as smoothly as was expected. Some reasons behind the failure of these local bodies to work properly were that the local revenues very inelastic and there very few sources from which these local bodies could gather revenue, there was a lack of interest in local affairs a lack of capacity to handle them and there was excessive control by the provincial governments over the local bodies. [5] 

In order to improve the situation, some suggestions were made by the Royal Committee on Decentralisation with regard to the expansion of the sphere of activities of the local bodies. These proposals were revised in 1915 and adopted under a new resolution. This resolution provided for a substantial elected majority for the Municipal and Rural Boards. By this it meant that three-fourths of the members were to be elected. There was also provision for the representation of minorities on these Boards by the means of nomination. And some members were to be nominated without the right to vote. Also, the Chairman of the municipalities was to be a non-official member. In case an official member was elected as Chairman, he was required to have the backing of a majority of the non-official members in his favour. Also, the powers of the Boards were extended slightly as far as taxation was concerned. This resolution also stated that if a Municipal or Rural Board had to pay for a service, it had to control it. Where it was found that the control by the provincial government would be more convenient the service would have to be a provincial one. Also, the Boards were to be given freedom in preparing their budgets, but they had to maintain a minimum standing balance which was to be prescribed by the provincial government concerned. And the government could exercise control loans and compel the municipality to discharge its duties in cases of default. And the resolution also recommended the setting up of a village panchayats. This was to be done mainly for the setting up of a corporate life in the villages. [6] But the Simon Commission reversed this process of decentralisation by recommending strict control of the local bodies by the state. [7] 

So we see that the process of development of the concept of local self- government in India has been a very distorted and haphazard process. It can be seen that the concessions granted were only half- hearted responses to demand for local self- government. The development of local finances did not have a natural growth. There was little that resembled the indigenous local institutions and the development of institutions brought in by the British was artificial. There was a lack of clear hierarchy in local government. And the control exercised by the various governments and their agencies was excessive. [8] 


We see from the above that the British did not really intend to grant effective local self-government to the people of India. They concessions they gave were only half-hearted responses. The institutions that were sprung up had little in common with the indigenous local institutions and were artificial to India. And the excessive government control over these local institutions effectively killed chances of the success of these institutions.

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