Local Governments

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published by Nisar Fathima


Liberal Society and State

Limited Government + Local Decision Making


Horizontal and Vertical Devolution protects liberty

Local Decision making gives citizen greater control over their lives and allows effective participation in governance

An impressive history of local governments in Ancient India

Indus Valley Civilization – organized urban life

Vedic Age : Organized Local Self-Government

Proofs of people assembling and performing administrative functions

Popular Assembly called as Samiti ; Council of Elders known as Sabha in Maurya and Gupta period

Strong Mauryan empire having tendency for strong central government gave paid attention to provincial and local administration

Sabhas were the popular platforms where village people participated for decision making

Sabhas and Samitis were not only elected but also with  full voting rights to women; power to probe  the conduct of king. Vedic King – Janaya

Village – self dependent unit and generated its own resources, functionaries and functional domain.

State functions only supplementary and rarely conflicted

With the passage of time, Sabhas were called Panchayats (Council of five person) Panchayat functional institution at grassroots level in every village

Village headman known as Gramani

Assemblies acted as checks on the power of king and mouthpiece of peoples

Local bodies comprised of Gramyavadin(Village Judge), Dasagrami, Vimasapati, Satgrami etc

Prominence of Nagaradhyaksha or City Perfects to deal with the affairs of urban administration.

Assemblies represented kings authority in civil and military administration and collected dues on behalf of king

Local Governments during Vedic period

Lichhavi Republic

Lord Buddha extolls the virtues of the Lichchavi system, saying that no harm would come to a realm where decisions were unanimous, consultation was the order of the day, and women were honoured.

The king was the ruler and ruled in consultation with various tiers of local government.

The day-to-day decisions of governance were taken in village assemblies.

Prior to the lifetime of the great Gautama Buddha we had a Videhan republic, Vajjian republic etc

Decisions of village assemblies were respected by the king.

Example of the sixteen Maha-janapadas (republics) according to the Buddhist text Anguttara Nikkaya and the Jain texts

A Lichchavi confederacy republic according to Jataka stories had as much as 7707 chiefs or counsels (Rajans as they called them).

Republics during Lichhavi Period

Every village under Chandragupta’s tenure independent. Every  village had Sabha or Samiti

Local Governments during Mauryan Period

Village Assembly consisted of family representatives, elders and experienced persons

Gramik or Gramapati –Village  head ruled the village with the help of village council of which Elders were the members

Chalukya period – smallest unit was the village assembly. Gamas or Nigamas and Bhojka. Considerable autonomy given to local governments

... and you thought Local Governments is a feature of Modern India !!!

Prepared by  R & D Unit :