The roots of municipal administration in India can be traced to 1687, when a Municipal Corporation was set up at Madras with a view to transfer the financial burden of local administration to the local City Council. Later, the Royal Charter of 1720 established a Mayor’s Court in each of the three Presidency towns of Madras, Bombay and Calcutta.

In 1850, an Act was passed for the whole of British India permitting the formation of local committees to make better provisions for public health.

Lord Mayo’s resolution of 1870 made arrangements for strengthening the municipal institutions and increasing the association of Indians in these bodies.

Yet, it was Lord Ripon’s Resolution of 18 May 1882 that was hailed as the Magna Carat of government and got for Lord Ripon the title of “father of local self-government in India.”Ripon suggest reforms for instilling life into the local bodies he advocated the establishment of a network of locals governing institutions, financial decentralization, the adoption of election as a means of const” local bodies and the reduction of the official element to not more than a third of the total members. However, these reforms were hampered by several factors such as the obstructive tactics of domination of these institutions by the Deputy Commissioner and the hostile attitude of Curzon, who succeeded Lord Ripon, towards local bodies.


It is ironic that when the prime movers reforms leave the scene, the spirit of their reforms also gets affected adversely.

The Royal Commission on Decentralisation (1907) examined the reasons behind the failure of I self-governing bodies and concluded that it was due to strict official control, excessive narrow franchise meagre resources, lack of education and shortage of committed persons.

It suggested that the chair man of an urban body should be an elected non-official and that he should be given wider financial powers and the elected non-official members should comprise a majority in these bodies. The Government of India, in its resolution dated 28 April 1915, issued directives to implement these reforms. But, the elective system remained at a rudimentary stage, no real progress could be made in this direct earlier, in 1910, the Muslim League had demanded that municipalities should be constituted on basis of communal representation. As a result, some municipalities were constituted on this basis. Th step damaged the spirit of communal harmony.

The Government of India Act 1919 introduced the system of diarchy and the local self-government became a transferred subject under the charge of powers of local bodies, lowered the franchise, re­duced the nominated element and extended the communal electorate to a larger number of municipali­ties.


This experiment was a success as well as a failure. It was a success because the local bodies became popular bodies and they imparted a certain amount of political education to the people.

It was a failure because communal representation dampened the spirit of unity, the system of diarchy was very confusing and the municipal personnel were untrained. Lastly, the Government of India Act 193 which emphasized provincial autonomy again declared local government as a provincial subject.

The Act earmarked no taxes for local bodies. The municipal institutions were to be revitalized with the induc­tion of popular ministries. However, due to the outbreak of World War II, little progress could be made in this direction.

The post-independence period


The Constitution of India, which came into force on 26 January 1950, directs the state through Article 40 to organize panchayats but does not give a corresponding duty to the state with regard to the creation of urban bodies.

The only reference to urban self-government is to be found in two entries: (i) Entry 5 of List 11 of the Seventh Schedule, viz., the State List says: “Local Government, that is to say, the constitution and powers of Municipal Corporations, Improvement Trusts, District Boards, mining settlement authorities and other local authorities for the purpose of local self-government or village administrate Entry 20 of the Concurrent List reads: “Economic and Social Planning, Urban Planning would fall within the ambit of both Entry 5 of the State List and Entry 20 of the Concurrent List.”

The Five Year Plans also periodically highlighted the problems of the municipal bodies and the inability of these bodies to meet the growing demands of urbanisation.

The Central Government has, from time to time, showed its concern for the need to improve the urban bodies by appointing several commissions and committees.


The most important ones and their contributions are:

1. The Local Finance Enquiry Committee (1949-51) chiefly suggested the widening of the sphere of taxation of urban bodies.

2. The Taxation Enquiry Commission (1953-54) recommended the segregation of certain taxes for exclusive utilisation by or for local government.

3. The Committee on the Training of Municipal Employees (1963) emphasized that training institutes be set up both at the central and the state levels, to train municipal personnel.


4. The Rural-Urban Relationship Committee (1963-66) submitted a most comprehensive report on the subject and enquired into all aspects of municipal administration such as personnel, planning and taxation and dwelt upon interdependence between the town and its surrounding villages.

5. The Committee of Ministers on Augmentation of Financial Resources of Urban Local Bodies (1963) pointed out that the urban bodies were not levying taxes even in the fields earmarked for them and urged the local bodies to set up statutory Urban Development Boards to undertake town development.

6. The Committee on Service Conditions of Municipal Employees (1965 – 68) recommended the consti­tution of a statewide cadre of municipal employees.

7. The National Commission on Urbanization (1988) gave wide-ranging suggestions for revitalizing the urban government.


Urban development policy

Despite the fast pace of urbanization, there is no well-defined and thorough national urbanization policy in India. Most other developing countries suffer from the same lacuna, but that is no consolation to the second most populous country in the world.

A number of task forces, committees and commissions, appointed by the Government of India, have examined the problem of urban development in India. The Task Force on Planning and Development of Small and Medium Towns and Cities (1975), the Study Group on Strategy of Urban Development (1983) and others has made useful recommendations on streamlining urban development in India.

Urban development policy, which needs to be holistic, involves the components of physical planning, socio-economic planning, environment, circulation pattern, local government, financing, and other associated factors.

In August 1988, the Government set up the National Commission on Urbanisation (NCU), reference to which has been made above, under the chairmanship of C.M. Correa, with the purpose of reviewing and analysing the urbanisation process and formulating policies for integrated urban development.

The commission examined several issues and problems relating to urban government. Some of these re­lated to urban management, spatial planning, resource allocation, urban housing, conservation, urban poverty, legal framework, information system etc. Some of the recommendations of the commission are

1. The Ministry of Urban Development is restructured to make it the nodal ministry to deal with urbanisation.

2. A National Urbanization Council (NUC) is set up to formulate urbanisation policies and monitor and evaluate the implementation of policies.

3. An Indian Council for Citizens’ Action (ICCA) is created to encourage citizens through organized voluntary effort.

4. Every town, with a population of more than 50,000, is provided with an urban community develop­ment department, through which development programmes be implemented. It’s “New Deal for the Urban Poor”, incorporating 13 points for action, is worthy of consideration. Besides, it gave a large number of recommendations on the efficient administration of urban areas.

The year 1985 proved to be a landmark year as, during that year, the Ministry of Urban Development was set up at the Union level.

To begin with, it was under the Ministry of Health. In 1966, a part of urban government, viz., urban development was shifted to the Ministry of Works and Housing which was later renamed the Ministry of Works, Housing and Urban Development. In 1967, urban development was again shifted to the Ministry of Planning, Works, and Housing and Urban Development. Much later, in 1985, a separate Ministry of Urban Development was set up.

The constitution 65th amendment bill, 1989

The Constitution 65th Amendment Bill brought by the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, sought to ensure municipal bodies being vested with necessary powers and removing their financial constraints to enable them to function effectively as units of local government.

Three types of Nagar Palikas were envisaged; Nagar panchayat for a population between 10,000 and 20,000; municipal council for urban areas with a population between 20,000 and 3, 00,000 and municipal corporation for urban areas with a population exceeding 3, 00,000.

It made provisions for elected Ward Committees, adequate representa­tion for women and SC/ST in the urban bodies, conduct of elections by the Central Election Commis­sion, setting up Finance Commissions in the states to ensure soundness of local body finances, audit of accounts by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and creation of district level committees to co­ordinate the plans of Nagar Palikas and Panchayats.

It also envisaged granting of urban bodies with a constitutional status. Though passed in the Lok Sabha, the bill was defeated in the Rajya Sabha in October 1989.