It’s Time To Recognise Contribution Of Odisha Hero Madhusudan Das To Local Self-Government

For some decades now, the municipal bodies and Odisha Government have been observing August 31 as the All India Local Self Government Day as if to symbolise the birth of civic bodies. Neither the Mayor nor the council can correctly tell the reason behind observing of such a day. They cannot tell with certainty when the municipal council was founded.

There is no reference or reason behind observing the day in the public domain either. Some say that on this day India’s first local government came into existence, while others say on this day that the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act came into existence.

This is also a time to look into the historical perspective of decentralisation and the real autonomy of the local governments. Municipal Governance in exists in India since 1687 with the formation of Madras Municipal Corporation and then Calcutta and Bombay Municipal Corporation in 1726. In the early part of the 19th century, almost all towns in India as well as Odisha experienced some form of municipal governance when representatives were nominated by the provincial government.

However, in 1882, Lord Rippon for the first time, brought a local self-government resolution to recognise democratic forms of municipal government in India. Subsequently, in 1919, the Government of India Act incorporated the need for the resolution, and the powers of a democratically elected government were formulated. Later in 1935, the Act brought the local government under the purview of the state or provincial government, and specific powers were given.

Since then, municipal bodies in India have been functioning under the supervision of state law by deriving their functions and fiscal powers. Very often, their powers and functions were eroded by the state government with the establishment of parastatial agencies i.e. water supply, sewerage, roads, etc. However, in the latter part of the eighties, the government realised that local government didn’t have enough power to address issues of growing urbanisation, and their financial power was eroded by the state government by abolishing professional tax, entertainment tax, Octori tax, etc which used to be the bread and butter for most local governments. The Government of India also realised that the composition of the population is changing from rural to urban and it would be difficult to manage the cities from the centre or the state.

As a result, the union government set up the National Commission on Urbanisation in 1986. The outcome of the report created a space for debate within and outside the government’s domain for the empowerment of the local governments, both rural and urban. Finally, the 74th and 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act came into existence in 1992 to initiate the process of decentralisation and empowerment of the local government in India. The 73rd Amendment deals with Panchayats in rural areas and the 74th Amendment for urban areas.

Interestingly, none of these landmarks in India’s urbanisation syncs with August 31. Rather for many municipal bodies in India, it’s an unknown subject and they don’t observe any such day. Somehow, Odisha celebrates this ritual year after year without any sound reason.

Even if a state-level observation is necessary, it is more apt to observe the birth anniversary of Madhu Babu as a Local Self-Government Day, just the way Panchayati Raj Day is celebrated on the birth anniversary of Biju Babu. Both substantially contributed to the progress of India’s third tier of Government, which needs recognition at the national level.

The man whom Mahatma Gandhi described as a great Indian patriot, who wore himself out in giving shape and reality to various nation-building schemes is none other than Odisha-born Utkal Gourav Madhusudan Das. He was born on April 28, 1848, in a village called Satyabhamapur, 50 kilometres from Bhubaneswar.⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠ He was known as “Utkal Gourav,” which means Pride of Utkal and was a versatile person also known as a legislator, poet, freedom fighter and Advocate, etc.

The son of the soil, Madhu Babu was the first minister to introduce several bills relating to local government. He was a visionary, who batted for allowing women to vote and contest elections. His contribution to the municipal government within the Local-Self Government is yet to be recognised both in Odisha and the country.

Even if we have to observe a Local Self-Government Day, it would be more apt to change it to April 28, Madhu Babu’s birthday and rename it Municipal Government Day.

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