History of local governance in Kerala
Kerala, the tiny state lying in the south-west part of India, has a long tradition of local governance. Before independence the three different regions in Kerala had been under different administrative systems.The northern region, reaching up to the present day district of Thrissur constituted the Malabar district of Madras Presidency. The evolution of local bodies in northern Kerala was determined by legislation in the Madras Presidency, which run parallel to Bengal. The central and the southern Kerala had not been under direct British rule. There existed two princely states, the State of Travancore in the southern part and the State of Cochin in the central region. In 1956 after the state reorganisation, the modem State of Kerala came into existence. In 1960 a uniform system of local governments was established covering the three regions as a consequence of the enactment of the Kerala Panchayat Act and the Kerala Municipality Act.In Madras province, as in the rest of British India, local self-governments were essentially urban in origin. The recommendations of the Royal Army Sanitary Commission aiming at establishing the civic requirements worked as an important factor that contributed to enactment of the Madras Towns Improvement Act of 1865. Within two years, under the provisions of the Act. municipalities were established in the major urban centres of Malabar at Calicut. Kannur, Tellicheri. and Palakkad and at Fort Cochin. The Fort Cochin was an enclave which was directly governed by the British in central Kerala. Those municipalities were having nominated councils dominated by the bureaucracy . The Town Improvement Act of 1871 provided for election of a section of the councillors by the taxpayers, and for having an elected vice-president for the council.Following the much talked Rippon Resolution, the Madras Municipal Act of 1884 was passed which increased the number of elected councillors to three-fourths of the total. The election of the Chairman of the Council will be from among the members. The Act widened the taxation powers and functions of the municipalities. The district collector continued to enjoy extensive discretionary powers. The subsequent amendments in the law in 1920 and 1930, both the element of democratic processes and the functions of municipalities were enhanced.The local self-governance in Malabar area was confined to the Malabar District Board, which had its origin in the Local Fund Circle, with a nominated local board under the president-ship of the collector constituted under the Local Funds Act of Madras 1871. Local boards which managed the local funds had to attend to construction and maintenance of roads and other ways of transport, hospitals and schools, drainage, water supply, and other local works. The Madras Local Boards Act of 1884 introduced the three-tier structure and the provision for elected representation. A revenue village or group of villages constituted the lowest unit, called Union. Above the Unions, there were the taluk boards and at the district level there was the district board. The expenses for them were met from taxes on land, houses, carts, and animals.Rural local governanceAfter the First World war, the rural local bodies took firm roots. In 1920 the Madras Village Panchayat Act and the Madras Local Boards Act were passed. Initially, the taluk boards were presided over by a revenue officer of the division and the District Board by the collector. From 1930. the Malabar District Board became an elected body with an elected president; the first president of which was a local landlord. The district board later became a focal point of nationalist activities and was captured by Indian National Congress in 1934. In the next election, the leftists also gained a significant presence, and in 1954 a clear majority in them.The Taluk Boards were later abolished and the District Boards were created. After independence, the Madras Village Punchayat Act of 1950 considerably enhanced the powers of the local governments. A pancHayat was constituted in every village with a population of not less than 500 and reservations were introduced for inclusion of Scheduled Castes and Tribes. The Act provided for direct election for the office of the president. The number of members of panchayts varied according to the population of the panchayat. The panchayals were divided into class I and class II based on population. The panchayats were entrusted with a variety of functions, some of which were categorised as obligatory functions and others as voluntary functions. The obligatory functions were construction and maintenance of public roads, public lighting, drainage, sanitation, drinking water, and preventive health measures. The voluntary functions were fairly large and related to education and health. The panchayats also had certain amount of limited judicial pow-ers. The main sources of revenue were taxes on buildings, profession, vehicles, and entertainment. They were also entitled to 10 grants, albeit limited, from the government.The last elections to the panchayats and local boards were held in 1954 in which there was clear majority for the left parties. The nationalist and leftist presence in the district board was a significant influence in shaping its activities. The Malabar District Board made monumental contribution to the spread of education in Malabar.