Strengthening Democratic Local Governance: An Investigation into the Roles and Authorities of Local Governments in Bangladesh

1. Introduction

Bangladesh has a long history of local government, both rural and urban. Although the purpose of having local governments is to help taking services close to the people, in reality, the purpose has not been achieved satisfactorily, mainly because of the absence of a proper system of decentralization. However, while many studies have accurately and repeatedly identified the broad issues either on legal framework or on the practice at the local governments, there remains a lack of in depth probing into the effects of intervening factors and actors that play critical roles in creating current state of implementation.

The SDLG project funded by USAID and implemented by Tetra Tech ARD initiated a focused research to identify the core issues and cause that lead to ineffectiveness of the LGs in strengthening public services. The Center for Urban Studies (CUS), Dhaka conducted a study on Paurashavas, as urban local government institution. The scope of the field level investigation, however, was limited to Paurashavas of four divisions. These are Dinajpur, Barisal, Sylhet and Chittagong (excluding the Hill districts). The study covered 8 Paurashavas in A, B and C categories from the four regions. The study was conducted during 12 September, 2011 to 11 September, 2012. The study was led by Professor Nazrul Islam, Honorary Chairman of CUS, with Architect –Planner Salma A. Shafi as the Deputy Leader and Professor Amirul Islam Chowdhury, Professor Aktar Hossain, Professor Farzana Islam, Prof. Dr. Nurul Islam Nazem as Advisory Member.

This paper gives a brief overview of the study objectives, methodology and findings and high lights issues which are important concerns for improvement of urban local governance in Bangladesh as well as directives for progress of decentralization.

1.1. Objectives
The primary objective of the SDLG project is to improve transparent and participatory local governance at the sub-national level and to enhance legal and policy reform at the national level in order to promote and expand decentralization in a real sense. In this context the study focused on three major areas of concern and examined how decentralization has been ensured at the Paurashava level particularly with reference to three areas of concern i.e.
a) Financial management and revenue generation
b) Participatory Planning and budgeting, and
c) Service delivery and service monitoring
In each area some key issues were selected for investigation and analysis.

1.2 Methodology
The study was designed to have a multi-level approach and included both literature review and field level data collection and opinion survey. More specifically the following steps were taken;
i. Literature review: This involved review of (a) Legal documents like the Constitution relevant Act. Rules and Circulars, and (b) books, research papers, dissertations consultancy and Commission Reports.
ii. Expert level Consultations, Focused Group Discussions and Close door Policy Dialogues
iii. The findings of the literature review and consultations, discussions and dialogues were shared and exchanged at two Regional Conferences and 2 National Conferences. Each was participated by a large number of participants representing national, regional and local level stakeholders, experts and policy makers.
This paper includes a brief description of the study details and presented as per the methodology mentioned above.

1.3 Evolution of Urban Local Government System and the role of LGs in effective governance And decentralization needs.
Municipal administration system was formally introduced in 1793 through a Charter of the British Parliament. The Bengal Act of 1842 first established the Paurashava. The Bengal Municipality Act in 1884 further improved the law and this law continued till creation of the Bengal Municipal Act 1932 which is an improvement of the former law. After Partition town committees were created in 1959 in urban areas where a municipal Board constituted of at least 15000 populations in a given urban area. In 1960 Municipal Administration was adopted and the Bengal Municipal Act 1932 was repeated.

Notable features in the 1960 Ordinance were the introduction of Municipal Committee, town committees, and ward committees.

After liberation the Bangladesh Government passed the President Order No. 7 in 1972 and cancelled local administration bodies. In 1977 the Paurashava Ordinance was declared and after a long gap of more than 30 years and two commission reports the Local Government Paurashava Act, 2009 No.58 was passed in the Parliament. Currently Paurashava functions are being administered in accordance with this act. But effective decentralization is yet to be achieved as many of the core functions related to the three LG issues of this paper are still handled by the central government.

1.4 The Contemporary Paurashava Structure
At the time of the 1991 census 20.15 percent and 2001 census 23.81 percent of the urban population lived within Paurashava boundaries. The proportion is probably much higher now as a result of boundary extensions and creation of many Paurashavas. At present there were about 309 Paurashavas in Bangladesh in 2009 (GoB, 2009). Paurashavas are categorized for administrative purposes in three classes A, B and C on the basis of three years average of their own generated revenue.

1.5 Personnel Management of Paurashavas
In Bangladesh, for urban areas there are two types of local government institutions, namely, the city corporation and the municipalities or Paurashavas. The executive powers of a Paurashava are vested in and exercised by the Mayor. Policy matters are decided by the Paurashava as a body consisting of the Mayor and councilors.

1.6 Standing Committees
Under the new Act 0f 2009 (Article 55), Paurashavas can constitute 10 standing committees on different subject matters. In addition, other Standing Committees could be formed by the Paurashavas. The membership criterion of these committees has been specifically spelled out in the Act. However, experts on relevant subjects may be coopted in these standing committees.

2.0 Areas of Concern in the CUS Research and Key Findings

The present Research Report has reviewed the status of decentralization with respect to (a) Financial Management and Resource Generation, (b) Participatory Planning and Budgeting, and (c) Service Delivery and Service Monitoring.
In addition the situation of personnel management has also been considered from the point of view of decentralization.

2.1 Paurashava Financial Management and Revenue Generation
The area of management includes fiscal management and fiscal relationships with the central government. Paurashava constitutes in its first meeting 10 Standing Committees of which three are directly connected with finance. These are
a. Establishment and Finance Committee
b. Tax assessment and Collection Committee
c. Accounts and Audit Committee

2.2 Participatory Planning and Budget
Paurashavas as local level planning and development institution is obligated to conduct all development functions with proper delegation of authority and in a participatory way. However in the existing process systematic planning is not practiced. Increased population has put tremendous pressure on the service delivery and other functions. Though development plans for all Paurashavas have been prepared but they are not followed. It is also stated by experts that inhabitants of the Paurashavas are not enlightened about planning and proper guidelines for development i.e. land use plans, building codes, building control, encroachments etc. The lack of financial capacity of the government to support planning activities and reinforce Paurashava for execution of planning functions is also a cited reason for lack of development.
For revenue there are 26 authorized sources of revenue and classified as Tax, Fees, Rates. In terms of revenue earning, highest is in holding tax, lighting, conservancy and water Rates.

2.3 Service Delivery and Monitoring
Functions have been specified in the 1977 Ordinance as compulsory and optional. Performance of all functions is found to be contingent upon availability of funds. Also the range of functions listed in the 1977 ordinance is very wide and till its revision in 2009 few service additions were made.
Of the listed eleven mandatory functions Rule 3, 4 mention that Paurashavas must deliver the functions to the citizens in spite of any technical and financial shortcomings.
Long lists of obligatory functions are included in Rule 50-71 as detailed functions. Though most of the functions listed in 1977 Ordinance have been repeated in the Local Government, Paurashava Act, 2009 (No. 58) certain changes and additions are made in the latter. These are for example,

2.4 Personnel Management
• There are mainly three categories of Paurashavas A, B and C and they receive allocated human resources by the Central Government accordingly in terms of human resources. Of these three, the C type receives no grant or assistance and minimum personnel support.
The Local Government (Paurashava) Act 2009 (NO. 58) provided for the creation of Paurashava Service in Rule NO. 72 and 73. But this is not enacted rather the old service rule 1992 is continued.

• Paurashavas are managed by a combination of elected people and appointed personnel. These personnel are either determined by the government or appointed on secondment.
The Act of 2009 provides for the inclusion of experts and citizens to attend meetings of the standing committees. How much this is exercised needs to investigated.

3.0 Key Findings of CUS Research

3.1 Financial Management and Resources Generation

Paurashavas are highly dependent on the Central Government for finance. They have also only limited power to generate resources locally, in reality they are constrained by law for exploiting whatever avenues they may have. Moreover, the Paurashavas generally lack drive and initiative to generate new sources of revenue. Field research of the CUS study findings on this topic are analyzed as;

 Table: Financial management and resource generation

Study Findings Stated Problems Areas for Intervention
Revenue generation is not satisfactoryPSA lacks own land/propertyGovernment support for development in not satisfactory Undervaluation of propertyHoldings are not assessed regularly for tax purposeIrregular tax collectionSometimes Mayor and Councilors forgo the taxes and also reduce them for fare of losing the elections.Government establishments do not pay taxes

Paurashavas are not allowed to impose new taxes or increase rates

Cannot construct markets and terminals without permission of LG

Lack of fund do not permit increase of staff.

Reassessment of propertyRegular assessment o holding tax.Freedom for tax impositionConstruction of markets, bus, truck and water terminalskhas land under government ownership to be transferred to the paurashava for increase of income

Paurashava land or property should not be leased out.


  • The local Government/ Paurashava/ Act 58 of 2009 (clause 89-clause 94) clearly depicts the area of fiscal management and fiscal relationship lies with the Central Government.
  • However 10 standing committees directly connected with finance are given in the Act. These are given in Rules 55 (PP. 6723)

a)     Establishment and finance committee

b)     Tax assessment and collection committee

c)     Accounts and Audit committee

The third schedule of Paurashava Act 58, 2009 has listed 29 different sources for tax collection in Rule 98 of the third schedule (pp. 6775). Of these particularly mentionable is the 2 percent tax charge on land development to be levied to the Paurashava by the Ministry of Land.

Literature review from Chowdhury, World Bank study observes that, the potential of holdings tax in the Paurashavas remain untapped. There is also mention of ineffectiveness in the decision making powers of the local governments due to lack of decentralization.

Observation by several study reports that tax efforts are low and varies across Paurashavas enormously. In recent times under ADB project and World Bank Supported MDF project Paurashavas are contract bound to improve their collection efforts up to 80% (UGIIP – II) and 70% (MDF). These are very positive signs according to experts.

3.2   Participatory Planning and Budget

The study finds from literature review that participatory planning and budget is not followed in the execution of Paurashava development. Experts have stated that through Paurashavas are mandated to conduct planning and development in a participatory way but committees do not function properly and there is not much sharing of information on development projects and budgets. One key finding is that in spite of being large section of the Paurashava residents the Urban poor are not given adequate attention in the Ordinance or in any participatory process of Planning and Budget. In general the CUS study findings are;

Table: Participatory planning and budgeting

Study Findings Stated Problems Areas for Intervention
Paurashava bodies lack participatory planningBudget lacks participatory planning Lack of consultation with citizens in making infrastructure and other improvements.TLCC, WLCC and standing committees do not regularly meet and take planning decisions.For budget preparation and finalization process people do not get the opportunity to give their decisions or opinions prior to its formulation.The budget is brought before the committees for approval only. Transparent budget process with more time given for decisions from the people.TLCC and WLCC needs to be more interactive in the development process.People’s consultation  in the planning process

3.2   Service Delivery and Service Monitoring

In both Paurashava Ordinance, 1977 and Act, 2009 service delivery functions are specified as mandatory and obligatory. The listings of service details are quite similar in both except for the following differences;

  • The deliveries of services are grouped into 11 broad categories with 64 specified functions in the Act, 2009. But as many of the services are being delivered by Central Governments departments, autonomous public agencies. Paurashavas have practically no control on these functions.
  • In the area of Public Health in the 2009 Act there are gaps in the law regarding provision of health centers, maternity centers etc. and promotion of family planning.
  • In water supply provision control and monitoring of private sources of water by the Paurashavas have been taken out from the Local Government Paurashava Act, 2009 (No. 58).

The provision of fire brigades existed in the 1977 Ordinance but has been deleted in the Paurashava 2009. Specific findings of the CUS study and analysis are given below;

 Table: Service delivery and monitoring

Study Findings Stated Problems Areas for Intervention
Many aspects of service delivery and monitoring  of the Paurashava Law 2009 is not covered in the day to day functionsServices are limited and reach few citizens Pourashavas provide few servicesAll residents of PSA do not have access to services. There is deficiency and imbalance in distribution.The poor citizens in paurashavas are neglected. More emphasis on service delivery specially the compulsory ones.Improvement of service conditionsEmphasis on physical and social planning for infrastructure improvement.

General Opinion from Paurashava bodies related to the issues are;
 Central government should pay salaries of paurashava officers and staffs.
 Some paurashavas do not have provision for payment of pension and gratuity for paurshava officers and staffs.
 Limit (cost) of works without tender must be increased from Taka one lacs.
 Some female councilors and panel mayors claim that they do not get proper respect and opportunity to serve the people.

4.0 High Lights of CUS research Findings and further Recommendation:

In the light of the research findings by CUS on strengthening local governments the following recommendations are made for improving the law and also for further research and advocacy on the topic.
(A) The 2009 Act is a well drafted document but there is need for awareness about the law for proper implementation.
(B) Advocacy is needed among Local Government Officials at the Ministry level, the Municipal Association of Bangladesh (MAB) and Paurashava Mayors to utilize the law.
(C) The Advocacy for implementation of the law in 3 concern areas should continue. Higher levels of political, administrative and civil groups must be included in the stakeholder group.

The strategies envisaged by CUS for the overall advancement of decentralization of urban local government are recommended to be if the following nature;

The SDLG study for Paurashavas by CUS was conducted for brief period of 1 year only. For future CUS has the following guidelines for further action research;

SL Broad Objectives Target Groups Achievements envisaged
Improve relationship among local government stake holders at the policy level –     MP’s-     Mayor’s-     Councilor’s-     Bureaucrats –     Resolve gaps in dministration-     Plugging gaps in the law.
2. Investigate best and worst examples of municipal governanceExample Best Case : Feni PaurashavaWorst Case : Matlab/ Chagalnaiya
  • ·Examples from A, B, C category
  • ·CUS surveyed paurashavas in SDLG
Sharing learning from best and worst case on how to improve relationship between central and local government.
3. Organize / Roundtable with spokes Persons from selected paurashavas Representatives from all levels of stakeholder group Participation of the group to;- Share findings-Gather Suggestions /opinions


5.0.  Concluding Remarks

The CUS  study on Strengthening Democratic Local Governance: An Investigation into the Roles and Authorities of Local Governments in Bangladesh supported by USAID and implemented by Tetra Tech ARD was completed exactly on schedule (12 September 2011 to 11 September 20012) with full satisfaction of the sponsors.

Towards an Urbanized Bangladesh: Looking beyond 2050

Ours is now an urbanized world with more than half of the planet’s population living in officially defined urban areas. Urbanization, as it is very well known, is a manifestation of economic, technological, social and political forces. Urbanization is itself a process with its impacts on environmental, economic, social and political structures of a society. Even within the same political-economic system, there are very efficient and highly livable cities and also very inefficient and unlivable cities.

The Urbanization, Trend 1901-2011

Historically, the level of urbanization in Bangladesh has been low but it is urbanizing rapidly now. At the beginning of the last century, in 1901, only 2.43 percent (or about 0.7 million) of the total population of present Bangladesh areas of British India lived in urban areas. During the first half of the century urban population growth was almost static. In 1941, less than 4 percent of the population lived in urban centres, the total urban population was 1.54 million. Urbanization received impetus after 1947, when the Indian subcontinent became independent of the British rule and Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, earned a new political status as part of Pakistan. Since then a change has been observed in terms of the growth of urban population and also of urban centres.

The total urban population rose from 1.83 million in 1951 to about 2.64 million in 1961 (Table 1). The important factor responsible for this rapid growth was a large scale migration of Muslims from India after 1947, who mostly settled in urban areas. A phenomenal growth took place during the 1961 to 1974 period, the increase being as high as 137.6 percent. The growth rate was 6.7 percent per year during the period as against 3.7 percent per year in the previous decade. This rapid urban growth is largely due to migration of people from rural to urban areas. The rural push factors, caused by economic impoverishment following the liberation war and environmental disasters contributed significantly. Rate of Natural growth of population was also quite high.

Table 1; Growth of national and urban population in Bangladesh 1901-2001




Total national population (million)

Annual growth rate of national population (%)


Total urban




Urban population

as % of total population

(level of urbanization)

Decadal increase of urban population (%)

Annual (exponential

growth rate of urban population, %)













































































Source: Government of Bangladesh: Bangladesh Population Census. Census, 1991. BBS, 2003 1981; Report on Urban Areas, 1997; and Preliminary Report, Population.

In 1974, urban population increased to 8.9 percent from 5.2 percent in1961. In1981 this rose to 15.5 percent. The inter-censal change during this period (1974-81) was 110.7 percent with annual growth rate of about 10 percent. Like the previous decade both migration and natural growth partially contributed to this growth. But the most important contributory factor for the 1974-81 period was the redefinition of urban places. The extended definition of the urban area with the inclusion of all 460 Upazila Head Quarters as urban accounted for 30 percent of the total increase in urban population during this period. This indicates the role of political administrative decision in shaping the quantitative demographic status of urbanization rather than quality of urbanism. During the 1981-1991 period – a slower growth of urban population, 5.4 percent, has been observed compared with the previous decade. At about 20.0 percent level of urbanization the total urban population was 22.45 million in 1991 and that at 23.1 percent level, the total urban population rose to 28.6 million in 2001. Only the total population figure is available so far for the 2011 census, this (in the revised count) has been stated to be 150.4 million. With an estimated level of urbanization to be 28 percent, the total urban population would be approximately 42 million.

Bangladesh: An Urbanized Country by 2050 ?

The rate of growth of urban population is likely to fall to some extent in the future, but would still be quite high. The UN (2004) projection for urban population of Bangladesh for 2030 was 86.5 million. No projection for urban population in 2050 was, however, given. The proportion urban would possibly cross the 50 percent mark by 2040 and the 60 percent mark by the year 2050 when the total urban population would rise above 100 million.

All these population figures for the future seem nightmarish for a country of the size of Bangladesh. The urban population, at 42 million today, already poses a huge challenge, to think about double or triple of such size is very difficult. Indeed, the whole of Bangladesh is likely to transform itself into an urbanized country, a megalopolis of over 200 to 250 million people with a huge megacity in the centre and hundreds of other cities and towns spread all around (Fig. 1).

Fig 1: Bangladesh Urban Centers by Size Classification, 2011

The Urban System: Hierarchy of Urban Centres 

The urban system in a country is composed of a hierarchy of urban centers by population size, such as from the Mega/ Metro City to a small hamlet. Although urban geographers would prefer to classify urban centres in Bangladesh in 7 size classes (Islam & Hossain, 1976) the classification given by the Bangladesh Census Commission is a combination of population size and administrative or governance structure. The Commission has classified the urban centres into four categories; such as the Megacity, Statistical Metropolitan Areas (SMAs), Pourashavas and Other Urban Areas. It recognized some 522 urban centers in the country in 2001 (BBS, 2003).

Dhaka Megacity : A metropolitan city with population of more than 5 million was termed as Megacity in the census of 2001. There is only one Megacity in the country, Dhaka, with an estimated current population of about 14 million. Even in 2001, Dhaka Megacity was not a single city, but an agglomeration of several, including Dhaka City Corporation (North and South) area, six Pourashavas and numerous Union Parishads or villages (Fig. 2). In 2011, two new City Corporations (Narayangonj and Comilla) have emerged, through merger and up-gradation of Pourashavas. Such administrative changes require new urban governance system. Dhaka Megacity or Dhaka Mega-urban Region) in future will demand a very different governance structure. Governing the megacity region is complex and difficult because of multiplicity of agencies involved in planning and implementation of different services to the people of the megacity region.

Fig. 2 : Dhaka Mega-urban (Greater Dhaka District) Region, 2008

Statistical Metropolitan Areas are the City Corporations and their adjoining areas with urban characteristics. On the basis of this definition BBS (2003) identified three Metropolitan areas in the country in 2001, namely Chittagong (3.38 m), Khulna (1.34 m) and Rajshahi (0.7 m), besides Dhaka, which is a Megacity. These three cities had total urban population of 5.42 million, or about 19 percent of the national urban population in 2001. The Megacity Dhaka and the three Metropolitan Cities together absorbed about 56.44 percent of the total urban population of the country. Metropolitan Cities are given the status of City Corporations. The next category of towns is the Pourashava. The areas declared by the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives as Municipal Towns or Pourashavas have the formal urban status with local governments. During the Census of 2001, there were 223 Pourashavas in the country. In the same census, 11 Pourashavas were parts of the four largest cities – Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna and Rajshahi. The remaining pourashavas, 212, had a total population of about 9 million, or 31 percent of the national urban population. Currently the number of Pourashavas is about 315.

Other Urban Areas are upazila headquarters or big market places in the rural areas which have not yet been declared as Pourashava during the census operation. The areas which conform with urban characteristics were considered as Other Urban Areas (OUAs). OUAs nearly, about 200, absorbed less than 4 percent of the national urban population.

The Future Urban System

Although Bangladesh shows low level of urbanization even in the second decade of the 21st country, the urban system, i.e, distribution of urban centres by size, offer potential of developing the system into a geographically balanced pattern. Such a system will be composed (i) of the Capital (Premier) City Dhaka, the mega city, incidentally located almost centrally in the country, and the cluster of cities and towns around Dhaka, (ii) a second large metropolitan city an emerging megacity, Chittagong, (iii)  regional metropolitan cities in each of the other divisional headquarters, (iv) the district headquarters as secondary or medium size cities, (v) the upazila headquarters as small towns and (vi) other smaller urban centres as compact towns or rural towns. In the longer term, the present nearly 5000 Union-Parishad centres will emerge as (vii) rural service centres or growth points. It is not unrealistic to vision Bangladesh as a predominantly urbanized country with more than half of its population living in urban places, ranging from rural towns to the meta city, Dhaka with population over 30 million, in a matter of just another 40 years.

The urban pattern or system in Bangladesh has already assumed a concentrated or agglomerated character. The Asian Development Bank has recently labeled it as Cluster-based urban development around one or more megacity/cities, as is demonstrated by Dhaka, a mega-urban agglomeration (Choe and Roberts, 2011). An urban planner has suggested a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) for Dhaka Mega City Region. There has also been suggestions for urban development along major corridors, such as the Dhaka-Chittagong highway corridor or Dhaka-Sylhet, Dhaka-Mymensing and Dhaka-Rajshahi, or Dhaka-Khulna corridor, etc.

However, the future of Bangladesh needs to be visioned as a sound mix of urbanized areas and rural-agricultural spaces. This will require zoning of agricultural lands and very strictly maintaining its status as such. At the same time, forests, hills and water bodies and wetlands must be conserved faithfully. Since Bangladesh will have a much larger population in the future, the need for planning for high-density settlements, obviously urban type, but environment respecting will be paramount.

Because of density and high proximity to any one of the existing urban centres, some 315 of which are already municipal towns or cities, almost all rural habitats in Bangladesh will ultimately assume an urban character, service wish specially and possibly even culturally conversely urban society in Bangladesh will have many of the rural social traits. The future urban reality in Bangladesh will possibly be something quite different from that anywhere also with world.



BBS. 2003. Bangladesh Population Census 2001. National Report (Provisional) Vol.1. Dhaka: Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Government of Bangladesh.

Choe, K. and B. Roberts. 2011. Competitive Cities: Cluster-Based Local Economic Development Mandaluyan City: Philippines, sian Development Bank

Islam, N.  and H. Hossain, 1976. ‘Relationship of Urban Centres with their Rural Hinterlands, in National Report on Human Settlements, Dhaka: Government of Bangladsh.

Mahmud A., 2012, “Rajuk’s Capacity in Plan Implementation and Development Control of Dhaka City,” (New Age, Special Supplement on For a Livable Dhaka, April 23, 2012).

United Nations. 2004. World Urbanization Prospects, 2003. New York: Population Division of United Nations.