Panchayati Raj is a system of rural local self-government in India.
It has been established in all the states of India by the acts of the state legislature to build democracy at the grass root level. It is entrusted with rural development and was constitutionalized through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992.
Evolution of Panchayati Raj in India
Panchayati Raj was not a new concept to India. Indian villages had Panchayats (council of five persons) from very ancient time, which were having both executive and judicial powers and used to handle various issues (land distribution, tax collection etc.) or disputes arising in the village area.
Gandhiji also held the opinion of empowerment of Panchayats for the development of rural areas. Thus, recognizing their importance our Constitution makers included a provision for Panchayats in part IV of our constitution (directive principles of state policy).
Art. 40 confers the responsibility upon State to take steps to organise Village Panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government. But it does not give guidelines for organising village panchayats.
Thus, its formal organisation and structure was firstly recommended by Balwant Rai committee,1957 (Committee to examine the Community Development Programme,1952).
The Committee, in its report in November 1957, recommended the establishment of the scheme of ‘democratic decentralisation’, which ultimately came to be known as Panchayati Raj. It recommended for a three tier system at village, block and district level and it also recommended for direct election of village level panchayat. Rajasthan was the first state to establish Panchayati Raj at it started from Nagaur district on October 2, 1959.
After this, Ashok Mehta Committee on Panchayati Raj was appointed in December 1977 and in August 1978 submitted its report with various recommendations to revive and strengthen the declining Panchayati Raj system in the country.
Its major recommendation were two tier system of panchayat, regular social audit, representation of political parties at all level of panchayat elections, provisions for regular election, reservation to SCs/STs in panchayats and a minister for panchayati raj in state council of ministers.
Further, G V K Rao Committee appointed in 1985 again recommended some measures to strengthen Panchayati Raj institutions.
LM Singhvi Committee appointed in 1986 first time recommended for the constitutional status of Panchayati Raj institutions and it also suggested for constitutional provisions to ensure regular, free and fair elections to the Panchayati Raj Bodies.
In response to the recommendations of LM Singhvi committee, a bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha by Rajiv Gandhi’s government in July 1989 to constitutionalize Panchayati Raj Institutions, but the bill was not passed in Rajya Sabha.
The V P Singh government also brought a bill, but fall of the government resulted in lapse of the bill. After this P V Narashima Rao’s government introduced a bill for this purpose in Lok Sabha in September, 1991 and the bill finally emerged as the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 and came into force on 24th April, 1993.
Features of 73rd Amendment Act 1992
The 73rd Amendment to the Constitution enacted in 1992 added a new part-IX to the Constitution. It also added a new XI schedule containing list of 29 functional items for Panchyats and made statutory provisions for the establishment, empowerment and functioning of Panchayati Raj institutions. Some provisions of this amendment are binding on the States, while others have been left to be decided by respective State Legislatures at their discretion. The salient features of this amendment are as follows:
- Organization of Gram Sabhas;
- Creation of a three-tier Panchayati Raj Structure at the District (Zila), Block and Village levels;
- Almost all posts, at all levels to be filled by direct elections;
- Minimum age for contesting elections to the Panchayati Raj institutions be twenty one years;
- The post of Chairman at the District and Block levels should be filled by indirect election;
- There should be reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes in Panchayats, in proportion to their population, and for women in Panchayats up to one-third seats;
- State Election Commission to be set up in each State to conduct elections to Panchayati Raj institutions;
- The tenure of Panchayati Raj institutions is five years, if dissolved earlier, fresh elections to be held within six months; and
- a State Finance Commission is to be set up in each State every five years.
Some of the provisions, which are not binding on the States, but are only guidelines:
- Giving representation to the members of the Central and State legislatures in these bodies;
- Providing reservation for backward classes; and
- The Panchayati Raj institutions should be given financial powers in relation to taxes, levy fees etc. and efforts shall be made to make Panchayats autonomous bodies.
Composition of Panchayats
The Panchayati Raj system, as established in accordance with the 73rd Amendment, is a three- tier structure based on direct elections at all the three tiers: village, intermediate and district.Exemption from the intermediate tier is given to the small States having less than 20
Exemption from the intermediate tier is given to the small States having less than 20 lakhs population. It means that they have freedom not to have the middle level of panchayat.
All members in a panchayat are directly elected. However, if a State so decides, members of the State Legislature and Parliament may also be represented in a district and middle-level panchayats.
The middle-level panchayats are generally known as Panchayat Samitis. Provisions have been made for the inclusion of the chairpersons of the village panchayats in the block and district level panchayats.
The provision regarding reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes has already been mentioned earlier. However it should also be noted here that one-third of total seats are reserved for women, and one-third for women out of the Quota fixed for Scheduled Castes/Tribes.
Reservation is also provided for offices of Chairpersons. The reserved seats are allotted by rotation to different constituencies in a panchayat area. State Legislatures can provide for further reservation for other backward classes (OBC) in panchayats.
Term of a Panchayat
The Amendment provides for the continuous existence of Panchayats. The normal term of a Panchayat is five years. If a Panchayat is dissolved earlier, elections are held within six months. There is a provision for State Election Commission, for superintendence, direction, and control of the preparation of electoral rolls and conduct of elections to Panchayats.
Powers and Responsibilities of Panchayats
State Legislatures may endow Panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable the Panchayats to become institutions of self-government at the grassroots level.
Responsibility may be given to them to prepare plans for economic development and social justice. Schemes of economic development and social justice with regard to 29 important matters mentioned in XI schedule such as agriculture, primary and secondary education, health and sanitation, drinking water, rural housing, the welfare of weaker sections, social forestry and so forth may be made by them.
Three-tier Structure of Panchayati Raj
The second or middle tier of the Panchayati Raj is Panchayat Samiti, which provides a link between Gram Panchayat and a Zila Parishad.
The strength of a Panchayat Samiti also depends on the population in a Samiti area. In Panchayat Samiti, some members are directly elected.Sarpanchs of Gram Panchayats
Sarpanchs of Gram Panchayats are ex-officio members of Panchayat Samitis. However, all the Sarpanchs of Gram Panchayats are not members of Panchayat Samitis at the same time.
The number varies from State to State and is rotated annually. It means that only chairpersons of some Gram Panchayats in a Samiti area are members of Panchayat Samiti at a time.
In some panchayats, members of Legislative Assemblies and Legislative Councils, as well as members of Parliament who belong to the Samiti area, are co-opted as its members. Chairpersons of Panchayat Samitis are, elected indirectly- by and from amongst the elected members thereof.
Zila Parishad or district Panchayat is the uppermost tier of the Panchayati Raj system.
This institution has some directly elected members whose number differs from State to State as it is also based on population. Chairpersons of Panchayat Samitis are ex-officio members of Zila Parishads.
Members of Parliament, Legislative Assemblies and Councils belonging to the districts are also nominated members of Zila Parishads.
The chairperson of a Zila Parishad, called Adhyaksha or President is elected indirectly- by and from amongst the elected members thereof. The vice-chairperson is also elected similarly.Zila Parishad meetings are conducted once a month. Special meetings can also be convened to discuss special matters. Subject committees are also formed.
Zila Parishad meetings are conducted once a month. Special meetings can also be convened to discuss special matters. Subject committees are also formed.
Functions of Panchayat
All Panchayati Raj Institutions perform such functions as are specified in state laws relating to panchayati raj. Some States distinguish between obligatory (compulsory) and optional functions of Gram Panchayats while other States do not make this distinction.
- The civic functions relating to sanitation, cleaning of public roads, minor irrigation, public toilets and lavatories, primary health care, vaccination, the supply of drinking water, constructing public wells, rural electrification, social health and primary and adult education, etc. are obligatory functions of village panchayats.
- The optional functions depend on the resources of the panchayats. They may or may not perform such functions as tree plantation on roadsides, setting up of breeding centers for cattle, organizing child and maternity welfare, promotion of agriculture, etc.
- After the 73rd Amendment, the scope of functions of Gram Panchayat was widened. Such important functions like preparation of annual development plan of panchayat area, annual budget, relief in natural calamities, removal of encroachment on public lands and implementation and monitoring of poverty alleviation programmes are now expected to be performed by panchayats.
- Selection of beneficiaries through Gram Sabhas, public distribution system, non-conventional energy source, improved Chullahs, biogas plants have also been given to Gram Panchayats in some states.
Functions of Panchayat Samiti
- Panchayat Samitis are at the hub of developmental activities.
- They are headed by Block Development Officers (B.D.Os).
- Some functions are entrusted to them like agriculture, land improvement, watershed development, social and farm forestry, technical and vocational education, etc.
- The second type of functions relates to the implementation of some specific plans, schemes or programmes to which funds are earmarked. It means that a Panchayat Samiti has to spend money only on that specific project. The choice of location or beneficiaries is, however, available to the Panchayat Samiti.
Functions of Zila Parishad
- Zila Parishad links Panchayat Samitis within the district.
- It coordinates their activities and supervises their functioning.
- It prepares district plans and integrates Samiti plans into district plans for submission to the State Government.
- Zila Parishad looks after development works in the entire district.
- It undertakes schemes to improve agricultural production, exploit ground water resources, extend rural electrification and distribution and initiate employment generating activities, construct roads and other public works.
- It also performs welfare functions like relief during natural calamities and scarcity, the establishment of orphanages and poor homes, night shelters, the welfare of women and children, etc.
- In addition, Zila Parishads perform functions entrusted to them under the Central and State Government sponsored programmes. For example, Jawahar Rozgar Yojna is a big centrally sponsored scheme for which money is directly given to the districts to undertake employment-generating activities.