The history and development of Panchayati Raj is very interesting because since ancient times in India, there has been a systematic and authentic system of running Panchayat villages,

How effective this system is, it also shows that today it is working successfully in India and is expected to do so in future also. In this article, we will discuss this topic in a simple and easy way, and try to understand its various important aspects.

So read this article till the end and also read all related articles of local self-government to understand the whole concept very well. join our social media handle for latest articles and audio-media visuals.

Panchayati Raj

Panchayati Raj

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History and Development of Panchayati Raj in India

Panchayati Raj is a system of local self-government and the concept of local self-government is not new in India. From the Vedic period to the British period, the rural communities kept this system alive. Many kingdoms were formed and destroyed during this period, but these rural communities always maintained their Panchayati existence and spirit. From the point of view of understanding the history of Panchayati Raj in India, it can be divided into 3 chronologies:

(1) History of Panchayati Raj before the beginning of British rule

(2) History of Panchayati Raj from the beginning of the British rule to the implementation of the constitution

(3) History of Panchayati Raj in India after the Constitution came into force. 

Let us understand it one by one –

(1) History of Panchayati Raj before the beginning of British rule

Vedic Age:  The word ‘Panchayatan’ is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit scriptures, apart from this, there is a mention of units like Sabha and Samiti in Rigveda. Though no concept of civil administration existed at that time yet it is important because it was more or less a democratic body.

Epic Age:   The study of Ramayana indicates Pura and Janapada (i.e. town and village). In addition, according to the Mahabharata, units of 10, 20, 100 and 1,000 village groups existed above the village.

Where ‘Gramik‘ was the chief officer of the village while ‘Dashap‘ was the head of ten villages. Vinshya Adhipati was the head of 20 villages, Shata Gram Adhyaksha 100, and Gram Pati 1000 villages. These people were responsible for the defense of their villages.

Ancient period: Kautilya’s ‘Arthashastra’ and Manu Smriti also give sufficient evidence of local self-government of villages.

Even in the Maurya and post-Mauryan period, the village headman with the help of a council of elders maintained the rural system, which remained in the Gupta period, although there were some changes in the nomenclature; For example, during this period the district officer was known as Visayapathi (विषयपति) and the head of the village was known as Gramapati.

Thus, in ancient India there existed local government which operated on the basis of traditions and customs. But the role of women in this system is questionable as evidence generally suggests that the society gradually became male dominated after the Vedic period.

Medieval Period:  During the Sultanate period, the Sultans of Delhi divided their kingdom into provinces called   ‘Vilayat’  . who had sufficient powers within his jurisdiction

Here there were three important officers for the governance of the village-

  1. Mukaddam (मुकद्दम ) for Administration
  2. Patwari for revenue collection
  3. Chowdhary to resolve disputes with the help of arbitrators

The local self-government system weakened due to the rise of feudalist forces during the Mughal rule.

(2) History of Panchayati Raj from the beginning of the British rule to the coming into force of the Constitution

British period: Under British rule,  the autonomy of village panchayats ended  and they became weak.

When the British came to India, the rural governance system was in place at that time, although the situation was not good. Charles Metcalf appreciated this system and called the panchayats a small republic. The British made great use of this rural system to expand their rule and ended its autonomy, as a result of such British intervention, people started losing their faith in the panchayats.

After the revolt of 1857, the situation started changing slightly, the pressure on the royal treasury increased and thus the British government adopted the policy of decentralisation.

The famous Mayo resolution of 1870  gave impetus to the development of local institutions by increasing their powers and responsibilities. Also the concept of elected representatives in urban municipalities was introduced.

Taking the Mayo proposal further, Lord Ripon  gave these local institutions their much needed democratic framework in the year 1882. Apart from this, a Royal Commission on Decentralization was constituted in 1907, which presented its report in 1909 and recommended that rural issues and local works be conducted through the Gram Panchayat.

The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms of 1919 shifted the subject of local self-government to the jurisdiction of the provinces. This means that local self-government was now under the control of Indian ministers in the provinces.

Due to organizational and fiscal constraints, it could not be transformed into a vibrant institution on a large scale, yet by 1925 eight provinces had passed Panchayat Acts and by 1926, six princely states had passed Panchayat Acts.

(3) History of Panchayati Raj in India after the Constitution came into force

Panchayats were mentioned in Article 40 of the Constitution and through Article 246, the power to make laws with respect to any matter related to local self-government was entrusted to the State Legislature.

Since Article 40 is part of the Directive Principles of Policy and the Directive Principles of Policy are not binding principles, there was a lack of universal or uniform structure for these bodies across the country.

With the attainment of independence in 1947, an interim government was formed in the states. Soon after this, the Bihar Panchayat Raj Act 1947 was brought to strengthen the local self-government, first in Uttar Pradesh and then in Bihar, which was implemented in the entire state in 1948. But this was not the kind of system we know today.

If we talk about today’s context, then the local self-government system has changed the direction and condition of rural development, but in independent India it did not start well……..why? Let’s see.

Balwant Rai Mehta Committee

To accelerate rural development and to ensure people’s participation in it, the Community Development Program was started in 1952. The National Extension Service was started in 1953 to support this programme .

In January 1957, the Government of India constituted a committee to examine the work done by the same Community Development Program 1952 and National Extension Service 1953 and suggest measures for their better functioning. Balwant Rai Mehta was the chairman of this committee. The committee submitted its report in November 1957 and recommended a plan of democratic decentralization which eventually came to be known as Panchayati Raj.

The specific recommendations made by the committee are as follows:-

1. Establishment of three-tier Panchayati Raj system – Gram Panchayat at the village level, Panchayat Samiti at the block level and Zilla Parishad at the district level .

2. The Gram Panchayat should be set up by directly elected representatives, while Panchayat Samiti and Zilla Parishad should be constituted by indirectly elected members.

3. All planning and development work should be delegated to these bodies and these bodies should be provided with sufficient resources to enable them to discharge their functions and responsibilities.

4. The Panchayat Samiti should be an executive body and the Zilla Parishad should be an advisory, coordinating and supervising body.

5. The President of the Zilla Parishad should be the District Magistrate.

These recommendations of the committee were accepted by the National Development Council in January 1958. But the council did not formulate a definite format and left it to the states to implement it however they wish.

Rajasthan was the first state in the country, where Panchayati Raj was established. The scheme was inaugurated on 2 October 1959 in Nagaur district of Rajasthan by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

After this, most of the states started this scheme and by the middle of 1960s many states had also established Panchayati Raj Institutions. But since the central government had not made any definite structure for it, the states implemented it in their own way.

As Rajasthan adopted the three tier method, Tamil Nadu adopted the two tier method and West Bengal adopted the four tier method.

In addition, in the Rajasthan Andhra-Pradesh system, the Panchayat Samiti was strengthened while in the Maharashtra-Gujarat system, the Zilla Parishad was strengthened.

Ashok Mehta Committee

In December 1977, the Janata Party government constituted a committee on Panchayati Raj Institutions under the chairmanship of Ashok Mehta. It submitted its mandate in August 1978 and made 132 recommendations to revive and strengthen the declining Panchayati Raj system in the country.

Some of its main recommendations are as follows:

1. Three tier Panchayati Raj system should be changed to two tier system. Zilla Parishad at the district level, and below that the Mandal Panchayat (which should consist of clusters of villages with a population of 15 thousand to 20 thousand)

2. The district should be the first point for decentralization of public inspection below the state level.

3. The Zilla Parishad should be an executive body and should be made responsible for planning and development at the state level.

4. The Panchayati Raj Institutions should have mandatory power to levy taxes for their economic resources.

5. Nyaya Panchayat should be kept as a separate body from this Vikas Panchayat. They should be presided over by a qualified judge.

6. A Minister should be appointed in the State Council of Ministers to look after the affairs of Panchayati Raj Institutions and in case of dissolution of Panchayati Raj, elections should be held within six months.

7. Panchayati Raj institutions should be given constitutional recognition. This will give them assurance of suitable status as well as continuous activism.

Due to the dissolution of the then Janata Party government, the recommendations of the Ashok Mehta Committee were ignored at the central level. Nevertheless, the three states of Karnataka, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh took some steps for the revival of Panchayati Raj Institutions in keeping with the recommendations of the Ashok Mehta Committee.

GVK Rao Committee

To review the rural development and poverty alleviation programme, a committee was constituted by the Planning Commission in 1985 under the chairmanship of GVK Rao. By this time Panchayati Raj had collapsed, so he called it a rootless weed and made various recommendations to strengthen and revive the Panchayati Raj system, which is very similar to the recommendations of Ashok Mehta, such as –

1. District level body i.e. Zilla Parishad should be given the most important place in democratic decentralisation. It was stated that the proper unit of planning and development is the district and the Zilla Parishad should be made the main body for the management of all development programs that can be carried out at that level.

2. The post of a District Development Commissioner should be created. It should act as the chief executive officer of the Zilla Parishad and should be in charge of all the development departments at the district level.

3. There should be regular elections in Panchayati Raj Institutions.

lM Singhvi Committee

In 1986, the Rajiv Gandhi government constituted a committee to prepare a concept paper on Revival of Panchayati Raj Institutions for Democracy and Development. Presided over by M. Singhvi. It recommended the following.

1. The main thing he did was to give constitutional recognition to Panchayati Raj institutions because it was not yet constitutionally recognized. It also advised the making of constitutional provision for regular free and fair elections for Panchayati Raj development.

2. Talked about the establishment of Nyaya Panchayats for the village group.

3. Reorganization of village to make village panchayats more practical. It also emphasized the importance of Gram Sabha and described it as an idol of direct democracy.

4. More financial resources should be made available to village panchayats.

Thungan Committee

In 1988, a sub-committee of the Consultative Committee of Parliament, P.K. Thungan with the objective of examining the political and administrative set-up. In this committee, suggestions were given to strengthen the Panchayati Raj System. This committee made the following recommendations:

1. He also talked about constitutional recognition to Panchayati State institutions.
2. He appropriated three-tier Panchayati Raj at the village, block and district levels.
3. The Zilla Parishad should be the pivot of the Panchayati Raj system and the District Collector should be made the chief executive officer of the Zilla Parishad.
4. Panchayati Raj Institutions should have a fixed tenure of five years.
5. A comprehensive list of subjects centered on Panchayati Raj should be prepared and it should be included in the Constitution.
6. There should be reservation for women also.
7. A State Finance Commission should be constituted in every state. This commission will decide the eligibility-points and methods of disbursement of finance to Panchayati Raj Institutions.

Gadgil Committee

In 1988, a policy and program committee was formed by the Congress party under the chairmanship of VN Gadgil. This committee was asked to consider the question as to how the Panchayati Raj Institutions can be made effective. This committee also reiterated the same things in its report like-

1. Constitutional status should be given to Panchayati Raj Institutions.
2. There should be three-tier Panchayati Raj at village, block and district level.
3. The tenure of Panchayati Raj Institutions should be fixed for five years, etc.

These recommendations of the Gadgil Committee became the basis for the formulation of an amendment bill. The goal of this bill was to give constitutional status and protection to Panchayati Raj Institutions. Let us know how Panchayati Raj was constitutionalized.

Constitutionalization of Panchayati Raj

Rajiv Gandhi Government: The Rajiv Gandhi Government introduced the 64th Constitutional Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha in July 1989 to constitutionalize the Panchayati Raj institutions and make them more powerful and comprehensive.

Although the bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in August 1989, it was not passed by the Rajya Sabha. The bill was strongly opposed by the opposition as it provided for strengthening the center in the federal system.

VP Singh Government: In November 1989, the National Front Government took over the office under the Prime Ministership of VP Singh and a 2-day conference of the Chief Ministers of the states was held under the chairmanship of VP Singh. The conference approved a proposal to introduce a new Constitution Amendment Bill. As a result a Constitution Amendment Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in September 1990. But with the fall of the government, this bill also came to an end.

Narasimha Rao Government : The Congress government under the Prime Ministership of Narasimha Rao once again considered the matter of constitutionalization of Panchayati Raj. It introduced a new proposal by removing the initially controversial provisions and introduced a Constitution Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha on September 1991. Eventually this bill was passed as the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act 1992 and came into effect on 24 April 1993.

Today the system of Panchayati Raj in India is under this act – “73rd Constitutional Amendment Act 1992”. This is a very interesting topic, we will understand it in the next article. The link is below, please check it out.

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