Panchayati Raj System in Independent India : India is a country of villages and Panchayati Raj system is a systematic and authentic local self-government system of running villages,
In this article, we will discuss the Panchayati Raj System in a simple and easy way and understand all its important aspects; That is why definitely read the article till the end, in short you will get to know a lot related to Panchayati Raj system.
Panchayati Raj System in Independent India
Background of Panchayati Raj System
Panchayat or village is not a new concept or any new system in India, but its evidence starts to be found from the Vedic age. Where the word Panchayatan is mentioned in many Vedic texts. Although at that time it used to be a group of five spiritual people. Then, if we talk about scriptures like Mahabharata and Ramayana, there is also evidence of village or district. The mention of village panchayats is found in Kautilya’s Arthashastra.
Even during the Sultanate period, the Sultans of Delhi divided their kingdom into provinces. Which they called Vilayat. Then talking about the British period, in the initial phase, efforts were made to weaken the village panchayats, but the Mayo resolution of 1870 tried to strengthen the local institutions. Taking this further, Lord Ripon in 1882 provided the necessary democratic structure to these local institutions. That is why Lord Ripon is considered the father of local self-government in India.
After this, progressive regionalism was encouraged and many powers were transferred to the provinces. After independence, Panchayats were also mentioned under DPSP in Article 40. But it remained an informal arrangement. No attempt was ever made to give it constitutional backing.
About 45 years after India became independent, the Panchayati Raj system was given a constitutional status through the “73rd Constitutional Amendment Act 1992”. We have already understood the historical background of Panchayati Raj in India .
In this article, we will discuss the situation after the implementation of Panchayati Raj system, important provisions, advantages and some drawbacks etc.
Development of Panchayati Raj System
In India, the term Panchayati Raj refers to the rural local self-government system. It is established by the state legislatures in all the states of India, to build democracy at the grassroots level. This is the most important step towards decentralization of power. This system changed the direction and condition of rural development. But its beginning in independent India was not good, many committees were formed, thousands of recommendations were made. such as
| Balwant Rai Mehta Committee
It submitted its report in November 1957 and recommended a plan for democratic decentralisation. The most important recommendations of this are (1) the establishment of a three-tier Panchayati Raj system – that is, Gram Panchayat at the village level, Panchayat Samiti at the block level and Zilla Parishad at the district level. (2) Gram Panchayat should be constituted by directly elected representatives, while Panchayat Samiti and Zilla Parishad should be constituted by indirectly elected members, etc.
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. As a result, there was no uniformity in the Panchayati Raj system.
Ashok Mehta Committee
In December 1977, the Janata Party government formed a committee on Panchayati Raj Institutions under the chairmanship of Ashok Mehta. It submitted its report in August 1978. Their main recommendations were as follows;
1. The three-tier Panchayati Raj system should be changed to a two-tier system. Zilla Parishad at the district level and below that Mandal Panchayat (which should have groups of villages with a population of 15,000 to 20,000).
2. Considered the district as the proper unit of planning and development and talked about the mandatory power of levying taxes with the Panchayati Raj institutions for their economic sources.
3. Panchayati Raj institutions should be given constitutional recognition. This will assure them of continuous activism along with suitable status.
Due to the dissolution of the Janata Party government at that time, the recommendations of the Ashok Mehta Committee were ignored at the central level. Nevertheless, three states Karnataka, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh took some steps for the revival of Panchayati Raj Institutions keeping in view 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.
Overall, he also considered the district as the appropriate unit of planning and development and recommended that the Zilla Parishad be made the main body for the management of development programmes.
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.
He did the most important thing to give constitutional recognition to Panchayati Raj Institutions and it also advised to make constitutional provision for regular free and fair elections for Panchayati Raj development.
In 1988, a sub-committee of the Consultative Committee of Parliament was constituted under the chairmanship of PK Thungan with the objective of examining the political and administrative set-up. He also talked about constitutional recognition of Panchayati Raj Institutions. Along with this, the three-tier Panchayati Raj at the village, block and district levels was called suitable, etc.
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 System
Rajiv Gandhi got it passed by the Lok Sabha during his reign but could not pass it by the Rajya Sabha and after that when VP Singh’s government came, he also tried to bring it but his government itself fell.
Finally , the Congress government under the Prime Ministership of the Narasimha Rao government once again considered the matter of constitutionalization of Panchayati Raj. It introduced a new proposal by removing the earlier 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.
73rd Constitutional Amendment Act 1992
This act inserted a new section 9 called ‘Panchayats’ in the Constitution of India . And the provisions of Articles 243 to 243(O) were inserted. The Act also added a new 11th Schedule to the Constitution . In this list there are 29 working subjects of Panchayats which have been included as powers, authority and responsibilities of Panchayats under Article 243 (G).
Importance of 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act
Eventually the Act gave a practical shape to Article 40 of the Constitution (which is a part of the DPSP). This act gave a constitutional status to the Panchayati Raj Institutions which the State Governments are constitutionally bound to adopt.
The provisions of this Act can be divided into two parts – mandatory and optional .
The mandatory part of the Act needs to be included in the state law for the formation of Panchayati Raj System. The voluntary provisions of the second part may be incorporated at the discretion of the states.
1. Mandatory provision
(1) Formation of Gram Sabha in a village or group of villages
(2) Establishment of Panchayats at village level, secondary level and district level
(3) Indirect elections for the heads of the secondary and district level
(4) Contesting elections in Panchayats The minimum age should be 21 years
(5) Establishment of State Election Commission to conduct elections in Panchayati Raj Institutions
(6) A State Finance Commission should be established after every five years to review the financial position of Panchayats.
2. Optional provision
(1) Inclusion of representatives of Parliament and Legislature in all the Panchayati Raj Institutions coming under Legislative Assemblies and Parliamentary Constituencies.
(2) Reservation of seats for backward classes at any level of Panchayat
(3) To give powers and powers to Panchayats to function as local government
(4) Delegation of powers and responsibilities to Panchayats to prepare plans for social justice and economic bodies and to perform all or some of the 29 functionalities of the 11th Schedule to the Constitution
(5) To give financial powers to Panchayats, i.e. to authorize them to levy and collect appropriate taxes, tolls and fees etc. e.t.c.
Salient Features of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act
Following are the important features of this Act:
Gram Sabha: Article 243(A) provides for the Gram Sabha of Panchayati Raj. It is a village level assembly of registered voters in the Panchayat area. It shall exercise such powers and perform such functions as may be prescribed by the Legislature of the State.
Three-tier system: Article 243(C) provides for a three-tier system for all states, i.e., Gram Panchayat at the village level, Panchayat Samiti at the secondary level and Zilla Parishad at the district level. Therefore, this Act brings uniformity in the structure of Panchayat Raj throughout the country. However, a state whose population does not exceed 20 lakhs, is exempted from forming Panchayats at the secondary level.
Election of Members and President: Under Article 243(K), all the members of Panchayats at village, secondary and district level shall be directly elected by the people. While the Panchayat Samiti will elect the head at the secondary level indirectly, similarly, at the district level, the president of the Zilla Parishad is indirectly elected by the winning Zilla Parishad members. Whereas at the village level the President of the Panchayat shall be elected in the manner prescribed by the Legislature of the State.
Reservation of seats: Under Article 243(D), this Act provides for reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in every Panchayat in proportion to their total population. The State Legislature will also provide reservation for the post of Chairperson for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Panchayats at the village or other level.
It has been provided in this Act that the total number of seats available for women on the issue of reservation should not be less than one third. Apart from this, the reservation for women at every level for the chairperson and other posts in the panchayats shall not be less than one-third.
This Act authorizes the Legislature to make arrangements for reservation at any level for backward classes in the office of the Panchayat President.
Tenure of Panchayats: Under Article 243 (E), this Act fixes the tenure of Panchayats at all levels for five years. However, it can also be dismantled before the time is up. Thereafter, elections will be held for the formation of Panchayat, (1) before the end of its period of 5 years or (2) in case of dissolution within a period of 6 months from the date of its dissolution.
Provided that where the remaining period is less than six months, the election of a new Panchayat shall not be necessary for this period.
It needs to be noted here that a Panchayat constituted in place of a dissolved Panchayat, which has been constituted for the remaining period of the dissolved Panchayat. She/he will continue to work for the remaining period of the dissolved Panchayat.
In other words, a Panchayat which has been reconstituted on premature dissolution does not function for the entire prescribed period of five years, but only for the remaining period.
Disqualifications: Under Article 243 (F), no person shall be able to become a member of a Panchayat if he is disqualified in the following manner.
1. Under the law for the time being in force in the State concerned for the purpose of being elected to the State Legislature, or
2. Under any other law made by the State Legislature.
Although no person shall be disqualified on the ground that he is less than 25 years of age, he shall be deemed eligible if he has completed 21 years of age. All questions regarding disqualification shall be referred to the authority prescribed by the State Legislation.
State Election Commission: An independent election commission will be set up to monitor, guide, control and prepare electoral rolls in the state. This includes the State Election Commissioner appointed by the Governor.
His service, conditions and term of office shall also be determined by the Governor. It shall not be removed in any manner other than in the manner prescribed for the removal of a Judge of the High Court of the State. No change will be made in his service conditions after his appointment so as to cause loss to him.
The State Legislature can make any provision on all matters relating to elections to Panchayats.
In the case of finance, the State Legislature –
(1) may authorize the Panchayat to levy and collect appropriate taxes, octroi, duties.
(2) The State may hand over the tax, octroi, road tax and duty levied and collected by the Government to the Panchayats.
(3) Provide for the grants-in-aid to the Panchayats out of the Consolidated Fund of the State. e.t.c.
Finance Commission: Under Article 243 (I), the Governor of the State shall constitute a Finance Commission after every 5 years to review the financial position of the Panchayats. This commission will make the following recommendations to the Governor:
(1) How the total taxes, octroi, road tax and fees collected by the State Government should be divided between the State and the Panchayats,
(2) Taxes, octroi, demand tax and duties assigned to the Panchayats.
(3) the grant-in-aid to be given to the Panchayats out of the Consolidated Fund of the State,
Apart from this, the Commission also suggests necessary measures for the improvement of the financial position of the Panchayats, and also performs other tasks assigned to the Commission by the Governor.
The State Legislature can determine the composition of the Finance Commission, the qualifications required for its members and the manner in which they are elected.
The Central Finance Commission will also advise the State about the measures necessary to consolidate the law for increasing the supplementary resources of Panchayats in the State. (Based on the recommendations given by the State Finance Commission)
Audit: Under Article 243 (J), the State Legislature can make provisions for the maintenance and examination of the accounts of Panchayats. Whether the legislature can create a separate auditor’s organization for this, or the Accountants General of that state can be entrusted with this work.
Note – Under the RTI Act 2005, any person can ask for information related to any financial transaction of the Panchayat.
Application to Union Territories : Under Article 243 (L), the President of India may direct, with exceptions or modifications, to apply to the provisions of this Part in any Union territory.
Exempted States and Territories: This law will not apply to Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram and certain other special areas. Under these areas (1) the Scheduled Tribal Areas of those states, (2) those hill areas of Manipur where District Council exists, (3) Darjeeling District of West Bengal where ‘Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council’ exists. However, if Parliament so desires, this Act can be extended to Scheduled Areas and Tribal Areas with such exceptions and modifications as it may deem fit.
Prohibition of Court Interference in Electoral Matters – This Act prohibits the interference of the Court in the electoral matters of the Panchayat. It states that the issues relating to the constituency and the allotment of seats in these constituencies cannot be brought before the court. It also states that elections to any Panchayat shall not be challenged except in such manner as may be prescribed by the State Legislature.
Powers and Responsibilities of Panchayats
29 subjects have been mentioned in the 11th Schedule of the Constitution, but it is not clear in the Constitution which of these functions and responsibilities are mandatory to be assigned to the Panchayats. The task of determining these things has been entrusted to the legislatures of the states.
So overall the State Legislature can give such powers and authority to the Panchayats as required, so that they are capable of functioning as institutions of self-government. For example, the State Legislature –
(1) may give powers to Panchayats to prepare and implement programs of economic development and social justice, or
(2) may also give powers under any of the provisions of the 29th Schedule of the 11th Schedule.
The constitution directs that the Panchayats should be endowed with such powers and authority which would strengthen and enable self-government, such that it should be given some such functions for which the complete responsibility of fulfilling it is on it.
Financial Sources of Panchayati Raj
Generally in our country Panchayats collect revenue in the following ways:
(1) Grants received from the Central Government in accordance with the recommendations of the Central Finance Commission on the basis of Article 280 of the Constitution .
(2) Grants received from the State Government on the basis of the recommendations of the State Finance Commission in accordance with Article 243 (I) of the Constitution.
(3) Loan grants received from the state government
(4) Centrally sponsored schemes and program centered allocation in the name of additional central assistance
(5) Internal (local level) resource creation
| So till now we have understood the features, provisions etc. of Panchayati Raj system. Today this system is flourishing but at the same time it is also facing many problems and challenges. What is it, let’s see it
Problems of Panchayati Raj System
It is not that the Panchayati Raj system in all the states is grappling with problems. The status of panchayats in states like Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is considered to be the best in the country. But in most of the states, there is not enough attention given to the empowerment of Panchayats.
This is because;
(1) Panchayats have scarce their own resources and they are weak in mobilizing internal resources.
(2) Panchayats are heavily dependent on the Central and State Governments for grants, most of that is focused on one or the other scheme, that’s why there is not much left to spend.
(3) Most of the schemes related to the subjects of the 11th Schedule such as primary education, health care, water supply, sanitation and minor irrigation etc. are mostly handled by the Central Government or the State Government. So the overall situation is that the Panchayats have a lot of responsibilities but very few resources.
Challenges before Panchayati Raj System
Despite providing constitutional status and security through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment, the work of Panchayati Raj Institutions has not been satisfactory and promising. The following are the reasons for this –
Lack of adequate finance devolution: Barring a few states, most of the states are unable to provide the funds recommended by the Finance Commission to the Panchayati Raj system. For a post like Panchayat Samiti, they hardly get to do one or two good works during their entire tenure.
Excessive dependence on government funds: Panchayats are generally dependent on the government funding system. Because very few options are given to Panchayats to get their own income, or they are not given at all.
Although the Constitution has given the Panchayats the power to levy taxes in certain cases, very few Panchayats exercise their financial powers to levy and collect taxes. Because it is often difficult to collect taxes from the people with whom they live.
Status of Gram Sabha: The role of Gram Sabha has been mentioned prominently in the Constitution, but many states have not clarified the rights of Gram Sabhas. The situation is such that many Gram Panchayats do not even know that there is such a thing as Gram Sabha.
Weak Structure: Many village panchayats in the country do not have full-time secretaries. More than that, about 25% of gram panchayats do not even have their own office buildings or panchayat buildings. Apart from this, it does not have a system to store facts, figures etc.
Corruption and unnecessary interference of bureaucracy: There is usually no corruption audit at the level of Blocks or Panchayats, hence corruption is at its highest level, moreover, officials approve a scheme only when it gets some commission.
Most of the members of most of the Panchayati Raj Institutions are semi-educated and in the absence of proper training, they remain ignorant about their role, responsibility, functioning and system.
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