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Panchayati Raj Institutions in India


The term Panchayati Raj in India signifies the system of rural local self-government. It has been established in all the states of India by the Acts of the state legislatures to build democracy at the grass root level. It was constitutionalised through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992. It is entrusted with rural development.

The introduction of the Community Development Programme in 1952 was a major step for bringing about economic development and social welfare in rural India For this, it was considered necessary to develop adequate administrative set-up, which could promote people welfare and cope with the problems of development at the local level.

Panchayati Raj Institution (local-self Government) during British Rule

1. Lord Mayo’s Resolution of 1877

According to this resolution, local interest, supervision and care are necessary for success in the management of funds devoted to education, medical charity and local public works. Thus Lord Mayo introduced his scheme for decentralization of administration.

2. Lord Ripon’s Resolution of 1882

This resolution laid the basis of Local and Municipal Self-Government.

3. Royal Commission on Decentralisation (1909)

(A) This commission reviewed the working of the Local and the District Boards in the various Provinces of the Country came to the conclusion that chiefly due to their unrepresentative character and inadequate powers, these Bodies had not been a success.

(B) To remove the defects of the Board’s Constitution, the Commission recommended the creation of a genuine electorate consisting of the members of the Village Panchayats, the provision for an elective majority through nomination.

(C) It also recommended the formation of Village Panchayat and reconstitution of the Local Boards where they had been abolished, so that Local Self-Government might be built up from the bottom.

Committee and Commission related to the Panchayati Raj Institution

1. Balwant Rai Mehta Committee

Under the Chairmanship of a Senior Legislator, Balwant Rai Mehta, to review critically Community Development Projects and National Extension Service and suggest measures needed for effecting economy and improving efficiency in their implementation.

Recommendation

(A) Establishment of a three-tier panchayati raj systemgram panchayat at the village level, panchayat samiti at the block level and zila parishad at the district level These tiers should be organically linked through a device of indirect elections.

(B) The village panchayat should be constituted with directly elected representatives, whereas the panchayat samiti and zila parishad should be constituted with indirectly elected members.

(C) All planning and development activities should be entrusted to these bodies.

(D) The panchayat samiti should be the executive body while the zila parishad should be the advisory, coordinating and supervisory body.

(E) The district collector should be the chairman of the zila parishad.

(F) There should be a genuine transfer of power and responsibility to these democratic bodies.

(G) Adequate resources should be transferred to these bodies to enable them to discharge their functions and fulfil their responsibilities.

(H) A system should be evolved to effect further devolution of authority in future.

2. Study Teams and Committees on Panchayati Raj

Since 1960, many study teams, committees and working groups have been appointed to examine the various aspects of functioning of Panchayati Raj system They are mentioned in the table below:

Year Name of the study Team/Committees Chairman
1960 Committee on Rationalisation of Panchayat Statistics V.R. Rao
1961 Working Group on Panchayats and Cooperatives S.D Mishra
1961 Study Team on Panchayati Raj Administration V. Iswaran
1962 Study Team on Nyaya Panchayats G.R. Rajgopal
1963 Study Team on the Position of Gram Sabha in Panchayati Raj Movement R.R. Diwakar
1963 Study Group on Budgeting and Accounting Procedure of Panchayati Raj Institutions M. Rama Krishnayya
1963 Study Team on Panchayati Raj Finances K. Santhanam
1965 Committee on Panchayati Raj Elections K. Santhanam
1965 Study Team on the Audit and Accounts of Panchayati Raj Bodies R.K Khanna
1966 Committee on Panchayati Raj Training Centres G.

Ramachandran

1969 Study Team on Involvement of Community Development Agency and Panchayati Raj Institutions in the

Implementation of Basic Land Reform Measures

V. Ramanathan
1972 Working Group for Formulation of Fifth Five Year Plan on Community Development and Panchayati

Raj

 

N. Ramakrishnayya

 

1976 Committee on Community Development and Panchayati Raj

Smt. Daya Choubey

3. Administrative Reforms Commission

The Administrative Reforms Commission in 1967 examined the question of planning at the District level. Thereafter the Planning Commission issued a set of detailed guidelines for preparation of District plans. These guidelines also visualised preparation of a ‘perspective plan’ along with medium-term and annual plans.

4. Ashok Mehta Committee

It was constituted under the Chairmanship of Ashok Mehta to inquire into the working of the Panchayati Raj institutions and to suggest measures to strengthen them so as to enable the decentralised system of planning and development to be effective.

Recommendation

(A) The three-tier system of panchayati raj should be replaced by the two-tier system, that is, zila parishad at the district level, and below it, the mandal panchayat consisting of a group of villages with a total population of 15,000 to 20,000.

(B) A district should be the first point for decentralisation under popular supervision below the state level.

(C) Zila parishad should be the executive body and made responsible for planning at the district level.

(D) There should be an official participation of political parties at all levels of panchayat elections.

(E) The panchayati raj institutions should have compulsory powers of taxation to mobilise their own financial resources.

(F) There should be a regular social audit by a district level agency and by a committee of legislators to check whether the funds allotted for the vulnerable social and economic groups are actually spent on them.

(G) The state government should not supersede the panchayati raj institutions. In case of an imperative supersession, elections should be held within six months from the date of supersession.

(H) The nyaya panchayats should be kept as separate bodies from that of development panchayats. They should be presided over by a qualified judge.

(I) The chief electoral officer of a state in consultation with the chief election commissioner should organise and conduct the panchayati raj elections.

(J) Development functions should be transferred to the zila parishad and all development staff should work under its control and supervision.

(K) The voluntary agencies should play an important role in mobilising the support of the people for panchayati raj.

(L) A minister for panchayati raj should be appointed in the state council of ministers to look after the affairs of the panchayati raj institutions.

(M) Seats for SCs and STs should be reserved on the basis of their population.

(N) A constitutional recognition should be accorded to the Panchayati Raj institutions. This would give them the requisite status (sanctity and stature) and an assurance of continuous functioning.

5. G.V.K Rao Committee

It was constituted under the Chairmanship of G.V.K Rao by the Planning Commission in 1985. The Committee came to conclusion that the developmental process was gradually bureaucratised and divorced from the Panchayati Ra(J) These phenomena of bureaucratisation resulting in what is aptly called as ‘grass without roots’.

Recommendations

(A) The district level body, that is, the Zila Parishad should be of pivotal importance in the scheme of democratic decentralisation It stated that “the district is the proper unit for planning and development and the Zila Parishad should become the principal body for management of all development programmes which can be handled at that level.”

(B) The Panchayati Raj institutions at the district and lower levels should be assigned an important role with respect to planning, implementation and monitoring of rural development programmes.

(C) Some of the planning functions at the state level should be transferred to the district level planning units for effective decentralized district planning.

(D) A post of District Development Commissioner should be created He should act as the chief executive officer of the Zila Parishad and should be in charge of all the development departments at the district level.

(E) Elections to the Panchayati Raj institutions should be held regularly. It found that elections became overdue for one or more tiers in 11 states.

6. L. M Singhvi Committee

In 1986, Rajiv Gandhi Government appointed a Committee on ‘Revitalisation of Panchayati Raj Institutions for Democracy and Development’ under the Chairmanship of L. M Singhvi.

Recommendations

(A) The Panchayati Raj institutions should be constitutionally recognised, protected and preserved. For this purpose, a new chapter should be added in the Constitution of India. This will make their identity and integrity reasonably and substantially inviolate. It also suggested constitutional provisions to ensure regular, free and fair elections to the Panchayati Raj bodies.

(B) Nyaya Panchayats should be established for a cluster of villages.

(C) The villages should be reorganised to make Gram Panchayats more viable. It also emphasised the importance of the Gram Sabha and called it as the embodiment of direct democracy.

(D) The Village Panchayats should have more financial resources.

(E) The judicial tribunals should be established in each state to adjudicate controversies about election to the Panchayati Raj institutions, their dissolution and other matters related to their functioning.

7. Sarkaria Commission

This commission did not favour the idea of L.M Singhvi Committee to confer constitutional status to the Panchayati Raj Institutions. The Commission advocated that the power of enacting any law on the Panchayats vests under entry 5 list 11 exclusively with States. Uniformity in these aspects of the law thought the territory of India is essential.

The uniformity can be secured by adopting in the order of preference by law with respect to this matter made by all the State Legislatures in accordance with a model bill prepared on the basis of consensus at the forum of the Inter-State Council, recommended by us to be established under Article 63; by a law on this subject made by Parliament under Article 252 (1) with the consent of the Legislatures of all the States; and by a Parliamentary law uniformly applicable throughout India containing provisions analogues to Articles 172 and 174 of the Constitution.

Constitutionalisation of Panchayati Raj Institution

1. The Rajiv Gandhi Government introduced the 64th Constitutional Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha in July 1989 to constitutionalise panchayati raj institutions and make them more powerful and broad based. Although, the Lok Sabha passed the bill in August 1989, it was not approved by the Rajya Sabha. The bill was vehemently opposed by the Opposition on the ground that it sought to strengthen centralisation in the federal system.

2. The National Front Government, soon after assuming office in November 1989 under the Prime Ministership of V P Singh, announced that it would take steps to strengthen the panchayati raj institutions. In June 1990, a two-day conference of the state chief ministers under the chairmanship of V P Singh was held to discuss the issues relating to the strengthening of the panchayati raj bodies. The conference approved the proposals for the introduction of a fresh constitutional amendment bill. Consequently, a constitutional amendment bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in September 1990. However, the fall of the government resulted in the lapse of the bill.

3.The Congress Government under the prime ministership of P V Narasimha Rao once again considered the matter of the constitutionalisation of panchayati raj bodies. It drastically modified the proposals in this regard to delete the controversial aspects and introduced a constitutional amendment bill in the Lok Sabha in September, 1991. This bill finally emerged as the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 and came into force on 24 April, 1993.

73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992

1. This act has added a new Part-IX to the Constitution of India.

2. It is entitled as ‘The Panchayats’ and consists of provisions from Articles 243 to 243 O.

3. This act has added a new Eleventh Schedule to the Constitution which contains 29 functional items of the panchayats. It deals with Article 243-G.

4. The act has given a practical shape to Article 40 of the Constitution (Directive Principles of State Policy) which says that, “The State shall 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.”

5. The act gives a constitutional status to the Panchayati Raj Institutions.

6. It has brought them under the purview of the justiciable part of the Constitution. In other words, the state governments are under constitutional obligation to adopt the new panchayati raj system in accordance with the provisions of the act. Consequently, neither the formation of panchayats nor the holding of elections at regular intervals depends on the will of the state government any more.

Salient Features of the Act

(A) Creation of a State Elections Commission to conduct elections to PRIs,

(B) In order to review the financial position of the PRIs, each state to set up a State Finance Commission for five years.

(C) Tenure of PRIs fixed at five years and, if dissolved earlier, fresh elections to be held within six months,

(D) Creation of a three-tier Panchayati Raj structure at the zila, block and village levels,

(E) The minimum age for contesting elections to PRIs to be 18 years,

(F) Reservation for women in panchayats (chairman and members) up to one-third seats,

(G) Reservation of seats for SC/ST in panchayats (chairman and members) in proportion to their population,

(H) Indirect elections to the post of chairman at the intermediate and apex tiers,

(I) All posts at all levels (with two exceptions) to be filled by direct elections, and

(J) Organisation of gram sabhas.

Voluntary provisions vary from state to state

As local self-government is an item in the State List, the state governments have been given a reasonable discretion to take decisions in the following areas.

(A) Voting rights to MPs and MLAs in these bodies,

(B) Reservation for backward classes,

(C) Financial powers,

(D) Autonomy of the panchayats, and

(E) Devolution of powers to perform functions of the Eleventh Schedule and planning.

The Eleventh Schedule of the Act enumerates 29 subjects which fall in the purview of the panchayats. The Act has refrained from putting those into the Seventh Schedule of three lists for the simple reason that states are free to determine the Panchayati Raj activities and adjust this Eleventh Schedule as per situations and resources. The Schedule is quiet flexible and exhaustive.

11th Schedule of the Constitution

1. Agriculture, including agricultural extension.

16. Poverty alleviation programme.
2. Land improvement, implementation of land reforms, land consolidation and soil conservation. 17. Education, including primary and secondary schools.
3. Minor irrigation, water management and watershed development. 18. Technical training and vocational education.
4. Animal husbandry, dairying and poultry. 19. Adult and non-formal education.
5. Fisheries. 20. Libraries.
6. Social forestry and farm forestry. 21. Cultural activities.
7. Minor forest produce. 22. Markets and fairs.
8. Small scale industries, including food processing industries. 23. Health and sanitation, including hospitals, primary health centres and dispensaries.
9. Khadi, village and cottage industries. 24. Family welfare.
10. Rural housing. 25. Women and child development.
11. Drinking water. 26. Social welfare, including welfare of the handicapped and mentally retarded.
12. Fuel and fodder. 27. Welfare of the weaker sections, and in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
13. Roads, culverts, bridges, ferries, waterways and other means of communication. 28. Public distribution system.
14. Rural electrification, including distribution of electricity. 29. Maintenance of community assets.
15. Non-conventional energy sources.

Further, the state legislature can authorise the Panchayats to collect and appropriate suitable local taxes and provide grant in aids to the Panchayats from the Consolidated Funds of the states.

 

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