Panchayati Raj System
Panchayati Raj is an important segment of the polity syllabus of the IAS exam/ Any Competitive Examinations. The foundation of the present local self-government in India was laid by the Panchayati Raj System (1992).
What is Local self-government?
Local self-government implies the transference of the power to rule to the lowest rungs of the political order. It is a form of democratic decentralization where the participation of even the grass root level of the society is ensured in the process of administration.
History of local administration
The village panchayat, as a system of administration, began in the British days, as their offer to satisfy the demands for local autonomy. They opened up the governance of the lowest levels to the citizens. The GoI act, 1935 also authorizes the provinces to enact legislations.
How did the concept of local self-government evolve in India?
Even though such minor forms of local governance was evident in India, the framers of the constitutions, unsatisfied with the existing provisions, included Article 40 among the Directive Principles, whereby:
“The state shall take steps to organize village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.”
Panchayati Raj is the system of local self government for villages. Because Panchayats are an effective vehicle for people’s participation in administration, planning and democratic process, organisation of village Panchayats has been made a Directive Principle of State Policy (Article 40). Rural India has seen such Panchayats for ages. The new Panchayats are an improvement over the old ones in uniformity, institutional structure and states support. The present day Panchayati Raj system was introduced in 1959 on the recommendations of the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee. The committee had been set up in 1956 primarily to suggest measures for improvement in the working of the Community Development Programme and the National Extension Service which were being implemented at that time.
It recommended a three-tier Panchayati Raj system for proper implementation of the Community Development Council and the Union Government accepted the recommendations of the committee but gave the responsibility of implementing them to the states Governments. For one reason or the other, the implementation was slow and unsatisfactory.
Major Committees on Panchayati Raj Institutions
- Balwant Rai Committee
Originally appointed by the Government of India to examine the working of two of its earlier programs, the committee submitted its report in November 1957, in which the term ‘democratic decentralization‘first appears.
The important recommendations are:
- Establishment of a three-tier Panchayati Raj system – Gram panchayat at village level (direct election), Panchayat Samiti at the block level and Zila Parishad at the district level (indirect election).
- District Collector to be the chairman of Zila Parishad.
- Transfer of resources and power to these bodies to be ensured.
The existent National Development Council accepted the recommendations. However, it did not insist on a single, definite pattern to be followed in the establishment of these institutions. Rather, it allowed the states to devise their own patterns, while the broad fundamentals were to be the same throughout the country.
Rajasthan (1959) adopted the system first, followed by Andhra Pradesh in the same year. Some states even went ahead to create four-tier systems and Nyaya panchayats, which served as judicial bodies.
2. Ashok Mehta Committee (1977-1978)
In December 1977, the Janata Government appointed a committee on panchayati raj institutions under the chairmanship of Ashok Mehta. It submitted its report in August 1978 and made 132 recommendations to revive and strengthen the declining panchayati raj system in the country.
Its main recommendations were:
- The three-tier system of panchayati raj should be replaced by the two-tier sys-tem, that is, zila parishad at the district level, and below it, the mandaI panchayat consisting of a group of villages with a total population of 15,000 to 20,000.
- A district should be the first point for decentralisation under popular supervision below the state level.
- Zila parishad should be the executive body and made responsible for planning at the district level.
- There should be an official participation of political parties at all levels of panchayat elections.
- The panchayati raj institutions should have compulsory powers of taxation to mobilise their own financial resources.
- 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.
- 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.
- The nyaya panchayats should be kept as separate bodies from that of development panchayats. They should be presided over by a qualified judge.
- The chief electoral officer of a state in consultation with the chief election com-missioner should organise and conduct the panchayati raj elections.
- Development functions should be transferred to the zila parishad and all development staff should work under its control and supervision.
- The voluntary agencies should play an important role in mobilising the support of the people for panchayati raj.
- A minister for panchayati raj should be appointed in the state council of ministers to look after the affairs of the panchayati raj institutions.
- Seats for SCs and STs should be reserved I on the basis of their population. Due to the collapse of the Janata Government before the completion of its term, no action could be taken on the recommendations of the Ashok Mehta Committee at the central level.
3. G V K Rao Commitee (1985)
Appointed by the Planning Commission, the committee concluded that the developmental procedures were gradually being taken away from the local self-government institutions, resulting in a system comparable to ‘grass without roots’.
- Zila Parishad to be given prime importance and all developmental programs at that level to be handed to it.
- Post of DDC (District Development Commissioner) to be created acting as the chief executive officer of the Zila Parishad.
- Regular elections to be held
- L M Singhvi Commitee (1986)
Constituted by the Rajiv Gandhi government on ‘Revitalisation of Panchayati Raj institutions for Democracy and Development’, its important recommendations are:
- Constitutional recognition for PRI institutions.
- Nyaya Panchayats to be established for clusters of villages
Though the 64th Constitutional Amendment bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 1989 itself, Rajya Sabha opposed it. It was only during the Narasimha Rao government’s term that the idea finally became a reality in the form of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment acts, 1992.
Panchayati Raj System under 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment acts, 1992
The acts of 1992 added two new parts IX and IX-A to the constitution. It also added two new schedules – 11 and 12 which contains the lists of functional items of Panchayats and Municipalities. It provides for a three-tier system of Panchayati Raj in every state – at the village, intermediate and district levels.
What are Panchayats and Municipalities?
- Panchayat and Municipality are the generic terms for the governing body at the local level. Both exist as three tier systems – at the lower, intermediate and upper levels.
- The 73rd Constitutional Amendment act provides for a Gram Sabha as the foundation of the Panchayati Raj system. It is essentially a village assembly consisting of all the registered voters in the area of the panchayat. The state has the power to determine what kind of powers it can exercise, and what functions it has to perform at the village level.
- The 74th Constitutional Amendment act provides for three types of Municipalities:
- Nagar Panchayat for a transitional area between a rural and urban area.
- Municipal Council for a small urban area.
- Municipal Corporation for a large urban area.
- Municipalities represent urban local self-government.
- Most of the provisions of the two acts are parallel, differing only in the fact that they are being applied to either a Panchayat or a Municipality respectively.
- Each Gram sabha is the meeting of a particular constituency called ward.
- Each ward has a representative chosen from among the people themselves by direct election.
- The chairperson of the Panchayat or Municipality at the intermediate and district level are elected from among these representatives at the immediately lower level by indirect election.
- Gram Sabha means a body consisting of the electorate of the village
- Intermediate level means a level between the village and district levels
- specified by the Governor of a State by public notification
- Art. 243A says that the powers exercised by and the functions performed by Gram Sabha are devolved to them by State Legislature. Gram Sabha has the responsibility to take decisions in common public interest, and to monitor the performance of elected representatives and government officials.
Article. 244 H and 243-I
Art. 244 H and 243-I deal with the financial provisions. Art. 243-I says that the Legislature of a State may:
- Authorize a Panchayat to levy, collect and appropriate such taxes, duties, tolls and fees in accordance with such procedure and subject to such limits;
- assign to a Panchayat such taxes, duties, tolls and fees levied and collected by the State Government for such purposes and subject to such conditions and limits;
- Art. 244 deals with Constitution of Finance Commission to review financial position of i.e. Panchayats: The Governor of a State shall, within one year from the commencement of the Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) Act,, 1992, and thereafter at the expiration of every fifth year, constitute a Finance Commission to review the financial position of the Panchayats and to make recommendations to the Governor.
Types of Urban Local Government
There are eight types of urban local governments currently existing in India:
- Municipal Corporations.
- Notified area committee.
- Town area committee.
- Cantonment board.
- Port trust.
- Special purpose agency.
How are the elections held in the local government bodies?
- All seats of representatives of local bodies are filled by people chosen through direct elections.
- The conduct of elections is vested in the hands of the State election commission.
- The chairpersons at the intermediate and district levels shall be elected indirectly from among the elected representatives at the immediately lower level.
- At the lowest level, the chairperson shall be elected in a mode defined by the state legislature.
- Seats are reserved for SC and ST proportional to their population.
- Out of these reserved seats, not less than one-third shall be further reserved for women.
- There should be a blanket reservation of one-third seats for women in all the constituencies taken together too (which can include the already reserved seats for SC and ST).
- The acts bar the interference of courts in any issue relating to the election to local bodies.
What are the Qualifications needed to be a member of the Panchayat or Municipality?
Any person who is qualified to be a member of the state legislature is eligible to be a member of the Panchayat or Municipality.
“But he shall not be disqualified on the ground that he is less than 25 years of age if he has attained the age of 21 years”
This means that unlike the state legislature, a person needs to attain only 21 years of age to be a member of panchayat/municipality.
What is the duration of the Local Government bodies?
- The local governing bodies are elected for a term of five years.
- Fresh elections should be conducted before the expiry of the five-year term.
- If the panchayat/municipality is dissolved before the expiry of its term, elections shall be conducted within six months and the new panchayat/municipality will hold office for the remainder of the term if the term has more than six months duration.
- And for another five years if the remaining term is less than six months.
What are the Powers invested on these Local Government bodies?
The powers of local bodies are not exclusively defined. They can be tailor-fitted by the state governments according to the environment of the states.In general, the State governments can assign powers to Panchayats and Municipalities that may enable them to prepare plans for economic development and social justice. They may also be authorized to levy, collect, or appropriate taxes.
around the world to our system of local self-government.
State Finance Commission
- Its composition, qualifications of its members and the manner in which they shall be selected; and functions of the Commission are laid down by law by the State Legislature.
- Art. 243K relates to elections to the Panchayats
- The superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to the Panchayats shall be vested in a State Election Commission consisting of a State Election Commissioner to be appointed by the Governor.
District Planning Committees (DPSc)
- DPCs should be constituted as per Article 243 ZD in all states except Jammu & Kashmir, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and the NCT of Delhi. All states must accordingly enact legislations for constitution of the DPCs and issue notifications bringing them into effect.
- The DPC is generally composed of elected members of the local bodies within the district, both rural and urban, as well as some nominated members.
- The number of members varies with the population size of the districts larger the population, more the members.
- The ratio of members from Panchayats and ULBs is based on the ratio in which the population of the district is divided between rural and urban areas
Functions, Role and Responsibilities of DPCs
- The DPC is envisaged to play a nodal role in the district planning process by consolidating rural and urban plans prepared by the villages and towns in the district and then preparing a draft development plan for the district on the basis of the plans so received from within the district:
Consolidation of rural and urban plans
- Consolidation of rural and urban plans is one of the key tasks of the DPC and is also of great significance in the light of urban expansion into rural areas.
- The Parliament passed Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 to extend the provisions of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment to the Schedule V Areas of the country.
- The Fifth Schedule covers Tribal areas (scheduled areas) in 9 states of India namely Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Orissa and Rajasthan.
- Bihar had Scheduled Areas before the formation of Jharkhand but after the bifurcation, the tribal population in Bihar is insignificant.
PESA came into force in 1996. Under the Act, the Gram Sabha has been vested with powers for
- Ownership of minor forest produce
- Development, plans approval
- Selection of beneficiaries’ under various programmes
- Consultation on land acquisition
- Manage minor water bodies
- Control mineral leases
Panchayatraj and Rural Development
- PRIs which are local self government institutions enable rural development planning in an effective way.
- The momentum to empowers PRIs and give them Constitutional status began after the JRY programme was started.
- MNREGA is being implemented by the Panchayats.
- Panchayats have a critical role in the operationalization of the NRHM.
- PRI participation can he achieved through the following, stages.
- Participation in decision making
- Participation in implementation of development programmes and projects;
- Participation in monitoring and evaluation of development programmes;
- Participation in sharing the benefits of development
- Participation in the popularization of the programme