Panchayati raj Institutions after the passage of 73rd and 74th amendments

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The passage of the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments in 1994 has been hailed as a landmark in the evolution of local governments in India.

The amendments provided rural and urban local governments with a constitutional status that they had previously lacked and reinforced this status by mandating regular elections to locally elected bodies.

Further, the amendments mandated reservations of positions in these local bodies for women and for individuals from two traditionally disadvantaged (and constitutionally recognized) groups: Dalits (Scheduled Castes, i.e., castes at the bottom of, or more accurately, excluded from, the traditional Hindu caste hierarchy) and Adivasis (Scheduled Tribes, i.e., the indigenous populations of the Indian subcontinent).

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Beyond this, the amendments called on – but did not explicitly require-individual states, the highest tier of sub-national government within India’s federal setup, to enact legislation to devolve powers and resources to local bodies so as to enable the latter to function as institutions of self- government-to play a central role in the provision of public services, the creation and maintenance of local public goods, and the planning and implementation of developmental activities and programs to alleviate poverty and promote distributive equity.

Constitutional status to PRIs after 73rd amendment

• 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act finally granted the Constitutional status to the Panchayati Raj bodies in April 1993. During the P.V. Narasimha Rao Government the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act 1992, was passed by the Parliament on December 22nd, 1992. It was notified by the Central Government through official Gazette on April 20, 1993, after ratification by State Legislatures and the assent of the President of India.

• The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act adds separate Part IX to the Constitution of India. With the addition of Articles 243A to 2430 and a fresh schedule called Eleventh Schedule enumerating the powers and functions of Panchayati Raj institutions, the Panchayati Raj has been granted Constitutional status.

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• Gram Sabha has been given its due place in the Act and a three-tier model of Panchayati Raj has been adopted in all those states which have more than 20 lakhs population. This amendment also incorporates the provision for 1/3rd reservation of seats for SCI STs women. The Act provides for the election of Panchayati Raj bodies for a period of 5 years. As per the provisions of the Act, a Finance Commission would be constituted for each state which would take care of the financial position of Panchayati Raj institutions.

• The Act provides for a Gram Sabha in each village exercising such powers and performing such functions at the village level as the Legislature of a State may provide by law. The elections in respect of all the members to Panchayats at all levels will be direct; the elections in respect of the post of Chairman at the intermediate and district level will be indirect.

• A uniform term of 5 years has been provided for the PRIs and in the event of super session, elections to constitute the body should be completed before the expiry of 6 months from the date of dissolution.

• The Act further grants the state legislature the powers to authorise the Panchayats to levy, collect and appropriate suitable local taxes.

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• Thus the 73rd Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1993 has provided the general guidelines for the effective functioning of PRIs in India. As a result of that, in India there has been a genuine-transition of political power to the grassroots with all the states completing the process of enacting fresh legislation on strengthening the PRIs on 23 April, 1994.

• On analysing the implementation of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, it can be observed that though the Legislative formalities have been fulfilled in almost all the states, at the operational level, there is a large variation between them.

At the national level, the aim of the constitutional amendments was clearly to revitalize local government. This was seen as a means of promoting greater community participation and involvement in developmental efforts, thereby improving the dismal record of the Indian developmental State in the sphere of human development and public goods provision.

In that the impetus for the amendments came from a widespread consensus regarding the failures of the bureaucratic and centralized apparatus of the Indian developmental state, supplemented, in certain circles, with a political agenda of democratic deepening, the attempt to revitalize local government in India mirrors attempts in other countries. But there are several key respects in which the Indian case stands out and these need to be highlighted at the outset.

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First, because the Indian constitution assigns exclusive legislative domain over local governments to the states, unlike in many other countries where the impetus for decentralization originated at the national level and implementation responsibility also resided at the national level, in India, the final responsibility for the design and implementation of local government reforms lay with the states. Unsurprisingly, given the diversity in their historical trajectories and current sociopolitical and economic situations, across the states there has been tremendous variation in the design, scope and extent of devolution to local governments.

Second, and elatedly, the Indian case also differs from some others in that there have been attempts in the past to empower local governments. Hence, the latest effort to revitalize local government is by no means a “Greenfield” initiative. In particular, this means that the novelty of the reforms-the extent to which they represent a significant departure from the pre-1993 scenario-varies across the states.

For instance, the provision mandating regular elections to rural local bodies clearly has different implications in the state of Bihar, where elections to rural local bodies were last held in 1978, than it does in the state of West Bengal where elections have been regularly held every five years since 1978.

It is important to recognize that this does not mean that this particular provision has no implications in the case of West Bengal because it does by reducing the discretionary powers. Lastly, it should also be noted that whereas in some countries the impetus for decentralization has come from external sources or has been triggered by an economic crisis, in India it was home-grown and there was no single precipitating event that led to the reform. That is not to say, however, that the pressure for reforms came from the grassroots. Instead, the reforms reflected the emergence of a remarkable consensus among India’s policy-making and intellectual elite.

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