While analysing the administrative set up of Panchayati Raj, we find it is generally headed by a Secretary at the state level who is directly under the control of Ministry of Rural Development in the state. At the state level, there is state level Consultative Committee on Panchayati Raj. At the divisional level, there is Divisional Commissioner.
Autonomy of Panchayati Raj vis-a-vis the State Machinery
Today, the government control over PR. bodies has become a universal phenomenon. It exists in varying degree, depending upon the nature of polity, society and the level of their development.
Statutory-Status of Panchayati Raj System
It has been observed for past several years that one of the stumbling blocks in the successful implementation of Panchayati Raj institution is the denial of any constitutional status to them, which makes it mandatory on the state governments to grant Panchayati Raj its due status. Panchayati Raj institutions had been given a status of directive principle of state policy by the framers of the Indian Constitution by inserting it under Article 40 of the Constitution. But former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on May 14, 1989 introduced the 64th Constitutional amendment bill in the Lok Sabha to revitalize the Panchayati Raj institutions.
The 29 subjects to be administered by the Panchayat are agriculture, land, water management, animal husbandry and fish management, social forestry, minor forest products, small scale industries, khadi and village industries, rural housing, drinking water, fuel and fodder, roads, non-conventional energy sources, electrification, poverty alleviation, education, adult and technical education, culture, markets, health and sanitation, family welfare, women and child development, social welfare, public distribution system and maintenance of community assets.
The seventy third amendments of the constitution enacted in 1992 and operative since 1993 is marked by few features which are new and novel in the history of rural local government in India. These, briefly, are:
1. The panchayati raj institutions are endowed with a constitutional status making panchayati raj election a regular feature every five year.
2. The amendment introduces the eleventh schedule in the constitution, which contains a list of 29 functions devolved on the panchayati raj bodies.
3. Reservation of seats has been provided for four categories of the population – namely, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes (OBCs), and women – for different tiers of panchayati raj institutions.
4. Reservation of seats in these categories has been provided for the post of chairperson in the panchayati raj institution. One must note that for the first time, the executive posts in panchayati raj bodies have been subjected to a quota system.
5. The amendments constitute a state finance commission every two years on the pattern of the national finance commission to institutionalize the financial stability of the panchayati raj bodies and augment their financial resources.
6. Provision of regular and periodic elections is yet another unique feature of the seventy-third amendment, which sustains and invigorates the grassroots democracy. The election is to be conducted by a state election commission which is to function independently of the executive.
7. An important component of the 1992 amendment is its emphasis on district level planning which is a significant move to monitor and incorporate needs and aspirations of the local community in schemes of development.
8. The accounts of the panchayati raj institutions are to be audited by a separate and independent audit organisation under the control of the state government. This is to safeguard the accounting probity of the local government.
The seventy-third constitutional amendment is commonly described as revolutionary, but its limitations may also be noted. The final constitutional amendment does not very much disturb the power equilibrium in the system of governance in India. Panchayati raj yet does not have any inherent functions and power. The amendment provides for a list which is purely indicative.
It is the state government that decides what powers are to be transferred to local bodies. Thus, the state government continues to hold the key, so to say and panchayati raj continues to be under its control and surveillance. Secondly, while the seventy-third amendment obliges a state government to enact a new law on panchayati raj to fall in conformity with law, the amendment it does not force the state government to hold panchayati election.
The first election under the amended law is to be held at a time decided by the state concerned. Once an election is held, the next poll at an interval of five years become compulsory similarly, the setting up of the first state finance commission is obligatory on the part of a state government, but action on it is not binding.