Of all the institutions of the modern and independent India, Panchayati Raj institutions are oldest and original institution. They remained an integral part of self sufficient village administration in ancient India. The British found it convenient for their objective even in its dismal days. They used it to collect revenue and consolidate their authority.
After independence, inspired by Gandhi’s vision of “Ram Rajya” and realizing the practical significance of Panchayats, the leadership tried to revive the institution. They regarded it as the self-governing institution at the local level to ensure the effective participation of people in the process of growth and development. However, the history of Panchayati Raj system has not been uniform. It has witnessed many twist and turns, ups and downs.
Constitutional Provisions and Major Landmarks in the Development of Panchayati Raj Institutions
1. Article 40 provides that “The state shall take steps to organise village Panchayats and to endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.”
2. In 1952 Community Development Programmes were started (first in Rajasthan) to bring people within the ambit of planning.
3. In 1957 Balwant Rai Mehta Committee was appointed to review the working of Community Development Programme. Its recommendations had far reaching consequences for the Panchayati Raj institution.
i. Democratic decentralization
ii. democratically elected bodies at three levels (village, block and district)
iii. planning and development tasks to be assigned to local bodies.
4. In 1977 Ashoka Mehta Committee was constituted with members belonging to different political parties. It was first ever committee exclusively for PR bodies.
i. preferred two tier systems: Zila Parishad and Mandal Panchayat.
ii. Participation of political parties in the elections.
iii. While Zila Parishad would be policy making, Mandal Panchayat would be implementing agency.
iv. Entrusted compulsory power of taxation.
- 64th Constitutional Amendment Bill (1989) introduced by Rajiv Gandhi Government
- 74th Constitutional Amendment Bill (1990) introduced by V.P. Singh Government
- 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act (1992)
The 73rd Amendment Act passed in 1992 and implemented in 1993 marked a new era in the history of PR institutions. It added a new Part IX consisting of 16 Articles and Eleventh schedule to the Indian Constitution. By this amendment, Constitutional status has been conferred on PR bodies.
The 73rd Amendment Act (1992) marked a thumping point in the history of PR bodies. It showed that nation as whole, favoured the mechanism of democratic decentralization. However, very soon some of the dormant issues came to the forefront and continued to hamper its functioning. Moreover certain ambiguities in the act also became clear. Chief Features
The key features of this Act are as follows:
1. Uniform three tier Panchayti Raj system at the village, intermediate and district levels. However, States with a population of less than 20 lakhs are given the option to avoid intermediate level Panchayat.
2. Gram Sabha has been hailed as foundation stone of the Panchayat System.
3. State legislatures by law may make provisions for the composition of the Panchayats.
4. Elections to all the three tiers and to the Chairperson of village Panchayat shall be direct.
5. The Chairperson of a Panchayat and other members of Panchayat shall have the right to vote in the meetings of Panchayat.
6. The Chairperson of Panchayat at the village level shall be elected in such a manner as the legislature of a state may be law, provide. The Chairperson of a Panchayat at the intermediate level or district level shall be elected by and amongst, the elected members thereof.
7. Reservation of seats for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in proportion to their population. Out of the total seats reserved for the SCs and STs Not less than one-third seats to be reserved for Women belonging to SCs and STs.
8. One-third of seats at all the three levels and also the Chairperson elected to three levels, to be reserved for women. It includes the number of seats reserved for SC and ST women.
9. The State Legislature may by law make provision for reservation of seats for backward classes.
10. State Legislatures may, by law, make provisions which enable the Panchayats to function as an institution of self government. It includes power of taxation.
11. There is a provision of a Finance Commission for reviewing financial position of the Panchayats. It has to be constituted every fifth year. The details are to be determined by State Legislature.
12. There is a provision of State Election Commission constituted by Governor. Subject to the provisions of any law made by the State Legislature, the conditions of service and tenure of office of the State Election Commissioner shall be such as the Governor may by rule determine. State Election Commissioner can be removed only in a like manner and on like ground as a Judge of a High Court.
13. The Governor can supersede the Panchayats by dissolving them. But, the election must be held within six months of dissolution. The Panchayats so elected shall remain in operation only for the remaining period of tenure.
14. The courts cannot interfere in the electoral matter of Panchayats. The validity of an election can be challenged only through an election petition presented to such authority and in such manner as provided by any law made by the legislature of a state.
15. Following areas are provided immunity from Part IX
(a) Scheduled areas and Tribal areas
(b) States of Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram
(c) Hill areas in State of Manipur for which District Councils exist
(d) Darjeeling district of West Bengal Contribution of Panchayati Raj in Rural Development
Despite weaknesses and failure PR bodies had given following contribution in rural development:
1. Aroused public awareness in the area of governance.
2. Influenced participation of people in administrative tasks.
3. Prepared ground for emergence of a new leadership.
4. Made the exercise of planning more effective Panchayats after 73rd Amendment Act (1992) Conclusion
To sum, the history of Panchayats have witnessed many ups and downs. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment changed its course by assigning a constitutional status. A wide range of powers have been entrusted to Panchayat to fulfill the objective of democratic decentralization. It has much success to its credits. The Panchayats are no longer upper class, rich male’s destinations.
They are neither an instrument of maintaining status quo. They have drawn millions of females and weaker sections of the society into political arena. They have aroused a feeling of common destiny. People have realized that Panchayats remain the basic tool to address their ill plight and translate their dream into reality.
Nevertheless, the vested interests are not ready to adjust to changes. Most often, Panchayats become a venue for drama. Ruthless violence during elections has feared the general people to an extent that they seldom participate in elections. Compulsory education in the spirit of constitution and effective socialization through media, civil society groups and intellectuals will have to play major role in this direction.