The panchayat raj is a South Asian political system mainly in India, Pakistan, and Nepal. “Panchayat” literally means assembly (yat) of five (panch) wise and respected elders chosen and accepted by the village community.
Traditionally, these assemblies settled disputes between individuals and villages. Modern Indian government has decentralized several administrative functions to the village level, empowering elected gram panchayats. Gram panchayats are not to be confused with the unelected khap panchayats (or caste panchayats) found in some parts of India.
Panchayati or Panchaayati Raj is a system of governance in which gram panchayats are the basic units of administration. It has 3 levels: village, block and district.
The term ‘panchayat raj’ is relatively new, having originated during the British administration ‘Raj’ literally means governance or government. Mahatma Gandhi advocated Panchayati Raj, a decentralized form of Government where each village is responsible for its own affairs, as the foundation of India’s political system. His term for such a vision was “Gram Swaraj” (Village Self-governance).
It was adopted by state governments during the 1950s and 60s as laws were passed to establish Panchayats in various states. It also found backing in the Indian Constitution, with the 73rd amendment in 1992 to accommodate the idea. The Amendment Act of 1992 contains provision for devolution of powers and responsibilities to the panchayats to both for preparation of plans for economic development and social justice and for implementation in relation to twenty-nine subjects listed in the eleventh schedule of the constitution.
The panchayats receive funds from three sources-(i) local body grants, as recommended by the Central Finance Commission, (ii) funds for implementation of centrally-sponsored schemes, and (iii) funds released by the state governments on the recommendations of the State Finance Commissions.
In the history of Panchayati Raj in India, on 24 April 1993, the Constitutional (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 came into force to provide constitutional status to the Panchayati Raj institutions. This Act was extended to Panchayats in the tribal agreas of eight States, namely Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan from 24 December 1996. Noto panchayati raj system exists in all the states except Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram. Also all the UTs except Delhi.
The Act aims to provide 3-tier system of Panchayati Raj for all States having population of over 2 million, to hold Panchayat elections regularly every 5 years, to provide reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Women, to appoint State Finance Commission to make recommendations as regards the financial powers of the Panchayats and to constitute District Planning Committee to prepare draft development plan for the district. The 3-tier system of Panchayati Raj consists of (a) village level panchayat (b) block level panchayat (c) district level panchayat.
Powers and responsibilities are delegated to Panchayats at the appropriate level:-
i. Preparation of plan for economic development and social justice.
ii. Implementation of schemes for economic development and social justice in relation to 29 subjects given in Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution.
iii. To levy, collect and appropriate taxes, duties, tolls and fees. Intermediate level panchayat
Panchayat samiti is a local government body at the Tehsil or Taluka level in India. It works for the villages of the Tehsil or Taluka that together are called Development Block. The Panchayat Samiti is the link between the Gram Panchayat and the district administration. There are a number of variations of this institution in various states. It is known as Mandal Praja Prishad in Andhra Pradesh, Taluka Panchayat in Gujarat, Mandal Panchayat in Karnataka, etc. In general it’s a kind of Panchayati raj at higher level.
It is composed of ex-officio members (all sarpanchas of the panchayat samiti area, the MPs and MLAs of the area and the SDO of the subdivision), co-opted members (representatives of SC/ST and women), associate members (a farmer of the area, a representative of the cooperative societies and one of the marketing services) and some elected members.
The samiti is elected for 5 years and is headed by the chairman and the deputy chairman. Departments
The common departments in the Samiti are as follows:
1. General administration
3. Public works
7. Social welfare
8. Information Technology and others.
There is an officer for every department. A government appointed block development officer is the executive officer to the samiti and the chief of its administration the department of:
1. Implement schemes for the development of agriculture.
2. Establishment of primary health centres and primary schools.
3. Supply of drinking water, drainage, construction/repair of roads.
4. Development of cottage and small-scale industries and opening of cooperative societies.
5. Establishment of youth organisations. Sources of Income
The main sources of income of the panchayat samiti are grants-in-aid and loans from the State Government. District Level Panchayat.
In the district level of the panchayati raj system you have the “zilla parishad”. It looks after the administration of the rural area of the district and its office is located at the district headquarters. The Hindi word Parishad means Council and Zilla Parishad translates to District Council. It is headed by the “District Collector” or the “District Magistrate” or the “Deputy Commissioner”. It is the link between the state government and the panchayat samiti (local held government at the block level).
Members of the Zilla Parishad are elected from the district on the basis of adult franchise for a term of five years. Zilla Parishad has minimum of 50 and maximum of 75 members. There are seats reserved for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, backward classes and women.
The Chairmen of all the Panchayat Samitis form the members of Zilla Parishad. The Parishad is headed by a President and a Vice-President.
1. Provide essential services and facilities to the rural population and the planning and execution of the development programmes for the district.
2. Supply improved seeds to farmers. Inform them of new techniques of training. Undertake construction of small-scale irrigation projects and percolation tanks. Maintain pastures and grazing lands.
3. Set up and run schools in villages. Execute programmes for adult literacy. Run libraries.
4. Start Primary Health Centers and hospitals in villages. Start mobile hospitals for hamlets, vaccination drives against epidemics and family welfare campaigns.
5. Construct bridges and roads.
6. Execute plans for the development of the scheduled castes and tribes. Run ashramshalas for adivasi children. Set up free hostels for scheduled caste students.
7. Encourage entrepreneurs to start small-scale industries like cottage industries, handicraft, agriculture produce processing mills, dairy farms, etc. implement rural employment schemes.
8. They construct roads, schools and public properties. And they take care of the public properties.
9. They even supply work for the poor people, (tribes, scheduled caste, lower caste) Sources of Income
1. Taxes on water, pilgrimage, markets, etc.
2. Fixed grant from the State Government in proportion with the land revenue and money for works and schemes assigned to the Parishad.