During the Janata Party regime, a high level Committee on Panchayati Raj comprising 14 members, belonging to different parties, under the chairmanship of Asoka Mehta was appointed in December 1977. The Committee submitted its report in August 1978 which contained 11 chapters and 300 pages.
The report while presenting the drawbacks of the existing Panchayati Raj system did point out the merits the system had. The report stated that it was wrong to think of the Panchayati Raj as a ‘God that failed’. It observed that Panchayati Raj was an ‘enormous experiment in popular education, ‘schooling in democracy on a mass scale1, it became a process of democratic seed drilling of the Indian soil, and ‘it helped rural people cultivate a developmental psyche.1
The report was also critical of the functioning of Panchayati Raj and observed that Panchayat Raj institutions failed to pass on the advantage of democracy to the weaker section of the society as the Panchayat Raj institutions were dominated mostly by the socially and economically privileged people of society and the implementation of various schemes have facilitated the emergence of oligarchic forces in the villages and elitist class in the cities, which gave no benefit to the weaker sections of the village society, which continued to remain poor and backward.
It looked for effective decentralization in organisation, technical competence and leadership of a higher order which would promote social development. The Committee felt this would provide proper guidance and direction in the crucial areas of agriculture, irrigation, rural industries, banking services, marketing, provision of minimum needs, family welfare, child welfare etc.
The committee recommended a design for effective decentralization, beginning from district level. Below the district level, there should be Mandal Panchayats, which would be constituted by grouping a number of villages.
The committee suggested that PR elections should be conducted by the Chief Election Officer of the State in consultation with the Chief Election Commissioner. It also felt that participation of political parties in PR elections would ensure clearer orientation towards development programmes and promote healthier linkages with higher level political processes.