Panchayat Raj in India- Its Evolution

Article 40 of the Constitution, which enshrines one of the Directive Principles of State Policy, lays down that the State shall take steps to organize village panchayats and endow them with such powers and, authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.

In the light of the above, a new Part IX relating to the Panchayats has been inserted in the Constitution to provide for among other things, Gram Sabha in a village or group of villages; constitution of Panchayats at village and other level or levels; direct elections to all seats in Panchayats at the village and intermediate level, if any, and to the offices of Chairpersons of Panchayats at such levels; reservation of seats for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population for membership of Panchayats and office of Chairpersons in Panchayats at each level; reservation of not less than one-third of the seats for women; fixing tenure of five years for Panchayats and holding elections within a period of six months in the event of supersession of any Panchayat.


Evolution of Panchyat Raj in India

The 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution (1992) is a landmark in the evolution of Panchayats in India which carved out the third tier of the Indian political system.

The Panchayats as they exist today have been made by law and the Panchayati Raj System is an institution of administration that seeks to involve the people at the grass-root level in planning and administration.

People’s participation at the local level in both planning and implementation is essential for the success of decentralization and democracy.

The intention of the Government is to empower the local bodies at the grass-root level to promote micro-level planning, initiate need-based development programs and ensure transparency.

The Panchyati Raj Institutions (PRIs) have brought significant change in the Indian system of governance. The most important development has been that the democratic base of the Indian polity has become very wide.

The basic objective of Panchayati Raj is to evolve a system of democratic decentralization and devolution with a view to ensuring rapid socio-economic progress and speedier and inexpensive justice.

The PRIs constitute the core of decentralized development of planning and its implementations and are involved in all major poverty alleviation schemes of the government.


Community Development Programme:

Community Development Programme was launched in 1952.

The programme was formulated to provide an administrative framework through which the government might reach to village level.

All the districts of the country were divided into “Development Blocks” and a “Block Development Officer (BDO)” was made in charge of each block.


Balwant Rai Mehta Committee:

In January 1957, the Government of India appointed a committee to examine the working of the Community Development Programme (1952) and the National Extension Service (1953) and to suggest measures for their better working.

The chairman of this committee was Balwant Rai G Mehta.

The committee submitted its report in November 1957.


The Balwant Rai Mehta Committee (1957) suggested ways of democratic decentralization in a three-tier structure of panchayati raj.

This meant that panchayati raj should be set up at three levels.

They should be furnished with sufficient powers and resources.

These three tiers of panchayati raj are:

[1] zila parishad at district level;

[2] panchayat samiti at intermediate or block level;

[3] village or gram panchayat at village level.

These three bodies were interlinked as the lower body was represented in the higher body through its chairperson.

The village panchayat should be constituted with directly elected representatives, whereas the panchayat samiti and zila parishad should be constituted with indirectly elected members.

All planning and development activities should be entrusted to these bodies.

The panchayat samiti should be the executive body while the zila parishad should be the advisory, coordinating and supervisory body.

The district collector should be the chairman of the zila parishad.

There should be a genuine transfer of power and responsibility to these democratic bodies.

Adequate resources should be transferred to these bodies to enable them to discharge their functions and fulfill their responsibilities.

These recommendations of the committee were accepted by the National Development Council in January 1958.

The Panchayati Raj was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, at Nagaur in Rajasthan on October 2, 1959.

Rajasthan was followed by Andhra Pradesh, which also adopted the system in 1959.


Ashok Mehta Committee:

In December 1977, the Janata Government appointed a committee on panchayati raj institutions under the chairmanship of Ashok Mehta.

It submitted its report in August 1978 and made 132 recommendations to revive and strengthen the declining panchayati raj system in the country.

Its main recommendations were:

Unlike the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee, the Asoka Mehta Committee suggested a two tier structure of panchayati raj.

These two-tiers were to be:

[1] zila parishad at district level;

[2] mandal panchayat, an administrative unit between village panchayat and panchayat samiti.

A district should be the first point for decentralisation under popular supervision below the state level.

Zila parishad should be the executive body and made responsible for planning at the district level.

There should be an official participation of political parties at all levels of panchayat elections.

The panchayati raj institutions should have compulsory powers of taxation to mobilise their own financial resourses.

There should be a regular social audit by a district level agency and by a committee of legislators to check whether the funds allotted for the vulnerable social and economic groups are actually spent on them.

The state government should not supersede the panchayati raj institutions. In case of an imperative supersession, elections should be held within six months from the date of supersession.

The nyaya panchayats should be kept as separate bodies from that of development panchayats. They should be presided over by a qualified judge.

The chief electoral officer of a state in consultation with the chief election commissioner should organise and conduct the panchayati raj elections.

Development functions should be transferred to the zila parishad and all development staff should work under its control and supervision.

The voluntary agencies should play an important role in mobilising the support of the people for panchayati raj.

A minister for panchayati raj should be appointed in the state council of ministers to look after the affairs of the panchayati raj institutions.

Seats for SCs and STs should be reserved on the basis of their population.

Due to the collapse of the Janata Government before the completion of its term, no action could be taken on the recommendations of the Ashok Mehta Committee at the central level.


G V K Rao Committee 1985:

This committee was appointed to recommend on an integrated concept for growth and poverty alleviation.

The Committee made the following recommendations—

[a] The district level body, that is, the Zila Parishad should be of pivotal importance in the scheme of democratic decentralisation.

[b] The State level planning functions should be transferred to the Zila Parishad for effective decentralized planning.

[c] A post of District Development Commissioner should be created.

L M Singhvi Committee 1986:

In 1986, the Rajiv Gandhi government appointed a committee on ‘Revitalisation of Panchayati Raj Institutions for Democracy and Development’ under the chairmanship of L M Singhvi.

It made the following recommendations—

The Panchayati Raj institutions should be constitutionally recognized, protected and preserved.

Nyaya Panchayats should be established for a group of villages.

The Village Panchayats should have more financial resources.

The Committee recommended establishment of the Judicial Tribunals in the states.


Rajiv Gandhi Government:

The Rajiv Gandhi Government introduced the 64th Constitutional Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha in July 1989 to constitutionalise panchayati raj institutions and make them more powerful and broad based.

The bill got lapsed because it could not pass in Rajya Sabha.

V P Singh Government:

In June 1990, a two-day conference of the state chief ministers under the chairmanship of V P Singh was held to discuss the issues relating to the strengthening of the panchayati raj bodies.

The conference approved the proposals for the introduction of a fresh constitutional amendment bill.

Consequently, a constitutional amendment bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in September 1990.

However, the fall of the government resulted in the lapse of the bill.

Narasimha Rao Government:

P.VNarshima Rao, who became Prime Minister of India in 1991, was able to build a consensus in its favour.

As a result, the 73rd Constitution Amendment Act (1992) was enacted.

The conformity legislation was made by all the states of India in 1994.


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