Panchayati Raj: Gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti and Zila Parishad

Panchayats at Village Level : This is the basic or grassroots level of Panchayati Raj.

The panchayat for a village or a group of villages includes:

[a] Gram Sabha, the symbol of direct democracy;

[b] Gram Panchayat and

[c] Nyaya Panchayat.

[a] Gram Sabha

Recognition to Gram Sabha is an important feature of the 73rd amendment.

It is an institution of direct democracy.

Gram Sabha consists of all adult residents within a village or group of villages. Thus it is the only institution of direct democracy in the country.

Generally, two meetings of Gram Sabha are held every year.

In these meetings, the Gram Sabha as the general body of the people hears an annual statement of accounts, audit or administrative report of panchayats.

It also recommends new development projects to be undertaken by panchayats.

It also helps in identifying poor people of the village so that they may be given economic assistance.

[b] Gram Panchayat

The lower tier of the Panchayati Raj system in the country is the village level panchayat.

It is known in most of the States as Gram Panchayat.

The members of a Gram Panchayat are directly elected by the people.

The number of members of a Gram Panchayat is fixed on the basis of the village population. Hence, it differs from panchayat to panchayat.

An election is held on the basis of the single-member constituency.

One-third of the total numbers of seats are reserved for women, and some for Scheduled Castes and Tribes including one-third for women of Scheduled Castes and Tribes.

Chairpersons of Gram Panchayats are called by different names in different States as ‘Sarpanch, Pradhan or President.

There is a Vice-Chairperson also.

Both are elected by members of the panchayat.

Gram Panchayats generally hold their meetings once a month. Panchayats at all levels constitute committees for the transaction of their business.

[c] Nyaya Panchayat

These are judicial panchayats and a reminder of ancient village panchayat that settled local disputes.

They are set up to provide speedy and inexpensive justice.

Jurisdiction of Nyaya Panchayat varies from State to State – one such panchayat is set up for five or more gram panchayats.

Their tenure is between 3 and 5 years, as determined by State law.

Nyaya Panchayats generally deal with petty civil and criminal cases and can impose fines up to Rs. 100 only.

There are no lawyers to plead the cases in Nyaya Panchayat.

Parties to the disputes argue their own cases.

Functions of Gram Panchayat

Some States distinguish between obligatory (compulsory) and optional functions of Gram Panchayats while other States do not make this distinction.

The civic functions relating to sanitation, cleaning of public roads, drains, and ponds, public toilets and lavatories, primary health care, vaccination, the supply of drinking water, constructing public wells, street lighting, social health and primary and adult education, etc. are obligatory functions of village panchayats.

The optional functions depend on the resources of the panchayats.

They may or may not perform such functions as tree plantation on roadsides, setting up of breeding centers for cattle, organizing child and maternity welfare, promotion of agriculture, etc.

After the 73rd Amendment, the scope of functions of Gram Panchayat was widened.

Such important functions like preparation of annual development plan of panchayat area, annual budget, relief in natural calamities, removal of encroachment on public lands, implementation and monitoring of poverty alleviation programs are now expected to be performed by panchayats.

Selection of beneficiaries through Gram Sabhas, public distribution system, non-conventional energy source, improved Chullahs, biogas plants have also been given to Gram Panchayats in some states.

Sources of income of Gram Panchayat

In most states, the power of levying taxes is vested in gram panchayats.

House tax, tax on cattle, immovable property, commercial crops, drainage tax, sanitation fee, tax on produce sold in village, a fee for supply of water to households, lighting tax are some of the taxes and fees levied by panchayats.

Panchayats can also levy entertainment tax on temporarily stationed theatres, taxes on animals and non-mechanically propelled vehicles plied for hire.

Gram panchayats also receive funds as income from property owned by them as common grounds, jungles, cattle ground, etc.

The sales proceed of dung, refuse and carcasses (dead bodies of animals) is also retained by gram panchayats.

They also receive their share in land revenue from the State.


Panchayat Samiti

The second or middle tier of the Panchayati Raj is Panchayat Samiti which provides a link between Gram Panchayat and a Zila Parishad.

The strength of a Panchayat Samiti also depends on the population in a Samiti area.

In Panchayat Samiti, some members are directly elected.

Sarpanchs of gram panchayats are ex-officio members of Panchayat Samitis.

However, all the sarpanchs of Gram Panchayats are not members of Panchayat Samitis at the same time.

The number varies from State to State and is rotated annually.

It means that only chairpersons of some Gram Panchayats in a Samiti area are members of Panchayat Samiti at a time.

In some panchayats, members of Legislative Assemblies and Legislative Councils, as well as members of Parliament who belong to the Samiti area, are co-opted as its members.

Chairpersons of Panchayat Samitis are, generally elected from among the directly elected members.

Functions of Panchayat Samiti

Panchayat Samitis are headed by Block Development Officers (B.D.Os).

Some functions are entrusted to them like agriculture, land improvement, watershed development, social and farm forestry, technical and vocational education, etc.

The second type of functions relates to the implementation of some specific plans, schemes or programs to which funds are earmarked.

It means that a Panchayat Samiti has to spend money only on that specific project.

The choice of location or beneficiaries is, however, available to the Panchayat Samiti.

Sources of income of Panchayat Samitis

Panchayat Samitis can impose a tax on facilities provided by them as water for drinking or irrigation purposes, lighting arrangements, tolls for bridges maintained by them.

The property of Panchayat Samitis includes public buildings, public roads constructed or maintained out of their funds and all land or other property transferred to them by the government.

Panchayats receive income from the property vested in them.

They also receive grants from the State Governments.

Funds are transferred by Zila Panchayats or State Governments along with schemes to be implemented by the intermediate institutions of Panchayati Raj.


Zila Parishad

Zila Parishad at the district level is the uppermost tier of the Panchayati Raj system.

This institution has some directly elected members whose number differs from State to State as it is also based on population.

Chairpersons of Panchayat Samitis are ex-officio members of Zila Parishads.

Members of Parliament, Legislative Assemblies and Councils belonging to the districts are also nominated members of Zila Parishads.

The chairperson of a Zila Parishad, called Adhyaksha or President, is elected from among the directly elected members.

The vice-chairperson is also elected similarly.

Zila Parishad meetings are conducted once a month.

Special meetings can also be convened to discuss special matters.

Subject committees are also formed.

Ex-officio: A person who holds an office, not because he/she is elected to that post, but by virtue of the fact that he/she holds another office.

Functions of Zila Parishad

Zila Parishad links panchayat samitis within the district.

It coordinates their activities and supervises their functioning.

It prepares district plans and integrates samiti plans into district plans for submission to the State Government.

Zila Parishad looks after development works in the entire district.

It undertakes schemes to improve agricultural production, exploit groundwater resources, extend rural electrification and distribution and initiate employment generating activities, construct roads and other public works.

It also performs welfare functions like relief during natural calamities and scarcity, the establishment of orphanages and poor homes, night shelters, the welfare of women and children, etc.

In addition, Zila Parishads perform functions entrusted to them under the Central and State Government-sponsored programs.

For example, Jawahar Rozgar Yojna is a big centrally sponsored scheme for which money is directly given to the districts to undertake employment-generating activities.

Sources of income of Zila Parishads

Zila Parishad is also authorized to impose taxes.

They may impose taxes on persons carrying on business in rural areas for six months, taxes on brokers, commission agents in markets established by them, also tax on the sale of goods in these markets.

Tax on land revenue can also be imposed by Zila Parishads.

When development schemes are entrusted to them, necessary funds are also provided.

They also receive grants from the State, donations from charitable institutions, and may also raise loans.


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