Mahatma Gandhi had predicted that India would perish if the village perished. Therefore, he argued for the need for resilient, powerful settlements that could stand alone.
He also discussed gram swaraj and argued in favour of panchayats, which should have all the power and jurisdiction necessary to function as the legislative, judicial, and executive branches. Individual freedom is the basis of Perfect Democracy.
With the devolution of power and the establishment of the Panchayati Raj institutions throughout the nation, Gandhiji's goal is now being realised. The Panchayati Raj institutions of the nation are laid out in the 73rd Constitution Amendment Act, 1992, which went into effect on 24 April 1993. Let’s discuss more about Panchayati Raj System.
What is Panchayati Raj System?
In contrast to urban and suburban municipalities, Panchayati Raj (Council of five officials) is the form of local self-government used by villages in rural India.
It comprises the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), which enable villages to exercise self-government.
They are entrusted with "economic growth, enhancing social justice, and implementing Central and State Government Schemes, including 29 subjects in the Eleventh Schedule."
Gram panchayats serve as the fundamental administrative units under India's Panchayati Raj system of governance, which is still in use today. The Panchayati Raj system is currently applicable in all states except Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Mizoram, as well as in all Union Territories except Delhi.
‘Balwant Rai Mehta’ (aka the father of the Panchayati Raj System) and other members established a committee introducing democratic decentralisation, now known as the ‘Panchayati Raj’. He made the following recommendations which were accepted and enforced by the legislation:
- Direct election of the representatives in village panchayat and indirect elections for Panchayat Samiti and Zilla Parishad.
- These bodies will be entrusted with all the developmental and planning activities.
- Zilla Parishad should be the supervisory, advisory and coordinating body, whereas the Panchayat Samiti should be the implementing body.
- The chairman of the Zilla Parishad should be the District Collector.
- Genuine transfer of powers should be done.
- Transfer of sufficient resources.
- Constitution of elections in every five years.
The three-tier system of Panchayati Raj
After the introduction of the 73rd Amendment Act, the Panchayati Raj System was stipulated with a three-tier structure:
- Gram Panchayat (Village level)
- Panchayat Samiti (Block Level)
- Zila Parishad (District Level)
Let’s discuss all three structures briefly.
1. Gram Panchayat
The Panchayati Raj system's main body is the Gram Sabha. It is a village assembly comprised of all the registered voters in the panchayat's jurisdiction. It will exercise its authority and carry out the duties set forth by the state legislature.
Sarpanch: A sarpanch is the head of Gram Panchayat who is elected directly or indirectly by some members of the Gram Panchayat.
Members: The members of Gram panchayat vary from 5 to 31, and 1/3rd of seats are reserved for women. Some seats are also reserved for SCs and STs.
Office-bearers: the Sarpanch and Vice-sarpanch are regarded as honorary members. They are generally unpaid authorities. The state government appoints a paid secretary and a treasurer if the Panchayat is large.
1. Public works and welfare activities like building, repairing, and maintaining village roads, bridges, drains, and wells.
2. Birth and death registration.
3. Offering basic education, etc.
These social and economic functions are optional.
Building guest homes, libraries, wedding venues, etc.; 2. Planting trees, gardens, parks, and playgrounds for recreation; 3. Establishing fair-priced stores and cooperative credit societies.
It also carries out some judicial duties.
2. Panchayat samiti
This is the level immediately following the Zilla Parishad and preceding the Gram Panchayat. With the assistance of a volunteer institution at the Block level, Panchayat Samiti officials and non-officials plan the lengthy programmes. Varied states have different names for this block-level intermediary body, including Panchayat Samiti, Kshetra Samiti, Janapada Panchayat, and Panchayat Union Council.
Its members include representatives of Panchayats and a few others, as listed below:
- All Panchayat Sarpanchs who are involved.
- Local members from the State's Legislative Assembly.
- Locally-based members of parliament.
- The block's development officials.
- Members co-opted to represent women and Scheduled Castes/Tribes.
- Cooperative society representatives.
- To oversee and coordinate Gram Panchayats' operations.
- To run a higher education programme for a collection of villages.
- To set up hospitals and medical facilities at the neighbourhood block level.
- Promote agriculture by implementing small irrigation systems and distributing high-quality seeds, among other things.
- To serve as a liaison between the Zilla Parishad and the Gram Panchayat.
3. Zilla Parishad
It is a district-level local self-government unit. Panchayat Samiti connects Gram Panchayat and Zilla Parishad. The Zilla Parishad connects the Gram Panchayats and the State government. The Zilla Parishad is known as the District Development Council, Zilla Parishad, and Mohkuma Parishad in several States.
Its members include the deputy commissioner of the district, the presidents of all panchayat samitis in the district, the heads of all government departments in the district, members of the district's legislative assembly and parliament, a representative from each cooperative society, some women and members of the Scheduled Caste, and co-opted members with exceptional experience and accomplishments in public service. Additional office holders include a chairperson, vice chairperson, and secretary.
1. Managing the district's overall development efforts under the direction of the Deputy Commissioner.
2. Discussions and decisions are made by the Standing Committees, which include a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson.
3. The Working Committee serves as the District Board's executive body.
4. Monitoring the operation of Gram Panchayats.
5. Provide guidance to the State Government on all issues affecting Gram Panchayats and Panchayat Samitis within their own purview.
73rd constitutional Amendment Act, 1992
- The Act added Part IX of the Constitution, "The Panchayats," and the Eleventh Schedule, which contains the 29 functional elements of the panchayats.
- Part IX of the Constitution contains Articles 243 to 243 O.
- Article 40 of the Constitution, which instructs the state to set up village panchayats and grant them rights and authority so they can function as self-government, is given shape by the Amendment Act.
- The Panchayati Raj system is mandated under the Act, bringing it within the protection of the Constitution's justifiable provisions. Additionally, elections for Panchayati Raj institutions will be held regardless of the views of the state government.
- The Act is divided into mandatory and optional portions. Mandatory measures must be included in state laws, especially those guiding the implementation of the new Panchayati Raj systems. On the other hand, optional provisions are left up to the state government's discretion.
- The Act is a crucial development for democratic institutions all across the country. Representative democracy has been replaced by participatory democracy due to the Act.
PESA Act, 1996
- The provisions of Part IX do not apply to the areas listed on the Fifth Schedule. The Parliament may extend this Part to such locations with the modifications and exclusions it may specify. Following these guidelines, Parliament established the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, also known as the PESA Act or the extension act.
- To extend the provisions of Part IX to the designated locations.
- To grant the native population self-government.
- To establish democratic village government participation.
- To create a democratic government while adhering to standardised practices.
- To safeguard and maintain the customs and traditions of indigenous groups.
Panchayati raj is a prominent illustration of local self-government at the village, block, and district levels. In the nation, there are 234,078 Panchayati Raj institutions. Institutions of Panchayati Raj have the authority to act as institutions of self-government under the Constitution. Additionally, they are given delegated authority and accountability for developing and carrying out social justice and economic development programmes at the proper levels.