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PANCHAYATI RAJ
When the panchayat raj is established, public opinion will do what violence can never do. — Mahatma Gandhi

  • Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) is a system of rural local self-government in India.
  • Local Self Government is the management of local affairs by such local bodies who have been elected by the local people.
  • PRI was constitutionalized through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 to build democracy at the grass roots level and was entrusted with the task of rural development in the country.
  • In its present form and structure PRI has completed 26 years of existence. However, a lot remains to be done in order to further decentralization and strengthen democracy at the grass root level.

Evolution of Panchayati Raj in India
(i) Post-Independence Period: After the Constitution came into force, Article 40 made a mention of panchayats and Article 246 empowers the state legislature to legislate with respect to any subject relating to local self-government.

(ii) It was after much discussion among the supporters and opponents of the village panchayat that the panchayats finally got a place for themselves in the Constitution as Article 40 of the Directive Principles of State Policy.

(iii) After independence, as a development initiative, India had implemented the Community Development Programmes (CDP) on the eve of Gandhi Jayanti, the 2nd October, 1952 under the major influence of the Etawah Project undertaken by the American expert, Albert Mayer.

  • It encompassed almost all activities of rural development which were to be implemented with the help of village panchayats along with the participation of people.

(iv) There were various reasons for the failure of CDP like bureaucracy and excessive politics, lack of people participation, lack of trained and qualified staff, and lack of local bodies interest in implementing the CDP especially the village panchayats.

BALWANT RAI MEHTA COMMITTEE
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 and recommended the establishment of the scheme of 'democratic decentralisation', which ultimately came to be known as Panchayati Raj. The specific recommendations made by it are:
1. Establishment of a three-tier panchayati raj system—gram panchayat at the village level, panchayat samiti at the block level and zila parishad at the district level.
2. The village panchayat should be constituted with directly elected representatives, whereas the panchayat samiti and zila parishad should be constituted with indirectly elected members.
3. The panchayat samiti should be the executive body while the zila parishad should be the advisory, coordinating and supervisory body.
4. The district collector should be the chairman of the zila parishad.

  • Rajasthan was the first state to establish Panchayati Raj. The scheme was inaugurated by the prime minister on October 2, 1959, in Nagaur district. 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: 1. The three-tier system of panchayati raj should be replaced by the two-tier system, that is, zila parishad at the district level, and below it, the mandal panchayat consisting of a group of villages with a total population of 15,000 to 20,000.
2. Zila parishad should be the executive body and made responsible for planning at the district level.
3. Development functions should be transferred to the zila parishad and all staff should work under its control and supervision.
4. A minister for panchayati raj should be appointed in the state council of ministers to look after the affairs of the panchayati raj institutions.
5. Seats for SCs and STs should be reserved on the basis of their population.

G V K Rao Committee
The Committee to review the existing Administrative Arrangements for Rural Development and Poverty Alleviation Programmes under the chairmanship of G.V.K. Rao was appointed by the Planning Commission in 1985. The Committee made the following recommendations to strengthen and revitalise the Panchayati Raj system:
1. The district level body, that is, the Zila Parishad should be of pivotal importance in the scheme of democratic decentralisation.
2. (ii) Some of the planning functions at the state level should be transferred to the district level planning units for effective decentralized district planning.
3. A post of District Development Commissioner should be created. He should act as the chief executive officer of the Zila Parishad and should be in charge of all the development departments at the district level.

LM Singhvi Committee
In 1986, Rajiv Gandhi government appointed a committee to prepare a concept paper on Revitalisation of Panchayati Raj Institutions for Democracy and Development’ under the chairmanship of L M Singhvi. It made the following recommendations.
(i) Nyaya Panchayats should be established for a cluster of villages.
(ii) The Village Panchayats should have more financial resources.
(iii) The judicial tribunals should be established in each state to adjudicate controversies about election to the Panchayati Raj institutions, their dissolution and other matters related to their functioning.

Thungon Committee
In 1988, a sub-committee of the Consultative Committee of Parliament was constituted under the chairmanship of P.K. Thungon to examine the political and administrative structure in the district for the purpose of district planning. This committee suggested for the strengthening of the Panchayati Raj system. It made the following recommendations :
1. Zilla Parishad should be the pivot of the Panchayati Raj system. It should act as the planning and development agency in the district.
2. The Panchayati Raj bodies should have a fixed tenure of five years.
3. The maximum period of super session of a body should be six months.
4. A planning and co-ordination committee should be set-up at the state level under the chairmanship of the minister for planning.

Gadgil Committee
The Committee on Policy and Programmes was constituted in 1988 by the Congress party under the chairmanship ofV.N. Gadgil. This committee was asked to consider the question of “how best Panchayati Raj institutions could be made effective”. In this context, the committee made the following recommendations :
1. A constitutional status should be bestowed on the Panchayati Raj institutions.
2. A three-tier system of Panchayati Raj with panchayats at the village, block and district levels.
3. The term of Panchayati Raj institutions should be fixed at five years.
4. The members of the Panchayats at all the three levels should be directly elected.
5. Reservation for SCs, STs and women.
6. The Panchayati Raj bodies should have the responsibility of preparation and implementation of plans for socio-economic development.
7. Establishment of a State Finance Commission for the allocation of finances to the Panchayats.

Constitutionalisation

  • 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.
  • V P Singh Government The National Front Government, soon after assuming office in November 1989 under the Prime Ministership of V P Singh, announced that it would take steps to strengthen the panchayati raj institutions. In June 1990, 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 The Congress Government under the prime ministership of P V Narasimha Rao once again considered the matter of the constitutionalisation of panchayati raj bodies. It drastically modified the proposals in this regard to delete the controversial aspects and introduced a constitutional amendment bill in the Lok Sabha in September, 1991. This bill finally emerged as the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 and came into force on 24 April, 19932.

Salient Features of the Constitution 73rd Amendments

  • These amendments added two new parts to the Constitution, namely, added Part IX titled “The Panchayats” (added by 73rd Amendment) and Part IXA titled “The Municipalities” (added by 74th Amendment).
  • Basic units of democratic system-Gram Sabhas (villages) and Ward Committees (Municipalities) comprising all the adult members registered as voters.
  • Three-tier system of panchayats at village, intermediate block/taluk/mandal and district levels except in States with population is below 20 lakhs ( Article 243B).
  • Seats at all levels to be filled by direct elections Article 243C (2).
  • Seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) and the chairpersons of the Panchayats at all levels also shall be reserved for SCs and STs in proportion to their population.
  • One-third of the total number of seats to be reserved for women.
  • One third of the seats reserved for SCs and STs also reserved for women.
  • One-third offices of chairpersons at all levels reserved for women (Article 243D).
  • Uniform five year term and elections to constitute new bodies to be completed before the expiry of the term.
  • In the event of dissolution, elections compulsorily within six months ( Article 243E).
  • Independent Election Commission in each State for superintendence, direction and control of the electoral rolls (Article 243K).
  • Panchayats to prepare plans for economic development and social justice in respect of subjects as devolved by law to the various levels of Panchayats including the subjects as illustrated in Eleventh Schedule (Article 243G).
  • 74th Amendment provides for a District Planning Committee to consolidate the plans prepared by Panchayats and Municipalities (Article 243ZD).
  • Budgetary allocation from State Governments, share of revenue of certain taxes, collection and retention of the revenue it raises, Central Government programmes and grants, Union Finance Commission grants (Article 243H).
  • Establish a Finance Commission in each State to determine the principles on the basis of which adequate financial resources would be ensured for panchayats and municipalities (Article 2431).
  • The Eleventh Scheduled of the Constitution places as many as 29 functions within the purview of the Panchayati Raj bodies like- Agriculture, Land improvement, irrigation, water management, Animal husbandry, Fisheries, Social forestry, cottage industrie, Rural housing, Poverty alleviation programme, Education, technical training, Women and child development.
  • Duration of Panchayats The act provides for a five-year term of office to the panchayat at every level.
  • Disqualifications: A person shall be disqualified for being chosen as or for being a member of panchayat if he is so disqualified,
    (a) under any law for the time being in force for the purpose of elections to the legislature of the state concerned, or
    (b) under any law made by the state legislature. However, no person shall be disqualified on the ground that he is less than 25 years of age if he has attained the age of 21 years.

COMPULSORY AND VOLUNTARY PROVISIONS
Now, we will identify separately the compulsory (obligatory or mandatory) and voluntary (discretionary or optional) provisions (features) of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act (1992) or the Part IX of the Constitution:

A. Compulsory Provisions
1. Organisation of Gram Sabha in a village or group of villages.
2. Establishment of panchayats at the village, intermediate and district levels.
3. Direct elections to all seats in panchayats at the village, intermediate and district levels.
4. Indirect elections to the post of chairperson of panchayats at the intermediate and district levels.
5. 21 years to be the minimum age for contesting elections to panchayats.
6. Reservation of seats (both members and chairpersons) for SCs and STs in panchayats at all the three levels.
7. Reservation of one-third seats (both members and chairpersons) for women in panchayats at all the three levels.
8. Fixing tenure of five years for panchayats at all levels and holding fresh elections within six months in the event of supersession of any panchayat.
9. Establishment of a State Election Commission for conducting elections to the panchayats.

B. Voluntary Provisions
1. Giving representation to members of the Parliament (both the Houses) and the state legislature (both the Houses) in the panchayats at different levels falling within their constituencies.
2. Providing reservation of seats (both members and chairpersons) for backward classes in panchayats at any level.
3. Granting powers and authority to the panchayats to enable them to function as institutions of selfgovernment (in brief, making them autonomous bodies).
4. Devolution of powers and responsibilities upon panchayats to prepare plans for economic development and social justice; and to perform some or all of the 29 functions listed in the Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution.
5. Granting financial powers to the pachayats, that is, authorizing them to levy, collect and appropriate taxes, duties, tolls and fees.

PESA ACT OF 1996 (EXTENSION ACT)

  • The provisions of Part IX of the constitution relating to the Panchayats are not applicable to the Fifth Schedule areas. However, the Parliament may extend these provisions to such areas, subject to such exceptions and modifications as it may specify. Under this provision, the Parliament has enacted the “Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act”, 1996, popularly known as the PESA Act or the Extension Act.
  • At present (2016), ten states have Fifth Schedule Areas. These are: AndhraPradesh, Telangana, Chhatisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Rajasthan. All the ten states have enacted requisite compliance legislations by amending the respective Panchayati Raj Acts.

Objectives of the Act
1. To extend the provisions of Part IX of the Constitution relating to the panchayats to the scheduled areas with certain modifications
2. To provide self-rule for the bulk of the tribal population
3. To have village governance with participatory democracy and to make the gram sabha a nucleus of all activities
4. To evolve a suitable administrative framework consistent with traditional practices
5. To safeguard and to preserve the traditions and customs of tribal communities
6. To empower panchayats at the appropriate levels with specific powers conducive to tribal requirements

Features of the Act
1. A state legislation on the Panchayats in the Scheduled Areas shall be in consonance with the customary law, social and religious practices and traditional management practices of community resources.
2. Every Gram Sabha shall be competent to safeguard and preserve the traditions and customs of the people, their cultural identity, community resources and the customary mode of dispute resolution.
3. Planning and management of minor water bodies in the Scheduled Areas shall be entrusted to Panchayats at the appropriate level.
4. While endowing Panchayats in the Scheduled Areas with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government.

REASONS FOR INEFFECTIVE PERFORMANCE
Even after conferring the constitutional status and protection through the 73rd Amendment Act (1992), the performance of the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) has not been satisfactory and not upto the expected level.
The various reasons for this sub-optimal performance are as follows:
1. Lack of adequate devolution:
2. Excessive control by bureaucracy:
3. Tied nature of funds:
4. Overwhelming dependency on government funding:
5. Reluctance to use fiscal powers:
6. Status of the Gram Sabha:
7. Poor Infrastructure:

Evaluating the Panchayati Raj Institutions at 26

  • PRIs has witnessed simultaneously a remarkable success and a staggering failure in the journey of 26 years depending on the goalposts against which they are evaluated.
  • While the PRI has succeeded in creating another layer of government and political representation at the grass-roots level, it has failed to provide better governance.
  • There are about 250,000 PRIs and urban local bodies, and over three million elected local government representatives.
  • The 73rd and 74th Amendments required that no less than one-third of the total seats in local bodies should be reserved for women. At 1.4 million, India has the most women in elected positions. Seats and sarpanch/pradhan positions were also reserved for SC/ST candidates.
  • Research using PRIs has shown that having female political representation in local governments makes women more likely to come forward and report crimes.
    In districts with female sarpanchs, significantly greater investments are made in drinking water, public goods.
  • Moreover, the states have also provided the statutory safeguards for many devolution provisions, which have considerably empowered local governments.
  • Successive (central) Finance Commissions have, so substantially, increased fund allocations for local bodies and also the grants have been increased.
  • 15th Finance Commission is also considering to further increase the allocations for local governments to match the international standards.

Issues

  • The grey area is the lack of adequate funds. There is a need to enlarge the domain of panchayats to be able to raise their own funds.
  • The interference of area MPs and ML As in the functioning of panchayats also adversely affected their performance.
  • The 73rd amendment only mandated the creation of local self-governing bodies, and left the decision to delegate powers, functions, and finances to the state legislatures, therein lies the failure of PRIs.
  • The transfer of various governance functions—like the provision of education, health, sanitation, and water was not mandated. Instead the amendment listed the functions that could be transferred, and left it to the state legislature to actually devolve functions.
    There has been very little devolution of authority and functions in the last 26 years.
  • The major failure of the Amendment is the lack of finances for PRIs. Local governments can either raise their own revenue through local taxes or receive intergovernmental transfers.
  • The power to tax, even for subjects falling within the purview of PRIs, has to be specifically authorized by the state legislature.
  • PRIs also suffer from structural deficiencies i.e. no secretarial support and lower levels of technical knowledge which restricted the aggregation of bottom up planning .
  • There is a presence of adhocism i.e. lack of clear setting of agenda in gram sabha, gram samiti meetings and no proper structure.
  • Though women and SC/STs has got representation in PRIs through reservation mandated by 73rd amendment but there is a presence of Panch-Pati and Proxy representation in case of women and SC/STs representatives respectively.
  • Accountability arrangements remain very weak even after 26 years of PRIs constitutional arrangement.
  • The issue of ambiguity in the division of functions and funds has allowed concentration of powers with the states.

Suggestions

  • Genuine fiscal federalism i.e. fiscal autonomy accompanied by fiscal responsibility can provide a long term solution without this PRIs will only be an expensive failure.
  • 6th report of 2nd ARC, ‘Local Governance- An inspiring journey into the future”, had recommended that there should be a clear-cut demarcation of functions of each tier of the government.
  • States should adopt the concept of ‘activity mapping’, wherein each state clearly delineates the responsibilities and roles for the different tiers of the government in respect to the subjects listed in the Schedule XI.
  • The subjects should divided and assigned to the different tiers on the basis of accountability to the public.
  • There is need for bottom up planning especially at the district level, based on grassroots inputs received from Gram Sabha.
  • Karnataka has created a separate bureaucratic cadre for Panchayats to get away from the practice of deputation of officials who often overpowered the elected representatives.
  • The center also needs to financially incentivize states to encourage effective devolution to the panchayats in functions, finances, and functionaries.
  • Training should be provided to local representatives to develop expertise so that they contribute more in planning and implementation of policies and programmes.
  • To solve the problem of proxy representation social empowerment must precede the political empowerment.
  • Recently states like Rajasthan and Haryana have set certain minimum qualification standards for Panchayat elections. Such necessary eligibility can help in improving effectiveness of governance mechanism.

Way Forward

  • Government should take remedial action in the interest of democracy, social inclusion and cooperative federalism.
  • People's demands for the sustainable decentralisation and advocacy should focus on a decentralisation agenda. The framework needs to be evolved to accommodate the demand for decentralisation.
  • It is important to have clarity in the assignment of functions and the local governments should have clear and independent sources of finance.

If we would see our dream of Panchayat Raj, i.e., true democracy realized, we would regard the humblest and lowest Indian as being equally the ruler of India with the tallest in the land. — Mahatma Gandhi

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