- Article 40 of the Constitution directs the State “to organise village panchayats as units of self-government”. In January 1956 a Study Team of Community Development and National Extension Services headed by Shri Balwant Rai Mehta was appointed. The committee recommended the establishment of Panchayati Raj on the principle of ‘democratic decentralisation’. The scheme envisaged a three-tier system of local self-government with Panchayats at the village level, Panchayat Samitis at the block level and Zila Parishads at the district level. In 1958, the National Development Council (NDC) endorsed the recommendations of the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee.
- Rajasthan was the first state in the country to introduce the Panchayati Raj system on October 2, 1959, followed by Andhra Pradesh. All States in the country today have Panchayati Raj in one form or the other except Meghalaya and Nagaland which have tribal councils instead. A Three-tier system has been adopted by Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. In Maharashtra and Gujarat the apex institution (Zila Parishad) is very powerful, whereas, on the other hand, in Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Rajasthan, the apex body has only advisory functions.
Panchayati Raj System
Three-Tier System Village
- The administration at the village level is carried on by a Village Panchayat. This executive body usually consists of 5 to 31 members who are elected by the members of the Gram Sabha through a secret ballot. The Gram Sabha is composed of all the voters of the village. The Panchayat is headed by a Chairman who is designated as Sarpanch. The Sarpanch is directly elected by the people in certain States and by the members of the panchayat in other states. The Panchayat is responsible for looking after village sanitation, construction and maintenance of bridges, wells and ponds, improvement of health, improvement of agriculture and cottage industries, maintenance of village schools etc.
- It is also responsible for the implementation of the various development programmes within its jurisdiction. The Panchayat is accountable for its working to the Gram Sabha which approves all the taxes and audits the accounts. The Gram Sabha also approves various development schemes to be implemented by the Panchayat. Some of the sources of village revenue include taxes on property, cess and revenue, tax on vehicles and professional fees for use of rent houses, water charges, lighting charges, taxes on shops etc.
Reorganisation of States
- S.K. Dar Commission was appointed by the Government of India to make recommendations about the reorganisation of the States.
- The Commission which submitted its report in Dec. 1948 was of the view that the major consideration for the reorganisation of the states should be administrative convenience and not the language of the people or their culture or traditions.
- This forced the government to announce on Dec. 22, 1953, that the government would set up a commission to examine the whole question of reorganisation of States.
- The Commission submitted its report on December 30, 1955.
- The Commission suggested that there should be 16 States and 3 Centrally administered areas.
- The States Reorganisation Bill was placed before Parliament and with slight modification, it was passed on August 31, 1956.
- Under the States Reorganisation Act, the territory of India was divided into 14 States, and five Union Territories.
- By a simple majority and by the ordinary legislative process Parliament may form new States or alter the boundaries etc. of existing States and there-by change the political map of India.
- The only conditions laid down for the making of such a law are (a) No Bill for the purpose can be introduced except on the recommendation of the President. (b) The President shall before giving his recommendation, refer the Bill to the legislature of the State which is going to be affected.
- The President is not, however, bound by the views of the State Legislature
- It consists of 20 to 60 villages. At this level, the Panchayat Samiti is the chief executive body which is composed of heads of village Panchyat within its jurisdiction. In addition, it also contains representatives of women, scheduled castes, co-operative societies and members of State and Union legislatures belonging to the area. The Panchayat Samiti has a non-official Chairman who is elected by the members of the Samiti.
- The Samiti prepares the plans for the development of the area under its jurisdiction and implements these plans after they are approved by the State government. It also takes necessary steps for the advancement of health, primary education, sanitation and communication within its jurisdiction.
- It is responsible for the coordination of the work of various Panchayat Samitis within its jurisdiction. The Panchayat Samiti depends for finances mainly on the State government. It receives a share of land revenue and grants from the State government. It is also empowered to levy certain taxes.
- The executive body responsible for the management of the Zila is known as Zila Parishad. It usually consists of representatives of all the Panchayat Samitis under its jurisdiction. The Members of Parliament and State Legislature from the area are also its members. The other members of the Zila Parishad include representatives of the cooperative societies, district level officers of Medical, Public Health, Public Works, Engineering, Agriculture, Veterinary, Education and other departments. Representatives of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and women are also associated with the Zila Parishad if they are not adequately represented in it.
- The District Officer is also a member of the Zila Parishad and usually acts as the Chairman of this body.
- The Zila Parishad mainly performs coordinating functions.
- It exercises supervision and control over the Panchayat Samitis and advises the State government regarding the implementation of various development plans. The main functions of the Zila Parishad include establishment, maintenance and inspection of primary and secondary schools, primary health centres and maternity and child welfare centres, construction and maintenance of roads, parks etc., management of light, water supply etc. The Zila Parishad depends for finances mainly on the State. It receives from the state a share in the land cess and other local cesses and taxes as well as other grants.
Balwantrai G. Mehta Committee
In 1956, the National Development Council appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Balwantrai G. Mehta to suggest measures for the better working of the Community Development Programme and the National Extension Service.
The Committee submitted its report in 1957 in which it recommended:
- A three-tier structure consisting of the village at the bottom, district at the top and an intermediary structure in between.
- Genuine transfer of power and responsibility to these institutions.
- Adequate resources to all bodies to enable them to discharge their responsibilities.
- that all social and economic development programmes be channelised through these agencies.
- that a system be evolved to effect further dissolution and dispersal of power.
The recommendations of the Committee were approved by the National Development Council in January 1958 and thus set the stage for the launching of Panchayat Raj institutions throughout the country. Although the broad fundamentals were to be identical, it did not insist on rigidity regarding the form and pattern. The states were free to evolve their own patterns suitable to local conditions. The three-tier system of Panchayat Raj was first adopted by Rajasthan on October 2, 1959. This was followed by Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Gradually the Panchayat Raj system was adopted by most states even though the system differed in matters of detail.
Ashok Mehta Committee
In December, 1977, the Janata government appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Ashok Mehta to review the working of Panchayat Raj institutions and to make necessary recommendations for its improvement.
In its report of 1978, the committee made the following suggestions to improve the working of Panchayat Raj institutions:
- Replacement of the existing three-tier system by a two-tier system consisting of Mandal Panchayats at the base and the Zilla Parishad at the top.
- To reduce the dependence of the Panchayat Raj institutions on the state government, the committee suggested that Panchayat Raj institutions be given compulsory power of taxation to augment resources. It also suggested that certain taxes collected from the area such as profession tax, entertainment tax, and a special tax on land and buildings, be transferred to Panchayat Raj institutions.
- It sought to protect the interests of vulnerable sections of society by creating certain monitoring forums. It suggested the setting up of a Social Justice Committee in each Zilla Parishad to ensure that Panchayat Raj institutions do not neglect the interests of these sections.
- The committee favoured the open participation of political parties in the working of Panchayat Raj institutions.
In July-August 1989 the Congress (I) Government under Rajiv Gandhi introduced a constitutional amendment bill with a view to streamlining the Panchayat Raj. However, the bill was defeated in the Rajya Sabha. In November 1989 the National Front Government, soon after assuming power, announced its intention to grant greater powers to the Panchayat Raj institutions and favoured its involvement in the formulation and implementation of plans. However, it could not give a concrete shape of its ideas.
In December 1992, Congress (I) Government of Narasimha Rao, carried out the 73rd constitutional amendment to decentralise the power, down to the village level. The amendment became operative after being ratified by the requisite number of states and ascended to, by the President. As a result of this amendment, the Panchayat Raj institutions have been provided constitutional status. The Panchayat Raj institutions are constituted through direct elections, with the provision of reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women. The Panchayats have a fixed term of five years and if they are dissolved before the expiry of this term, elections must be held within six months.
The state government can bestow powers to these bodies, which may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government. The Panchayat Raj institutions have been authorised to make laws concerning the economic and social development of villages. These have been listed in the Eleventh Schedule and comes to twenty-nine subjects altogether. A State Finance Commission shall be appointed by the Governor of each state, which will be responsible for the review of the financial position of the Panchayats and will make recommendations to the Governor about the distribution of the net proceeds of taxes between the States and Panchayats. It shall also recommend grants-in-aid to the Panchayats, from the Consolidated Fund of the State. Though, the amendment provides a three-tier system, Panchayati Raj, at the village, intermediate and district level, the small states with a population of fewer than 20 lakhs have been given the option to avoid the intermediate level body.