What is the Panchayati Raj System?

Law
10-Oct-2022
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We all have read about the Panchayati Raj System in India in our textbooks. Little did we know that there is a whole legal system to regulate the same. The Constitutional (73rd) Amendment Act, 1992 contains provisions for passing the powers and responsibilities to the panchayat to prepare economic development and social justice plans.

As part of Panchayati Raj, village local governments are established, and they play an essential role in the development of primary education of the village children, health department, agricultural department, women & child development, and protection of the environment.

There are three primary levels of Panchayati Raj institutions that includes

  • Gram Panchayat (Village Level),
  • Block Panchayat (Clusters of Village),
  • and District Panchayat (District Level). 

Evolution of the Panchayati Raj System

Many people today wonder what Panchayati Raj System is, where it came from and what is the aim of the Panchayati Raj System. To begin with, the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee introduced the Panchayati Raj System in 1957, which recommended the establishment of the scheme of 'Democratic Decentralization' that came to be known as the Panchayati Raj. Decentralization means delegating power, responsibility, and authority to lower levels of administration to not accumulate power at the centre or in the hands of a select few.

Popularly known as the 'Father of Panchayati Raj', Balwant Rai Mehta was a parliamentarian and pioneer of this concept. The committee was primarily tasked with formulating the operations and functions of the newly conceptualized system.

Important recommendations by the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee:

  • Three-tier Panchayati Raj system: Gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti, and Zila Parishad.
  • Directly elected representatives to constitute the gram panchayat and indirectly elected representatives to include the Panchayat Samiti and Zila Parishad.

Adopting a tier system was an independent choice of the states. Some states had adopted the two-tier system; some had adopted the three-tier or four-tier. Rajasthan was the first State to establish Panchayati Raj which they inaugurated in 1959 in the Nagaur district.

Following this committee was the Ashok Mehta Committee, tasked with improving the Panchayati system. The Janata government appointed Ashok Mehta as chairman, and the main focus was finding solutions to the problem. Although, the Ashok Mehta Committee did bring a new dimension to the concepts and practice of the Panchayat Raj. System in India. 

Important recommendations made by the Ashok Mehta Committee:

  • Reservation for the seats based on the weaker section 
  • Keep two seats always for women 
  • Two-tier Panchayat Raj institutional structure consisting of Zilla Parishad and Mandal Panchayat.

In subsequent years, the Government of India appointed various committees. The Indian Constitution officially established Panchayati Raj System in 1992 as the third level of federal democracy through the 73rd Amendment Act.

Aims and Objectives of the Panchayati Raj System

  • Panchayati Raj Institutions have been in existence for a long time. However, it is observed that these institutions don't have the status and dignity of responsive bodies due to the absence of regular elections, prolonged supersession, and incomplete representation of weaker sections like Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women.
  • 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.
  • There is an imperative need to enshrine in the Constitution certain basic and essential features of Panchayati Raj Institutions to impart certainty, continuity, and strength.

Power and Responsibilities

State Legislatures may endow Panchayats with the following powers and authority as may be necessary to enable the Panchayats to become institutions of self-government at the grassroots level -

  • Preparation of plans for economic development and social justice;
  • Implementation of economic development and social justice schemes may be entrusted to them, including those concerning the matters listed in the Eleventh Schedule.
  • Levy, collect, and appropriate taxes, duties, tolls, and fees.

Note - All Panchayati Raj Institutions perform such functions as are specified in state laws relating to Panchayati raj. Some States distinguish between obligatory and optional tasks of Gram Panchayats, while other States do not make this distinction. The civic functions relate to sanitation, cleaning of public roads, minor irrigation, public toilets and lavatories, primary health care, vaccination, the supply of drinking water, construction of public wells, rural electrification, social health, and primary and adult education, etc. are obligatory functions of village panchayats.

Constitution of Panchayati Raj System

The three-tier system comprises the following -

  1. Gram Panchayats at the village level.
  2. Panchayat Samiti at block level or middle level.
  3.  Zilla Parishad at the district level.

Functions of Gram Panchayat

  • Public work and welfare functions include maintenance, repair, and construction of roads, drains, bridges, and wells.
  • Install and maintain street lamps. 
  • Provide primary education.
  • Construct libraries, marriage halls, etc.
  • Establish and run fair-price shops and cooperative credit societies.
  • Establish gardens, ponds, and orchards.

Functions of Panchayat Samiti

The panchayat Samiti collects all the plans prepared at Gram Panchayat and processes them for funding and implementation by evaluating them from the angles of financial constraints, social welfare, and area development. 

Functions of Zila Parishad

  • The Zila Parishad is an official body that coordinates the activities of the Panchayats in all its developmental activities, such as minor irrigation works, vocational and industrial schools, village industries, sanitation, and public health, among others.
  • It advises the State Government on all matters relating to the Gram Panchayats and Panchayat Samitis under its supervision and the needs of the rural population living therein.
  • It also supervises the work of the Panchayats. 
  • It functions mainly through various Standing Committees, which oversee and coordinate the common programs of the villages under its jurisdiction.

Conclusion

In India, the Panchayati Raj system is not a post-independence development. The framers of the Constitution were convinced of the need for this system and included provisions in the Directive Principles of State Policy for the Panchayati Raj (Article 40). Panchayati Raj is a three-tiered administrative framework in India that focuses on rural development.