In India there is a government at the Center and State levels. But there is another important system for local governance. The foundation of the present local self-government in India was laid by the Panchayati Raj System (1992). But the history of Panchayati Raj starts from the self-sufficient and self-governing village communities. In the time of the Rig-Veda (1700 BC), evidence suggests that self-governing village bodies called ‘sabhas’ existed. With the passage of time, these bodies became panchayats (council of five persons). Panchayats were functional institutions of grassroots governance in almost every village. They endured the rise and fall of empires in the past, to the current highly structured system.
Local self-government implies the transference of the power to rule to the lowest rungs of the political order. It is a form of democratic decentralization where the participation of even the grass root level of the society is ensured in the process of administration.
Gram Sabha is described as a legal general assembly of all adult persons residing in a village or a group of villages. The roles, powers and functions of the Sabha are decided by the State Legislature, as per the 73rd amendment.
Gram Sabha reviews annual budget, accounts of the Panchayat and also discusses its audit and administrative reports and tax proposal. Further, it approves development schemes formulated by the Panchayat. It also plans and organizes various resources for community development programs.
Two meeting of the Gram Sabha, are organised every year, wherein the first meeting is to consider the budget of the Gram Panchayat and the second meeting is held to take into account the reports of the Panchayat. The members of the Sabha elect their representatives at the Village Panchayat, i.e. its members and the Chairperson, through voting by a secret ballot.
The Three-Tier System of Panchayati Raj in India:
In the structure of the Panchayati Raj, the Village Panchayat is the lowest unit. There is a Panchayat for each village or a group of villages in case the population of these villages happens to be too small. The Panchayat chiefly consists of representatives elected by the people of the village.
Only the persons who are registered as voters and do not hold any office of profit under the government are eligible for election to the Panchayat. The persons convicted by the court for criminal offences are disqualified from election of the Panchayat.
There is also provision for co-option of two women and one member of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, if they do not get adequate representation in the normal course.
The Panchayat as a body is accountable to the general body of the village known as Gram Sabha which meets at least twice a year. The Gram Panchayat must present its budget, accounts of the previous year and annual administrative report before the Gram Sabha.
The Sarpanch occupies a pivotal position in Gram Panchayat system. He supervises and coordinates the various activities of the Panchayat.
He is an ex-officio member of the Panchayat Samiti and participates in its decision-making as well as in the election of the Pradhan and of the members of various Standing Committees. He acts as the executive head of the Panchayat, represents it in the Panchayat Samiti as its spokesman and coordinates its activities and those of other local institutions like cooperatives.
The Panchayat Secretary and the Village Level Worker are the two officers at the Panchayat level to assist the Sarpanch in administration.
The Panchayat Samiti is the second on join tier of the Panchayati Raj. The Balwant Rai Mehta Committee report has envisaged the Samiti as a single representative and vigorous democratic institution to take charge of all aspects of development in rural areas. The Samiti, according to the Committee, offers “an area large enough for functions which the Village Panchayat cannot perform and yet small enough to attract the interest and services of residents.”
Usually a Panchayat Samiti consists of 20 to 60 villages depending on area and population. The average population under a Samiti is about 80,000 but the range is from 35,000 to 1, 00,000. The Panchayat Samiti generally consists of:
The President of the Panchayat Samiti is the Pradhan, who is elected by an electoral college consist of all members of the Panchayat Samiti and all the Panchas of the Gram Panchayat falling within the areas. Besides the Pradhan, the Up-pradhan is also elected. The Pradhan convenes and presides over the Panchayat Samiti meetings. He guides the Panchayats in making plans and carrying out production programmes.
The principal function of the Panchayat Samiti is to coordinate the activities of the various Panchayats within its jurisdiction. The Panchayat Samiti supervises the work of the Panchayats and scrutinises their budgets.
The Zilla Parishad stands at the apex of the three-tier structure of the Panchayati Raj system. Generally, the Zilla Parishad consists of representatives of the Panchayat Samiti; all the members of the State Legislature and the Parliament representing a part or whole of the district; all district level officers of the Medical, Public Health, Public Works, Engineering, Agriculture, Veterinary, Education and other development departments.
There is also a provision for special representation of women, members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes provided they are not adequately represented in the normal course. The Collector is also a member of the Zilla Parishad.
The Chairman of the Zilla Parishad is elected from among its members. There is a Chief Executive Officer in the Zilla Parishad. He is deputed to the Zilla Parishad by the State Government. There are subject matter specialists or officers at the district level in all the states for various development programmes.
The Zilla Parishad, for the most part, performs co-ordinating and supervisory functions. It coordinates the activities of the Panchayat Samitis falling within its jurisdiction. In certain states the Zilla Parishad also approves the budgets of the Panchayat Samitis.
State Legislatures have power, to confer on the Panchayats such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government1). They may be entrusted with the responsibility of
The list contains 29 items, e.g., land improvement, minor irrigation, animal husbandry, fisheries, education, women and child development etc. The 11th Schedule thus distributes powers between the State Legislature and the Panchayat just as the 7th Schedule distributes powers between the Union and the State Legislature.
Every Panchayat is required under the statute to make 'reasonable provision' for meeting the requirements of the village with regard to the construction, repair and maintenance of all public roads, bridges, causeways, lighting of public roads, and places, construction of drains, and public latrines, cleaning of streets and other improvements of sanitary condition, improvement of cattle, promotion of cottage industries, development of co-operatives, welfare of backward castes, preventive and remedial measures against epidemics, promotion of agriculture and other development programmes at the village level.
Discretionary functions of the village panchayat depend upon the resources available and the income at their disposal to meet the requirements. These include items such as constitution and maintenance of slaughter houses, establishment of granaries, village library and reading rooms, layout and maintenance of play grounds and promotion improvement and encouragement of cottage industries, establishment and maintenance of markets, dispensaries and maternity and child welfare centres, veterinary relief and organizing voluntary labour for community work.
Under section 44 of the Act, the Taluk Board can transfer the maintenance of the institutions like minor muzrai institutions or Dharmashala and execution of any other works. According to section 46 of the Act, the government can assign some more functions to the village panchayat. For example, the management and maintanence of forest adjacent to the village, make over to the panchayat the management of waste lands, pasture lands or vacant lands belonging to the Government situate within the village, entrust the panchayat with the collection of land revenue on behalf of the Government and the maintanence of such records as are connected therewith. Besides the Government has power to give new functions to panchayat in consultation with the Taluk Board and subject to such conditions as may be imposed by it.
Local government has deep roots in Indian history. The local bodies organized life of stability at the local levels. The grass roots system had shown a peculiar identity and stability despite frequent changes of power occurred at the super structural level.Keeping in view the importance of the village in the economy of India, the makers of the Indian Constitution inserted Article 40 into the Constitution. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1993 was a land mark in the history of rural local self-government. It uniformly introduced a three-tier Panchayati Raj system through out the country.