Panchayat

India is a democratic country and also a vast country with a large population. Being a democratic nation every citizen of this very land has the right to participate in the government affairs. We in India follow federal government structure which allows the government to hear, enquire and resolve the problems of all the laymen living in this nation. Therefore as a result of adapting ourselves to the federal structure we have three levels/tiers of government to deal with the problems of the centre, state and local. A common man would understand a common better than anyone could ever do and he being in a position to resolve would be able to do much better than anyone. These local governments reduce the burden of the centre and state and also makes the people self- reliant and responsible.

VEDIC TIMES TILL CONSTITUTION:

To understand and analyse any subject or topic it is very important to ponder on its history. In the time of the Rig-Veda (1700 BC), evidences suggest 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. The Village Panchayat or elected council had large powers, both executive and judicial. Land was distributed by this panchayat which also collected taxes out of the produce and paid the government’s share on behalf of the village. Above a number of these village councils there was a larger panchayat or council to supervise and interfere if necessary[i]. Casteism and feudalistic system of governance under Mughal rule in the medieval period slowly eroded the self-government in villages. A new class of feudal chiefs and revenue collectors (zamindars) emerged between the ruler and the people. And, so began the stagnation and decline of self-government in villages.

During the British rule, the autonomy of panchayats gradually declined with the establishment of local civil and criminal courts, revenue and police organizations, the increase in communications, the growth of individualism and the operation of the individual Ryotwari (landholder-wise) system as against the Mahalwari or village tenure system. The panchayati had never been the priority of the British rulers.[ii] The panchayat was destroyed by the East India Company when it was granted the office of Diwan in 1765 by the Mughal Emperor as part of reparation after his defeat at Buxar. As Diwan the Company took two decisions. The first was that it abolished the village land record office and created a company official called Patwari. The Patwari became the official record keeper for a number of villages. The second was the creation of the office of magistrate and the abolition of village police. The magistrate carried out policing functions through the Darogha who had always been a state functionary under the Faujdar. The primary purpose of these measures was the collection of land revenue by fiat. These two measures completely disempowered the village community and destroyed the panchayat. After 1857 the British tried to restore the panchayat by giving it powers to try minor offences and to resolve village disputes. But these measures never restored the lost powers of the village community.

From 1870 a lot of administrative actions were taken by the British Empire to Viceroy Lord Mayo’s Resolution, Ripon Resolution, The Royal Commission on Decentralization (1907) but rural decentralization remained a neglected area of administrative reform. But the Montague-Chemsford reforms (1919) brought local self-government as a provincial transferred subject, under the domain of Indian ministers in the provinces. Due to organisational and fiscal constraints, the reform was unable to make panchayat institutions truly democratic and vibrant. However, the most significant development of this period was the ‘establishment of village panchayats in a number of provinces that were no longer mere ad hoc judicial tribunal, but representative institutions symbolising the corporate character of the village and having a wide jurisdiction in respect of civic matters. By 1925, eight provinces had passed panchayat acts and by 1926, six native states had also passed panchayat laws. The provincial autonomy under the Government of India Act, 1935, marked the evolution of panchayats in India. Popularly elected governments in provinces enacted legislations to further democratize institutions of local self-government. But the system of responsible government at the grassroots level was least responsible. The Indian National Congress from the 1920s to 1947, emphasized the issue of all-India Swaraj, and organized movements for Independence under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. The task of preparing any sort of blueprint for the local level was neglected as a result. There was no consensus among the top leaders regarding the status and role to be assigned to the institution of rural local self-government; rather there were divergent views on the subject.

During the drafting of the Constitution of India, Panchayati Raj Institutions were placed in the non-justiciable part of the Constitution, the Directive Principles of State Policy, as Article 40. The Article read ‘the State shall take steps to organize village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government’. However, no worthwhile legislation was enacted either at the national or state level to implement it. In the four decades since the adoption of the Constitution, panchayat raj institutions have travelled from the non-justiciable part of the Constitution to one where, through a separate amendment, a whole new status has been added to their history.

PANCHAYAT SYSTEM IN INDIA:

Panchayati system genesis can be seen in ancient period in texts of Panini, Buddhist text and Rig Veda in respect to administration autonomy. There we get a reference of Gram Sanghs or rural communities. In Manusmiriti and Mahabharat we get even in Kautilya’s “Arthshastra” talk about officials which constitute a group of Village Republics. During Mauryan period, Gupta period and Sultanate period Panchayats were organized and had performed function of sanitation, education and judiciary etc. The Britishers had created local self-governmen, as early as 1687 the Municipal corporation of Madras was formed. Then in 1870 a resolution for decentralization of power was passed by Bengal Chowkidari Act 1870. It was the first step towards local self-government. In 1909 “Royal Commission of Decentralization” submitted report to constitute and develop Village Panchayat for the administration of local village affair. The government of India Act of 1935 also had provision for provincial autonomy and had strengthen panchayats in the country. The provisions remained till the passing of the Act of 1947 and India attaining independence. In 1952, Government of India made first systematic effort to bring rural development through Community Development Program with the first Five Year Plan. After this many committees were formed to strengthen and review the functioning of Panchayati Raj Institutions at gross roots level of democracy. These are as follows-

  1. Balwant Rai Committee-recommended three tier system i.e. Zila Parishad, Panchayat Samiti and Gram Panchayat.
  2. Ashok Mehta Committee, 1977 -recommended that the three-tier system of Panchayati Raj should be replaced by the two-tier system. Zila Parishad at the district level and below it the Mandal Panchayat consisting of a group of Villages covering a population of 15000 to 20,000.
  3. G.V.K Rao Committee, 1985–This Committee was appointed to once again to look at various aspects of PRI’s. It recommended the following: PRI’s have to be activated and provided with all the requirement support to become effective organizations. PRI’s at the district level and below should assigned the work of planning, implementation and monitoring.
  4. L.M Singhvi Committee, 1986–This Committee studied Panchayati Raj and recommended that local self-government should be constitutionally recognized protected and preserved by the inclusion of new chapter in the constitution. Secondly it restricted involvement of political parties in panchayat elections.

In order to remove the above defects, parliament unanimously passed the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendment bills. These are the landmark in the development of panchayati Raj institution which was implemented in year 1992. The various provision of 73rd and 74th constitutional bills are as follows

  • Constitution of Gram sabhas in villages.
  • Constitution of three-tier Panchayat at village or other levels.
  • Direct election to all seats in panchayats
  • Reservation of seats for schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes
  • Reservation of one-third of the total seats at every level of panchayati Raj institution for women.
  • Fixing of tenure of five years for Panchayats
  • Giving representation to the members of Parliaments, MLA’s and MLC’s at the intermediate and district level with full voting rights.

PRESENT SENARIO

The Constitution of India visualises panchayats as institutions of self-governance. However, giving due consideration to the federal structure of India’s polity, most of the financial powers and authorities to be endowed on panchayats have been left at the discretion of concerned state legislatures. This is one of the biggest democracies in the world where village level democratic structures are functioning for their development.

Panchayati Raj Institution is not a new term in politics structure, it existed since long time in all phases wherever the culture of administration developed. But with passage of development many new reforms and development slowly take place in context of management and its functions of Panchayati Raj Institution as political structure.


[i] Jawaharlal Nehru, (1964), The Discovery of India, Signet Press, Calcutta, p.288

[ii] George Mathew, Ed :Status of Panchayati Raj in the States and Union Territories of India 2000/edited by George Mathew. Delhi, Concept for Institute of Social Sciences, 2000

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