Local Self-Governance in India’s Rural Areas: The Panchayati Raj System

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The Panchayati Raj System

The Panchayati Raj System

The Panchayati Raj System : One of the biggest features of democracy is the delegation of power. It means power is not conThe report recommended “democratic decentralization” which later came to be known as the “Panchayati Raj”. centrated in a few hands. Unlike monarchy or dictatorship, people in a democracy have more rights. In a democracy, there are local governments that help in resolving day-to-day issues quickly.

If the issues are not resolved then the individual can appeal to a higher body. While cities have Nagar Palika, villages have a Panchayati raj system. Local governments can be very effective in protecting the interests of local people. The Panchayati raj system is part of the local government.

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Local government is an important tier (level) democracy. The local government is at the bottom tier of democracy. As sometimes people know what is best for their community and while the central and state governments implement plans and policies for the benefit of the community at large.

But sometimes problems at the ground level are unknown to the government, so to solve this problem local governments like the Panchayati raj system were put in place. This helps in solving the problems and developing local areas for the benefit of the people.

Panchayati Raj System Before Independence

The Panchayati Raj System

The Panchayati raj system has been present in India since the Vedic era. The system was present in India in some form or other throughout the history of the nation. Since the Vedic times, it is considered that the affairs of a village, also considered as the basic unit of the nation, should be given in the hands of the local people.

Even though mention of the Panchayati raj system is found in the oldest texts, there is no mention of women participating in the panchayats. The Panchayati raj system was followed till the end of the Mughal Empire. After Britain colonized India the Panchayati raj system became weak and lost its autonomy.

The British government was not ready to delegate power, in the fear it might result in overthrowing the British government. In 1870 the famous Mayo Resolution came, Mayo advocated for delegation of power and giving power to the local government. This was unwillingly passed by the British government because of fiscal compulsion.

Even though it was passed power was only delegated to urban local bodies. In 1882 Lord Rippon, the then Viceroy of India, felt the local government needed a much more democratic framework than it currently has. This was considered the Magna Carta of the local democracy of India.

During the freedom struggle of India, Mahatma Gandhi emphasized the decentralization of power. This he believed could be possible by the creation of panchayats and giving them the power to govern their territory.

Panchayati Raj System After Independence

After India gained independence in 1947, when the constitution was made there was a great debate on whether the panchayat system should be mentioned or not in the constitution. The major opposer of this was the father of the Indian constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. He opposed it as it might worsen the situation of an already caste-divided nation.

He believed that it might be harmful to the backward classes. However, the importance of the panchayat system was agreed upon by all, but the nation was not in a state to implement it. So after a great amount of discussion, the Panchayati system was given a place in the constitution, under Article 40 of the Directive Principle of State Policies.

As it was under the Directive Principle of State Policies the government didn’t need to set up the Panchayati raj system. It will be the choice of each state government as to whether they want a Panchayati system or not.

In 1952, the Community Development Programme (CDP) was launched, seeking people’s direct help in the development of local areas. However, the project was a failure due to many reasons like bureaucracy, lack of public support, and excessive politics to name a few.

Balwant Rai Mehta Committee

After the failure of CDP, the government of India set up the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee in 1957. The committee was set up to look into the working of CDP and suggest measures on how it can be improved. The committee was chaired by Balwant Rai Mehta.

The committee submitted its report at the end of the very same year. The report put forward the idea of “democratic decentralization,” which was subsequently termed as the “Panchayati Raj.”

The report suggested the formation of a three-tier Panchayati raj system consisting- Gram Panchayat at the village level, Panchayat Samiti at the block level, and Zilla Parishad at the district level. It also recommended that elections should be held at intervals of 5 years. It suggested genuine delegation of power to local bodies.

The 73rd Amendment

In 1992, the parliament passed the 73rd amendment. It was aimed at strengthening the local rural governments (also known as Panchayati Raj Institutions PRIs) and bringing uniformity in their structure and function. The 73rd amendment finally gave constitutional validity to the Panchayati raj system.

The amendment defined the structure of the panchayats. According to the 73rd amendment the panchayats would have a three-tier system. It should have elections every five years. It gave powers to the state governments to dissolve panchayats. If the panchayat is dissolved by the state government then fresh elections should be conducted within six months.

This was an important provision as it ensured that panchayats would exist. As earlier the state used to dissolve the panchayat and government officials would take control over the local governing bodies.

It also provided one-third of reservations for women and also for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). If the states found it necessary they could also give reservations to Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The panchayat should also be allocated funds.

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