Editorial: Panchayati Raj – History, Importance, and way forward

By | April 24, 2020


Anurag Garg (Assistant Commissioner, State-Tax, Himachal Pradesh)

Mahatma Gandhi had once said when Panchayati Raj is established, public opinion will do what violence can never do.

The Panchayat Raj is the oldest system of local government. The word ‘Panchayat‘ is an amalgamation of two words where ‘Panch‘ means ‘five‘ and ‘Ayat‘ means ‘assembly‘ and ‘Raj‘ means ‘rule‘.

Traditionally panchayats consisted of sensible and respected elders chosen and accepted by the local community. The leader of the panchayat was often called as the mukhiya, sarpanch or pradhan.

The job of these assemblies was to settle disputes between individuals and between villages. However, there were varying forms of such assemblies.

In 1992 a major change in the Panchayat system of India came in the form of the passage of the Panchayati Raj Act (73rd Amendment). The act came into existence with effect from April 24, 1993. Therefore, April 24 is celebrated as Panchayati Raj Day in India It was celebrated for the first time in April 2010.

In our country, though the Panchayati Raj Institutions have been in existence for a long time, it had been observed that these institutions have not been able to acquire the status and dignity of viable and responsive people’s bodies due to a number of reasons including the absence of regular elections, prolonged supersessions, insufficient representation of weaker sections like Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women, inadequate devolution of powers and lack of financial resources.

To overcome the inefficiency of the system many committees were set up since independence like the Balwant Rai Mehta committee in 1957 to study the community development plan and national extension service program and recommended three-tier system.

Similarly, the Santhanam committee in 1963 was set up to look into the revenue, grant, and financial relations at a different level.

One major issue arises in the context with the PRIs was that it got dominated by the privileged section. To look into the matter a committee was set up in 1977 known as Ashok Mehta committee. It recommended the two-tier system instead of the three-tier system, Zila Parishad and Mandal panchayat thus favouring the abolishment of block-level, also recommended taxation in items under Zila Parishad, Nyay Panchayat should be separated from development panchayat and a ministry of Panchayat Raj in every state.

G.V. K. Rao committee was set up on poverty alleviation in 1985.

For the first time, a committee favoured the constitutional status to PRI was the L.M. Singhvi committee.  The Report of L.M. Singhvi Committee on Revitalization of Panchayati Raj Institutions was accepted in 1986 by the then government. The Committee had considered Gram Sabha as the base of decentralized democracy, and PRIs were viewed as institutions of self-governance which would actually facilitate the participation of the people in the process of planning and development.

Decentralization is the key to development in the present scenario. There are many advantages of decentralization such as it brings decision making close to the people, also held the decision-maker accountable for effective implementation of the policy. It ensures the more realistic and practical planning in the given area. Decentralization increases the vigilance towards the money spent thus help in reducing the room of corruption. It helped in increases the participation of almost every strata of society.

We have traveled a long since the 73rd amendment and plugged many loopholes in the system, but still a long way to go. There are still many issues persist which restrict the Panchayati Raj system to work effectively and independently. The first failure is the transfer of various governance functions like health, education sanitation, etc.

In the amendment, there are two lists mandatory and voluntary. Almost all the governance-related functions fall in the voluntary list which means at the discretion of the state government. Thus there is very little devolution of authority and function by the states towards the PRI, the exception being a Kerala state.

The second issue is related to finance. Local governments can either raise their own revenue through local taxes or receive intergovernmental transfers. The 73rd Amendment recognized both forms of public finance (revenue through taxation and transfer through state finance commission), but did not mandate either, means again in the voluntary list. The power to tax, even for subjects falling within the purview of PRIs, has to be specifically authorized by the state legislature. The 73rd Amendment let this be a choice open to the state legislatures a choice that most states have not exercised, again exception being Kerala.

The constitutional amendment created provisions for State Finance Commissions to recommend the revenue share between state and local governments. However, these are merely recommendations and the state governments are not bound by them. Though the Finance Commissions, at every level, have advocated for greater devolution of funds, there has been little action by states to devolve funds. As a result, PRIs are so starved for funds that they are often unable to meet even payroll obligations. They are reluctant to take on projects that require any meaningful financial outlay and are often unable to solve even the most basic local governance needs.

Reservation of women at the Panchayat level was the important feature of the 73rd amendment. It was a crucial step considering the fact that women had low participation in public life. The impact and implications of this policy are mixed. On the one hand, women elected are claimed to be the front for their male relatives. On the other hand, it has been argued that the female representative is indeed proactive and brings about several efficient changes.

Chavvi  Rajawat, Prajwal Busta, Arti Devi are some such fine examples who have ushered in new positive reforms at the village level.

Panchayats is a State subject, thus the Panchayati Raj system is primarily the responsibility of the States. The onus on strengthening the Panchayati Raj is on State. Effective decentralization is the need of the hour for proactive governance at the village level. One such fine example is the state of Kerala where local bodies have been given a certain amount of autonomy to decide upon the various reforms and policies which could help in effective governance at the local level, e.g. it has a decentralized health system which has helped a lot in tackling the COVID 19.

In Village councils, they have taken upon themselves to enforce and monitor mass quarantine with the consent of the people, thus mainly helped in community outreach, rigorous contact tracing, and mass quarantine. Its Kudamshree programmme related to women empowerment in the various fields helped in strengthening and making it more participatory at the village level.

Panchyati Raj as an institution is vital to foster better local governance and therefore it is necessary that government should focus more on sustainable decentralization and bring in clarity in the assignment of the function of the panchayat, otherwise, it will remain as a tool for implementing the central and state schemes only.

Read other Editorials: Click here

Stay updated with us:

Click here to join our Telegram Channel

Click here to Join our Facebook Group

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 2 MB. You can upload: image. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop file here