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Down To Earth Magazine – June 2022, Part 2 | Gram Sabha

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Gram Sabha: Why In the News?

On June 7, the dashboard of the Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj showed an impressive figure: 261,203-gram sabhas had been scheduled by panchayats across the country to prepare village development plans for 2022-2023.

About Gram Sabha

  • Gram sabha is an assembly of all eligible voters in a village and its formation is similar to a legislative assembly. It has legislative, supervisory and executive powers.
  • A gram sabha approves all village plans, supervises their implementation and monitors the elected panchayat members.
  • From who will get a borewell to which households will be added to the below poverty line list, the gram sabha decides.
  • A village, with the gram sabha at the core of decision making, is mandated to make at least five five-year plans (covering education, employment, water, and sanitation) and is engaged in the certification and implementation of over 200 development schemes.
  • A gram sabha, just like Parliament, establishes standing committees to supervise government officials involved in the implementation of schemes. For instance, several villages have an all-women standing committee to certify water projects.


Village Assembly: A Replay Of India’s Ancient Village Governance System

  • Village assemblies are a replay of India’s ancient village governance systems.
  • S Radhakrishnan said at a Constituent Assembly debate on January 20, 1947, “When a few merchants from the north went down to the south, one of the princes of the Deccan asked the question: ‘Who is your king?’ The answer was, ‘Some of us are governed by assemblies, some of us by kings’,”.
  • Mahatma Gandhi fiercely advocated for such a body to drive the self-reliant villages.


Why did the Institution Of Panyatiraj earlier not get legal backing through Constitution?

  • Dr B R Ambedkar resisted such a move. He famously said, “What is the village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness, and communalism?”
  • The Constituent Assembly stopped short of giving legal backing to traditional village institutions as it kept local governance under the directive principles.
  • The 1992 constitutional amendment finally formalised the Panchayati Raj system, making it the world’s largest experiment in decentralised governance.


Sarpanch Raj to Swaraj/Jan Raj

In the early years, the elected panchayat members resisted scrutiny from the gram panchayat. This reduced the Panchayati Raj system to “sarpanch raj”, killing the very spirit of this decentralised governance system.

But states like Karnataka in the 1980s started formalising the role of the gram sabha by making its meetings compulsory.

Kerala took up people’s campaigns to make decentralised planning for villages, with gram sabhas at the core of the planning.


Gram Sabhas: What Significance?

  • By the early 2000s, the Union government had made two sessions of the gram sabha compulsory every year.
  • As panchayats are now the prime executor of rural development schemes, with budgets over 1.5 lakh crore, governments have started making gram sabhas the main supervising body for the elected members and the government officials in charge of implementing these schemes.
  • The rise of the gram sabha reflects the need for further deepening of decentralised governance through the direct involvement of the voters.


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