The Panchayati Raj Institutions have been pivotal in strengthening grassroots-level democracy in India. The 73rd Amendment of the Constitution in 1993, laid the foundation of the panchayats as we see them today.
- Part IV of the Constitution of India contains Directive Principles of the State Policy in which Article 40 is provisioned for the organisation of village panchayats.
- The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992, promulgated on 24 April 1993, has been inserted as Part IX in the Constitution, which enjoins the States to establish panchayats.
- It lays down that “the State shall take steps to organise village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.’’
PESA Act 1996
- Separate legislation “Provisions for Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act” (PESA) was passed by the Parliament in 1996 to extend Part IX of the Constitution to the areas listed under the Fifth Schedule, subject to certain exceptions and modifications.
- This legislation has not only extended the development, planning, and audit functioning to the Gram Sabha (GS) but has also endowed it with the management and control of natural resources and adjudication of justice in accordance with traditions and customs.
Ministry of Panchayati Raj
- Ministry of Panchayati Raj was established on 27 May 2004, with the primary objective to oversee the implementation of Part IX of the Constitution and PESA Act 1996.
- ‘Panchayats’ being a State subject, their functioning is guided by respective State/U’T Panchayati Raj Acts.
- The Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MoPR) works in partnership with States, principally to achieve the constitutional aspirations pertaining to the functioning of panchayats primarily through policy guidance, advocacy, technological support, capacity building and training (CB&T), persuasion, and financial support.
- MoPR has played an important role in women empowerment through enhanced women’s participation in PRIs and emphasis on their capacity building.
- A total of 21 States have made provisions of 50% reservation for women in PRIs in their respective State Panchayati Raj Acts.
- PRIs are represented by the ERs, including Elected Women Representatives (EWRs).
- Reservation for women in PRIs and subsequent increase in the quota by States has brought an unprecedented and huge number of women in the governance arena in India.
- The number of ERs was 27.82 lakhs and EWRs were 10.42 lakhs (37.46%) in 2005, which increased to more than 31 lakh ERs in 2020, of which more than 14 lakh (46%) are EWRs,
- The States/UTs have also made good progress in providing basic infrastructural facilities to the panchayats such as Gram Panchayat Bhawans, computers, internet, and Common Service Centres (CSCs).
E-Governance Mechanism in Panchayats
- Rural Local Bodies (RLBs) serve around 65% of the country’s population. Improving functions of PRls for better delivery of services is essential for the well-being of rural people.
- The Ministry has developed a rich suite of applications over the year, to address various aspects of panchayats’ functioning- such as decentralised planning, budgeting, accounting, implementation and monitoring of plans, fund transfer, etc., in addition to a large number of service delivery applications like the issue of certificates, licenses, etc.
- Now the applications have been unified in a single and simplified portal called eGramSwaraj.
- The user-friendly interface of eGramSwaraj, improved position of ICT infrastructure and manpower are among various reasons for enhanced adoption of eGramSwaraj portal.
Provision of basic infrastructures, emphasis on e-governance, capacity building of PRIs, focused information, education, and communication (IEC) campaign are some of the main activities undertaken by the centre and States for strengthening the PRIs; utilising Ministry’s budgetary allocation and States’ resources. Important Schemes:
- Backward Regions Grant Funds (BRGF)
- Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP)
- Block Panchayat Development Plan (BPDP)
- District Panchayat Development Plan (DPDP)
Capacity Building of PRIs
- Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Abhiyan (RGSA) was launched for implementation on 1 April 2018, to develop and strengthen the capacities of PRIs to become more responsive towards local development needs.
- Training is conducted on various themes such as constitutional and statutory provisions on the functioning of PRIs, e-Governance, financial management, commitments on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and livelihood troubles, and so on.
- Panchayats are also being incentivised through awards and financial incentives in recognition of their good work for improving the planning and delivery of services.
Devaluation of Funds, Functions, and Functionaries (3Fs)
- The progress made by the States is quite varied in terms of the devolution of subjects. Various studies have highlighted that in some States the extent of devolution is robust; in others still, it is a work in progress.
- Initiatives for the success of e-Panchayats such as eGramSwaraj, PFMS integration for online payments, citizen’s charter, online audit, social audit, etc., for enhancing efficiency, transparency, and accountability of the PRls are undergoing.
- Panchayats also played an active role in the mitigation and management of Covid-19.
What reforms do Panchayats need?
- Panchayats need to be empowered to levy and collect taxes, tolls, fees, user charges, etc., along with other activities to enhance their own Source of Revenue.
- Flagship programmes of Central and State Governments should clearly lay out the role of panchayats in their guidelines.
- Representation of women in PRIs has substantially increased but effective participation requires appropriate training and exposure visits of these elected representatives.
- E-Governance mechanism has finally reached distant PRls, although substantial room for improvement exists.
- The planning process has been streamlined with the preparation of plans at all tiers of panchayats, but these are needed to be made more holistic and inclusive through democratic functioning of GPs, with active functioning of Standing Committees and ward members, and effective functioning of Gram Sabhas and participation of key stakeholders.
In view of the increasing rural population, the number of administrative units- PRIs have been increasing over time. So, further progressive devolution of Functions, Funds, and Functionaries to PRls through activity mapping ought to be ensured to accomplish mandated activities and to achieve the objectives of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment in order to ease the life of around 65% of the country’s population living in rural areas.