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Panchayati Raj – Meaning, Evolution, and Key Features

What is Panchayati Raj?

Panchayati Raj is a system of local self-government in rural India. It was introduced as a constitutional amendment in 1992 and is aimed at decentralizing power and promoting grassroots democracy. Panchayati Raj consists of a three-tier structure comprising Gram Panchayat at the village level, Panchayat Samiti at the block level, and Zilla Parishad at the district level. The system operates through elected representatives who are accountable to the local residents.

Panchayats have various responsibilities, including local planning, development programs, infrastructure management, and resource allocation. They also ensure the participation of marginalized groups, such as women, SCs, and STs, through reserved seats. Overall, Panchayati Raj empowers rural communities to govern themselves, address their specific needs, and contribute to local development.

Evolution of Panchayati Raj

The evolution of the Panchayati Raj in India has been a journey of constitutional reforms and policy changes aimed at strengthening local self-government and empowering rural communities. The roots of the Panchayati Raj can be traced back to ancient times when local assemblies called Panchayats played a significant role in village governance. However, it was with the passage of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act in 1992 that Panchayati Raj gained constitutional status in India.

This amendment recognized Panchayats as institutions of self-government and provided a framework for their establishment, powers, and functions. Over the years, subsequent amendments and policy initiatives have further refined and expanded the scope of Panchayati Raj, emphasizing devolution of power, inclusivity, and decentralization.

The evolution of Panchayati Raj reflects the country’s commitment to grassroots democracy and local empowerment, fostering participatory governance and ensuring that rural communities have a voice in decision-making processes and development initiatives. There were a number of committees appointed by the Government of India to study the implementation of self-government at the rural level and also recommend steps for achieving this goal. The committees appointed are as follows:

  • Balwant Rai Mehta Committee
  • Ashok Mehta Committee
  • G V K Rao Committee
  • L M Singhvi Committee

Balwant Rai Mehta Committee & Panchayati Raj

  • The Balwant Rai Mehta Committee was appointed in 1957.
  • The committee examined and suggested measures for improving the Community Development Programme and the National Extension Service.
  • It recommended the establishment of a democratic decentralized local government known as Panchayati Raj.
  • The Panchayati Raj system consists of a three-tier structure: Gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti, and Zila Parishad.
  • Gram Panchayat is constituted by directly elected representatives, while Panchayat Samiti and Zila Parishad have indirectly elected representatives.
  • The primary objectives of the Panchayati Raj system are planning and development.
  • Panchayat Samiti acts as the executive body, while Zila Parishad serves as the advisory and supervisory body.
  • The committee proposed that the District Collector should be made the chairman of the Zila Parishad.
  • It emphasized the need for allocating resources to support the functioning of Panchayati Raj institutions.
  • The recommendations aimed at democratic decentralization and active participation of locals in community development programs.
  • Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, supported the Panchayat system and emphasized granting power to the Panchayats and empowering villages.

Ashok Mehta Committee & Panchayati Raj

In 1977, an appointed committee aimed to revive and strengthen the declining Panchayati Raj system in India. Their key recommendations can be summarized as follows:

  • The existing three-tier system of Panchayati Raj should be replaced by a more streamlined two-tier system. This new system would consist of the Zila
  • Parishad at the district level and the Mandal Panchayat represent a group of villages.
  • The district level should be designated as the primary level of supervision immediately following the state level.
  • The Zila Parishad should be entrusted with executive powers and take responsibility for planning at the district level.
  • Both the Zila Parishad and the Mandal Panchayat should be granted compulsory taxation powers, enabling them to generate their own financial resources. This step would contribute to their financial independence and autonomy.

G V K Rao Committee & Panchayati Raj

In 1985, a committee appointed by the planning commission addressed the issue of development not reaching the grassroots level and identified a lack of grassroots connection in the Panchayati Raj institutions. To rectify this, the committee made the following key recommendations:

  • The Zila Parishad should be recognized as the most significant body in the system of democratic decentralization. It should be entrusted with the primary responsibility of managing and overseeing developmental programs at the district level.
  • Specific planning, implementation, and monitoring of rural development programs should be assigned to both the district level and the lower levels of the Panchayati Raj system.
  • The creation of the post of District Development Commissioner was recommended. This individual would serve as the chief executive officer of the Zila Parishad, ensuring the effective execution of development initiatives.
  • Regular elections should be conducted at all levels of the Panchayati Raj system to ensure consistent democratic representation and participation.

Journey of the Panchayati Raj System in the Country

L M Singhvi Committee & Panchayati Raj

In 1986, the Government of India appointed a committee with the aim of revitalizing the Panchayati Raj systems to promote democracy and development. The committee put forward the following recommendations:

  • Constitutional recognition should be granted to the Panchayati Raj systems, and provisions should be made to ensure free and fair elections for these systems.
  • Reorganization of villages was recommended to enhance the viability of the gram panchayats.
  • Village panchayats should receive increased financial resources to support their activities.
  • The establishment of judicial tribunals in each state was proposed to handle matters pertaining to elections and the functioning of the Panchayati Raj institutions.

These recommendations highlight the potential effectiveness of panchayats in identifying and addressing local issues, engaging rural communities in development activities, improving communication between different levels of governance, fostering leadership skills, and contributing to overall state development. Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh were the pioneering states to adopt Panchayati Raj in 1959, and subsequently, other states followed suit.

Key Features of Panchayati Raj

The key features of the Panchayati Raj system are as follows:

  1. Three-tier structure: The system is organized into three levels of Panchayats – Gram Panchayat (village level), Panchayat Samiti (block level), and Zilla Parishad (district level). Each level has specific responsibilities and powers.
  2. Elections: The members of the Panchayats are elected by the local residents through a democratic election process. These elected representatives form the core of the Panchayati Raj system and are accountable to the people.
  3. Functions and powers: The Panchayats are responsible for a range of functions, including local planning, implementation of development programs, social welfare activities, infrastructure development, and resource management. They have the power to collect and manage local taxes, make decisions on local issues, and represent the interests of the community.
  4. Devolution of power: Panchayati Raj aims to decentralize power by transferring authority, functions, and resources from higher levels of government to the Panchayats. This allows local communities to have a say in decision-making and ensures the effective delivery of services and development initiatives.
  5. Inclusivity and representation: Panchayati Raj emphasizes the participation of marginalized sections of society, such as women, Scheduled Castes (SC), and Scheduled Tribes (ST), in the governance process. It promotes the reservation of seats for these groups to ensure their representation at all levels of the Panchayati Raj institutions.

The Panchayati Raj system has played a significant role in promoting local democracy, empowering rural communities, and fostering grassroots development in India. It serves as an important platform for people’s participation in governance and enables them to address their specific needs and challenges at the local level.

National Panchayati Raj Day 

73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992

The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992 holds significant importance in the history of Indian governance. It introduced fundamental changes to the structure and functioning of local self-government in rural areas. The amendment aimed to empower and strengthen Panchayati Raj institutions, recognizing them as vital units of democratic governance. Key provisions of the amendment included the establishment of a three-tier structure of Panchayats at the village, block, and district levels, with elected representatives serving as the core of these bodies.

It emphasized the principles of devolution of powers, financial autonomy, and reservations for marginalized sections, such as women, Scheduled Castes (SC), and Scheduled Tribes (ST). The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act played a pivotal role in promoting grassroots democracy, decentralization, and inclusive governance, giving rural communities a platform to participate in decision-making processes and address their specific needs and concerns effectively.

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When did Panchayat Raj start in India?

The three-tier scheme of Panchayati Raj began on October 2, 1959, with the already existing Panchayats at the village level under the Rajasthan Panchayat Act, 1953.

Who started Panchayati Raj system?

The system later came to be known as Panchayati Raj, which was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on 2 October 1959 at Nagour in Rajasthan. The first elections under the Rajasthan Panchayat Samitis and Zilla Parishads Act, 1959 were held in September-October 1959.

Who is known as the father of Panchayati Raj in India?

Balwant Rai Mehta is known as the father of Panchayati Raj Institutions.

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