All about Panchayati Raj System in India and its Legal Implications
This Blog is written by Soumya Bhardwaj from Bennett University, Greater Noida. Edited by Ujjawal Vaibhav Agrahari.
Local bodies such as panchayats, for the most part, served as civic agents of the state government rather than micro-level planning instruments in the early years. Rural development initiatives were developed and attempt to establish a three-tier Panchayat structure were made during the third five-year plan. But, except for a few states, it was not a success. Many committees have been formed to develop the successful Panchayat system, but no real steps have been taken. The Government of India created the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee in January 1957 to investigate the Community Development Program’s operation. When the Janata Party came to power at the Centre in 1977, the shortcomings in the operation of Panchayati Raj were seriously considered. It was decided to form a high-level committee, chaired by Ashok Mehta, to investigate and recommend ways to improve PRIs. New and important committees were made to manage the local government which was G.V.K Rao committee. Its main purpose was to distribute the work, manage it, plan and implement all the rural development programs. Another committee was L.M.Singh Committee. It advocated the formation of a finance committee and the negligence of all rural development programs to Panchayati Raj Institutions.
The Panchayati Raj system is not new to India. It has existed from the start of history. In Manusmriti, Arthasastra, and the Mahabharata, we find numerous references of Panchayats. During the Muslim control, the system continued to function without hindrance. Kautilya’s Arthashastra contains a detailed overview of the village governance system in use during the period. In the Vedic period, the village was the main administrative unit. The ‘sabha‘ and the ‘Samiti’ were the two public assemblies in the Vedic polity. The Samiti was in charge of electing the King, while the Sabha was in charge of judicial matters. During the Mughal period, Akbar was autonomous in his area, with local taxes and administrative control abilities. Following the arrival of the British, the state system evolved into a highly centralized structure, with the shape adopted during British control being a blend of British and continental traditions. Viceroy Lord Mayo‘s decree, which took effect in 1870, provided the necessary push for the formation of local institutions. Lord Ripon, in his landmark resolution on local self-government on May 18, 1882, acknowledged the two concerns of local government, which are administrative efficiency and political education, as the true measuring of government policy on decentralization. Each village has its own set of problems that only residents are aware of. Members of a Panchayat are significantly more aware of regional issues, and as a result, they are more equipped to make decisions that benefit the people of their village. The panchayats act in accordance with the specific demands of their residents. The panchayats work on a variety of levels, ranging from the construction of vital establishments such as primary schools to hygiene-related issues, to water needs, to enlisting the support of the central government in creating jobs at the village level. They also provide a significant contribution to mobilizing local resources, fostering large-scale community participation, lower-level planning, reducing corruption, and improving the quality of nations’ work. Panchayats have long been a fundamental element of Indian society. Panchayats and local republics were promoted by Mahatma Gandhi as well. Since independence, India has had numerous provisions of Panchayats, with the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992 serving as the pinnacle. The constitution was amended in 1992 to include a new Part IX titled “The Panchayats,” which covered provisions from Article 243, as well as a new Eleventh Schedule, which covered 29 areas related to the Panchayats’ activities. This amendment executes article 40 of the DPSP, which specifies that the “State shall take steps to organize village panchayats and grant them with such rights and powers as may be required to achieve them to function as units of self-government,” and has added them from non-justifiable to justifiable. The 73rd Amendment Act included the following provisions:
1. Gram Sabha may have such responsibilities and functions such tasks at the district level as the Legislature of a State may prescribe by law.
2. Panchayats at the village, intermediate, and district levels shall be established in every State in conformity with the requirements of this Part.
3. Intermediate-level panchayats may not be formed in a state with a population of fewer than twenty lakhs.
4. All seats in a Panchayat shall be filled by individuals elected directly from the Panchayat’s territorial districts and each Panchayat area shall be categorized into territorial constituencies in such a way that the proportion between the population of each constituency and the number of votes allotted to it is, as far as practicable, the same throughout the Panchayat area.
According to Article 243 D, seats must be reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. At each level, seats will be reserved for SCs and STs in proportion to their population. A third of the Earmarked Seats must be reserved for women from the SC and ST communities. Direct elections must fill 1/3 of the total number of seats, with the remaining 1/3 designated for women. An amendment bill is currently pending that will boost women’s reservations to 50%. The reserved seats in the Panchayat may be assigned to various constituencies through rotation. The state may also make provisions for chairpersons’ offices to be reserved by legislation. The Panchayats have been given a defined 5-year tenure, and elections must be held before the end of the term. However, in compliance with state laws, the Panchayat may be dissolved early for particular reasons. In that event, elections must be held within six months after the dissolution. Disqualifications from membership are outlined in Article 243F. Anyone who is qualified to be an MLA is also qualified to be a member of the Panchayat, although the minimum age requirement for Panchayat is 21 years. Furthermore, the criteria for disqualification must be established by law by the state legislature. The Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) was enacted on December 24, 1996, to enable Tribal Self-Government in these areas because the Panchayat Raj Act does not automatically encompass these areas. The Act also extends Panchayati Raj’s provisions to the tribal territories of nine states with Fifth Schedule Areas. It’s also worth noting that most of the Northeastern states that come under the Sixth Schedule Areas and have autonomous councils are not included by PESA because they have their own independent councils for administration. Orissa, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Chattisgarh are the nine states with Fifth Schedule areas. However, it is undeniable that state governments have not made a real attempt to implement PESA. In Union of India v. Rakesh Kumar, the Jharkhand Panchayat Raj Act 2001[sec 21(B),40(B),55(B)], which provides 100 percent reservation for scheduled tribes in panchayats located in Jharkhand’s scheduled territory, was found to be constitutionally permissible. As a result, the Supreme Court enables parliament to expressly offer “modifications and exclusions” in the application of Part IX to scheduled regions. According to Article 329 of the Constitution, the courts are prohibited from interfering in matters relating to seat allocation and delimitation of constituencies as defined by Article 243K. Election petitions can only be filed in cases involving panchayat elections, and they must follow certain rules laid out by the state legislature.
The 73rd Amendment has had a large positive impact in rural India, changing power dynamics dramatically. Panchayat elections are held on a regular basis in most states. More than 28 lakh people now have a formal role in our representative democracy, thanks to nearly 600 District Panchayats, 6000 Intermediate Panchayats, and 2.3 lakh Gram Panchayats. Unfortunately, this bill lacks a clear definition of the bureaucracy’s purpose. The role of the state government is not clearly defined. People in India are uneducated on a practical level, and they are unaware of these innovative aspects. In several sections of the country, effluents dominate the Panchayats. The Panchayati Raj’s three tiers still have extremely little financial abilities, and their survival is solely dependent on the states’ political will. The World Bank’s three-volume research on Indian Decentralization puts India first in regards to political decentralization and last in terms of administrative decentralization, according to a previous study of economic, political, and administrative decentralization. Our Indian statutes, as well as those of other Union territories, are willing to recognize the panchayat system and allow them to organize elections. They also adhere to its reservation policies for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and women. They are, however, unwilling to grant them considerable administrative control, which would jeopardize their ability to work effectively. Even though most States have formed SECs whose primary functions are to organize and oversee Panchayat elections as well as create electoral rolls, many have refused to relinquish delimitation powers — that is, the ability to create electoral seats. There is a lack of clear demarcation and definition of functions between panchayats and other levels of government, and states have the authority to allocate or withdraw powers from panchayats as needed. This one again demonstrates the state’s dominance over so-called independent panchayat governance.
(1)Union Of India vs Rakesh Kumar & Ors on 12 January, 2010 available at https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1356187/.
(1) The Constitution (Seventy-Third Amendment) Act, 1992.