Panchayati Raj in India
The Panchayati Raj system is best suited for the developmental and administrative needs of India’s rural masses because of the wide variation in the nature and magnitude of local problems. It is an inexpensive form of local government that can identify the local problems and issues more realistically and expeditiously act to resolve them judiciously. The Panchayats provide a forum where local people can meet and chalk out programs of their own progress. Thus, the existence of Panchayati Raj enables the country to have more meaningful development plans in which mass participation of the rural population can be issued.
Recognizing the importance of Panchayati Raj, Article 40 (Directive Principles of State Policy of our Constitution) States, “The state shall take steps or organize village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of local Self-Government.” April 24, 1993, is a red-letter day in the history of Panchayati Raj in India as on this day of constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 came into force to provide constitutional status to the Panchayati Raj institutions.
The Panchayati Raj system has a three-tier structure viz, (i) the village Panchayats, (ii) The Panchayat Samitis, and (iii) the Zila Parishad. While most of the states have adopted this three-tier structure, in some of the states and Union Territories there is only a two-ties system and in some cases, only a one-tier system.
The Village Panchayat or Gram Panchayat: The village panchayat or the gram panchayat functions at the village level. There is a panchayat for each village or a group of villages in case the population of these villages happens to be too small. Members to the village panchayat are elected through voting in a general assembly of the village known as the Gram Sabha. All adult members of the village elect the council called village panchayat or gram panchayat and they hold the office normally for a three-year term. They also elect their chairman known as village pradhan has a secretary and a village level worker (Gram Sevak) to assist it in its functioning. The panchayat formulates the program for agricultural production and makes arrangements for the co-operative management of village land. It also seeks to ensure a minimum standard of cultivation for raising agricultural production.
Panchayat Samiti: The Panchayat Samiti is the main executive body that operates at the block level. All the elected chairman (Village Pradhans) of the village panchayats composing that blocks are the members of the panchayat Samiti are elected from among the members for a three-year term. The main functions of the Panchayat Samiti are to prepare, execute, and coordinate the programs of development at the block level. The Samiti is charged with the responsibility of preparing and implementing plans for the development of agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries, cottage, and small scale industries and rural health by the block development officers and extension officers.
Zila Parishad: The Zila Parishad functions at the district level and is responsible for making, executing, and coordinating the programs of rural development for the entire district. The members of the Zila Parishad are : (i) the presidents of all the panchayat samities in the district (ii) the members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) from the district and (iii) the Member of Parliament (MP) representing the district. The chairman of the Zila Parishad is elected from among its members. The Zila Parishad is provided assistance and guidance for carrying out its development programs by the district collector and other district-level government officials. The Panchayati Raj system has been set up in all the states and Union Territories except Meghalaya, Nagaland, Lakshadweep, and Mizoram. A three-tier system is in existence in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, H.P, M.P., Maharashtra, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Chandigarh, etc. A three-tier system also exists in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, but instead of Zila Parishad, they have the District Development Councils which are advisory bodies with no executive powers. Laws have been enacted to set up elected Zila Parishad in Karnataka, Assam, Haryana, Manipur, Orissa, Delhi, and Pondicherry have a two-tier system, while in the remaining states and Union Territories a one-tier systemic operative. There are about 2.20 lakh gram panchayats, 5.30 thousand panchayat samities and 351 zila parishads existing in the country at present.