Panchayat system in India

 The Panchayat system is an integral part of India’s democratic structure. A local government is closest to the common citizens and promotes participatory democracy. Mahatma Gandhi believed that India lives in its villages. He cherished the idea of self-sustained villages with effective decentralization of economic and political power through village Panchayats. 

Panchayat means an assembly of five people chosen and accepted by the local people. Traditionally, it was used to settle disputes in the village. The roots of the Panchayat system in India are extremely old. Even during the colonial times, many developments in the direction of local governments can be traced. In 1882, Lord Rippon had established local self-government in India. 

Article 40 of our constitution states that “The state shall take steps to organize village Panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.”

Several committees were set-up by the Government of India to study the implementation of self-government in rural areas;  Balwant Rai Mehta Committee (1957), Ashok Mehta Committee (1977), GVK Rao Committee (1985), LM Singhvi Committee(1986). 

73rd Amendment

 After the recommendations by a number of committees, the 73rd amendment was passed in 1992. It constitutionally strengthened the power and responsibility of the Panchayat system.  It established a three-tier system popularly known as Panchayati Raj. First was the Gram Panchayat at the village level, followed by the Block Panchayat at the intermediate level, and the district level body known as Zilla Parishad. 

The amendment provided the Panchayat with the responsibility to develop plans for economic development and social justice. The 29 functional responsibilities in the 11th schedule were transferred to the local bodies which includes; rural electrification, poverty alleviation programme, education, agriculture, social welfare, drinking water, women and child development etc. Each state can decide how many of these twenty-nine subjects would be transferred to the local government.  

Members of these bodies are elected directly by the people for a tenure of five years.The State Election Commission has the responsibility for conducting the Pachayat elections. Along with reservation for the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes, one-third of the Panchayat positions were reserved for women. 

The Gram Panchayat is headed by the Sarpanch. Other than Gram Panchayat, a Gram Sabha was also established. It was an assembly which consisted of all the voters of the village. 

The 74th amendment focussed on urban local government while the 73rd was for the rural local government. Both the amendments promoted democratic decentralization of power. 

The main objective of the Panchayat system is to strengthen the base of democracy at grass-root level. It gives an opportunity to the citizens to participate in the implementation of rural development policies. 

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