24 April is observed by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj as National Panchayati Raj Day (NPRD) every year, since 2010, to celebrate the constitutional status accorded to Panchayati Ray system in the country. 

Every year, on this occasion, Ministry of Panchayati Raj has been awarding the best performing Panchayats/States/UTs across the country under the Incentivization of Panchayats Scheme in recognition of their good work for improving delivery of services and public goods. Awards are given under various categories namely, DeenDayalUpadhyay Panchayat SashaktikaranPuraskar (DDUPSP), NanajiDeshmukhRashtriya Gaurav Gram Sabha Puraskar (NDRGGSP), Child-friendly Gram Panchayat Award (CFGPA), Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP) Award and e-Panchayat Puraskar (given to States/UTs only).

Panchayati Raj System in India

I must confess that I have not been able to follow the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly…(the correspondent) says that there is no mention or direction about village panchayats and decentralisation in the foreshadowed Constitution. It is certainly an omission calling for immediate attention if our independence is to reflect the people’s voice. The greater the power of the panchayats, the better for the people

—Mahatma Gandhi in Harijan, 21 December 1947

In 1959 Jayaprakash Narayan in his essay ‘A Plea for the Reconstruction of the Indian Polity’, written for the Akhil Bharat Sarva Seva Sangh (Kashi) proposed alternative political system for India, based on the revival and renewal of the village council, or panchayat.

The highest political institution of the local community should be the General Assembly – the gram sabha – of which all the adults should be considered members. The selection of the Executive – the panchayat – should be by general consensus of opinion in the sabha. There should be no ‘candidates’, i.e. no one should ‘stand’ for any post. There should be clear-cut qualifications, as in ancient times, laid down for all selective posts. No individual should hold the same post for more than a defined period of time. The panchayat should function through subcommittees charged with different responsibilities. There should be no official or member appointed or nominated by the state government in the panchayat or its sub-committees.

Jayaprakash Narayan in his essay
A Plea for the Reconstruction of the Indian Polity (1959)

Although Panchayathi Raj system was constitutionalized in India, through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992 , a system of local self governance existed in India since time immemorial. During 18th and 19th centuries, a system of local administration was recorded to be maintained in villages primarily to act as as judicial bodies in civil or criminal cases at the village or to settle disputes among the local people. It is not well evident how much was the body able to enforce its decisions especially under the British Regime. Sir Charles Metcalfe, acting Governor General in India from 20 March 1835 – 4 March 1836, mentions about panchayats as “little republics”. A similar governance mechanism under the Nawabs in Bengal and Awadh were known to have existed. Khasis and Muftis were given authority to settle local disputes, including those which were related to the revenue collection by the urban administration. In a major breakthrough, Lord Rippon, known as the father of local self-government in India, revived the idea of constituting panchayats through the famous ‘Resoultion of 1882’. The resolution is also known as the ‘magna carta of Indian democracy’. The objective of the Resolution of 1882 was to promote self-confidence among the educated classes of India and to train them for participation in government. The crux of the resolution was that the local bodies had elected Indian non-official members. Royal Commission on Decentralization, appointed in 1907, recommended larger powers to be given to provincial governments to deal with provincial funds. By 1925, eight provinces in British India had passed Acts for the establishment of Village Panchayats. By1948, 20 native states had enacted Village Panchayat Acts

‘I hope that I am planting a tree which will afford food and shelter to many generations of men.’

Lord Rippon

Photo: By London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company – https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw126844/George-Frederick-Samuel-Robinson-1st-Marquess-of-Ripon-and-3rd-Earl-de-Grey, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=72811654

Rajasthan was the first state in India to establish Panchayati Raj in the year 1959. Rajasthan was followed by Andhra Pradesh and almost every state in India adopted the system in various forms. The idea of the system is that people from the grassroot level should be involved in governance and thereby create a politically literate society.

Constitution of India

PART IV
DIRECTIVE PRINCIPLES OF STATE POLICY

Article 40 Organisation of village panchayats : 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.

Article 40 of the Constitution of India directs the governments to establish Panchayats to serve as institutions of local self government.

Balwantrai Mehta Commission

Government of India appointed a commitee known as Balwantrai Mehta Commission, under Balwant Rai G Mehta to study on the working of the Community Development Programme (1952) and the National Extension Service (1953). Balwantrai Mehta Commission submitted its report in November 1957 and recommended establishment of a three-tier panchayati raj system—gram panchayat at the village level, panchayat samiti at the block level and zila parishad at the district level.

Ashok Mehta Committee appointed in the year 1977 recommended that three-tier system of panchayati raj should be replaced by the two-tier system, that is, zila parishad at the district level, and below it, the mandal panchayat consisting of a group of villages with a total population of 15,000 to 20,000

G V K Rao Committee, in 1985, recommended that panchayats should be assigned an important role with respect to planning, implementation and monitoring of rural development programme.

In 1986, Government of India appointed a committee on ‘Revitalisation of Panchayati Raj Institutions for Democracy and Development’ under the chairmanship of L M Singhvi.

L M Singhvi committee recommeded that the Panchayati Raj institutions should be constitutionally recognised, protected and preserved. For this purpose, a new chapter should be added in the Constitution of India. This will make their identity and integrity reasonably and substantially inviolate. It also suggested constitutional provisions to ensure regular, free and fair elections to the Panchayati Raj bodies

Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) Act, 1992,

The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 came into force on 24 April, 1993. It constitutionalized the panchayati raj system by inserting PART IX THE PANCHAYATS. The rights and duties of Panchayats have been included in schedule XI of the Constitution.

According to the act, the state shall constitute a three-level system of local self governance one at the village level, one at intermediate level, and at district level.

“Gram Sabha” means a body consisting of persons registered in the electoral rolls relating to a village comprised within the area of Panchayat at the village level.

“Intermediate level” means a level between the village and district levels specified by the Governor of a State by public notification.

“Panchayat” means an institution of self-government constituted under Article 243B of the Constitution of India for the rural areas.

Representatives of panchayats are elected for 5 years by the electorate of a Panchayat area. If the Panchayat is dissolved the elations are to be held within 6 months of such an event. Article 243E (c) provides for state Election Commissions to conduct all Panchayat’s elections.

Article 243F: Disqualifications for membership
(1) A person shall be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being, a member of a Panchayat—
(a) if he is so disqualified by or under any law for the time being in force for the purposes of elections
to the Legislature of the State concerned:
Provided that no person shall be disqualified on the ground that he is less than twenty-five years of age, if he has attained the age of twenty-one years;
(b) if he is so disqualified by or under any law made by the Legislature of the State.
(2) If any question arises as to whether a member of a Panchayat has become subject to any of the
disqualifications mentioned in clause (1), the question shall be referred for the decision of such authority and in such manner as the Legislature of a State may, by law, provide.

ReservatIon of seats: some seats in the Panchayat shall be reserved for the SCs, STs, and women. The number of reserved seats will be proportionateto the ratio of population of sCs and sTs to the total population in the Panchayat. One-third of the total seats will be reserved for women.
Panchayats are responsible for:
(i) To plan for economic development and social justice and
(ii) To implement these plans.

Article 243H Powers to impose taxes by, and Funds of, the Panchayats.

The state may authorise a Panchayat to levy and collect appropriate taxes, tolls, and fees. It may also provide for the Panchayat to make grants-in-aid to form the Consolidated Fund of the state.

The importance of every citizen of a nation is recognized by his participation in the governance of the country. Local self governance faclitates and provides support for the political aspirations of every citizen.

Panchayats will develop our political system to a better level by understanding the hopes of the people through a direct interaction. During the pandemic, panchayats played a major role in vaccination and prevention of mass spread. It has to remembered and appreciated.

Q. Explain the evolution of Panchayathi Raj Sytem in India

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