Panchayati Raj

Panchayati Raj

Concept of local self government is not new to our country and there is mention of community assemblies in the Vedic texts. The Greek Ambassador, Megasthenes, who visited the court of Chandragupta Maurya in 303 B.C. described the City Council which governed Pataliputra – comprising six committees with 30 members. Similar participatory structures also existed in South India. In the Chola Kingdoms, the village council, together with its sub-committees and wards, played an important part in administration, arbitrated disputes and managed social affairs. They were also responsible for revenue collection.

History and Evolution

1 . Lord Mayo’s Resolution of 1870

  • This started the work of decentralization in India. 

2. Lord Rippon’s Resolution of 1882

  • Laid foundation of Local Self Government in Rural India (called father of Self Government in India)
  • Passed in 1885 as Bengal Local Self Government Act
  • Although Panchayats weren’t democratic institutions but consisted of government nominated members

3 . Gandhi vs Ambedkar and Constitutional Assembly

  • They  differed in their idea towards Panchayati Raj

Ambedkar argued in the Constituent Assembly that caste oppression can’t be weakened by Panchayats but Gandhian members differed from him

  • Then ultimately Panchayati Raj was given position in Directive Principles as Article 40 i.e. state shall take all steps to organise village Panchayats and endow them with such power & authority as may be necessary to enable them as units of Self Governance 
  • Along with that turmoil due to the Partition resulted in a strong unitary inclination in the Constitution. Nehru himself looked upon extreme  localism as a threat to unity and integration of the nation.

Note  – Urban Local Bodies don’t find mention here and Constitution makers had only vision of Gram Swaraj in mind with least focus on Urban Local Bodies.

4. Balwant Rai Mehta Committee

  • Constituted in January ,1957 and submitted report in November ,1957
  • To examine working of Community Development Program and National Extension Service and suggest measures for their better working
  • Recommendation – Establishment of scheme of democratic decentralization which ultimately came to be known as Panchayati Raj to do planning and development at local level.
  • Recommendations were accepted by National development Council  but it didn’t insist on single pattern and left it to state to chose their pattern
  • Rajasthan first to implement . Till 1960 almost all states implemented

5. Ashok Mehta Committee

  • Constituted in December 1977 by Janata Government
  • To revive and strengthen the declining Panchayati Raj System
  • Main recommendations include
    • 3 Tier System to be replaced with 2 Tier System with Zila Parishad at district level and Mandal Panchayat below it with population of 15,000
  • But Janata Government collapsed and no step taken on this report

6. GVK Rao Committee

  • Committee on Administrative Arrangement for Rural Development & Poverty Alleviation
  • By Planning Commission in 1985
  • Committee concluded that development process was gradually bureaucratised and divorced from Panchayati Raj
  • Hence, Panchayati Raj institutions must be revitalized and basic decentralised planning function should be done at District Level with District Collector Head of Committee

7. LM Sanghavi Committee

  • 1986 by Rajiv Gandhi government
  • Titled – Revitalisation of Panchayati Raj Institution for Development
  • Main recommendations were
    • Constitutionalisation of Panchayati Raj
    • Establishment of Nayaya Panchayats
    • Villages to be reorganised so that  Gram Panchayats become more viable
    • Emphasis on importance of Gram Sabha

8. PK Thungon Committee

  • Formed in 1989
  • P.K.Thungon Committee recommended
    • constitutional recognition for the local government bodies
    • A constitutional amendment to provide for periodic elections to local government institutions, and enlistment of appropriate functions to them, along with funds

9. Constitutionalisation process

Rajiv Gandhi In 1989 introduced 64th Constitutional Amendment ,passed in Lok Sabha but  failed in Rajya Sabha
VP singh Introduced it in November 1989 ; but government lapsed
PV Narsimha Rao Finally constitutionalised it with 73rd Constitutional Amendment in 1992

73rd Constitutional Amendment Act

1 . New things added

  1. Part IX
  2. Article  243 to 243 O
  3. Schedule XI – 29 functions

(But provision is –  powers may be devolved to enable them to carry responsibilities conferred upon them in Schedule 11. It is not a mandatory provision)

2 . Gram Sabha

  • Gram Sabha is assembly consisting of all persons registered in electoral rolls.
  • Gram Sabha to be foundation of Panchayati Raj.

2.1 Functions & Importance of Gram Sabha

  • Decide the Beneficiary group for particular scheme .
  • Examining the annual statement of the accounts and audit report  of  Gram Panchayat.
  • Can check any government document.
  • Summon any Government employee as it is given status of Civil Court.
  • Can vote on budget of Panchayati Raj Institution and programmes run by Panchayat.
  • Mobilisation of voluntary labour and conducting community welfare programmes.  

 Hence, Gram Sabha act as Village Parliament wrt Panchayati Raj System.

2.2 But Gram Sabhas are not performing its role due to following reasons (according to 2nd ARC)

  • Meetings not conducted at regular time (although 4 meetings are needed to be conducted in every 6 months)
  • There isn’t proper infrastructure like Meeting Hall etc for working of Gram Sabha.
  • Due to Caste System and value system of villagers, people don’t speak against elders .
  • Bureaucracy also remains apathetic to the demands of Gram Sabha 
  • People don’t know their rights and how to exercise them

2.3 Ways to make Gram Sabhas more efficient (by 2nd ARC)

  • Funds of MPs and MLAs (MPLADs & MLALADs) should be used to make infrastructure for working of Gram Sabha . According to calculations of 2nd ARC, fund of one year is enough for this.
  • If Bureaucracy try to suppress critical voice raised by  Gram Sabha, exemplary punishment should be awarded considering it attack on democracy.
  • Recognise importance of Civil Society organisations in making Gram Sabhas effective. Eg : Rajasthan’s Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan’s Jan Sunvai initiative.

3. Three tier system

  • Panchayats at village , intermediate and district levels through out country
  • 2018  : Arunachal Pradesh has  passed a bill to do away with intermediate level of the three-tier Panchayati Raj system, and set up a two-tier system in the state because  Constitution  enables a state having less than 20 lakh population not to have the intermediate level, and Arunachal has a population of 13.84 lakh

4. Elections in Panchayati Raj Institution

  • Members at all 3 levels to be elected by direct voting
  • Election of head
Intermediate and District Indirectly( by and from among the elected members)
Village As State Legislature will make law
  • Courts cant interfere in electoral matters of Panchayat (anything related to delimitation of constituencies & allotment of seats to such constituencies )

5. Reservation of seats

SC & ST Reservation to Members and Chairpersons proportional of their population
Women Atleast 33.3% ie 1/3rd seats reserved (separately  in seats reserved for SC/ST 1/3 should be for woman belonging to SC/ST) for members and chairpersons
OBC State Legislature can reserve seats for them

6. Duration of Panchayat

  • Term of  Panchayat is 5 years
  • If dissolved earlier, new elections should be held within 6 months

7. State Election Commission (SEC)

  • Election Commissioner to be nominated by Governor at state level .
  • Election Commission can be removed in manner similar to removal of Judge of High Court
  • Vested with powers to superintend elections of Panchayats and making electoral rolls etc
  • Qualifications and Terms of Service (like age of retirement) etc are to be decided by State via Act

Suggestions of 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) regarding SECs

  • To ensure independence of the State Election Commission, appointment of the SEC should be done by a collegium comprising the Chief Minister, Chief Justice of the High Court and the Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly.
  • Uniform criteria need to be evolved and institutionalised regarding the qualifications of appointment, tenure of office and age of retirement.  Commission is of the view that a uniform tenure of 5 years subject to a age limit of 62 years as is applicable to the judges of High Courts would be appropriate
  • Institutional mechanism should be created to bring the Election Commission of India and SECs on a common platform for coordination, learning from each other’s experiences and sharing of resources.

8. Finance

  • State Legislature can authorise Panchayat to collect taxes or assign panchayat taxes or give grant in aid
  • After  5 years Finance Commission to be formed by Governor to
    • Review the financial position of Panchayats
    • Suggest method to distribute taxes
    • Determine taxes to be assigned to Panchayats
    • Grant in aid to Panchayats from  Consolidated Fund of State

9. Audit & Account

  • State legislature may make provisions wrt maintenance of accounts by Panchayats and auditing of such accounts

10. Exempted States & Areas

States J&K, Nagaland , Mizoram and Meghalaya
Other areas Scheduled and Tribal Areas , Hill area of Manipur for which District Council exist and Darjeeling District of West Bengal

Parliament can extend provisions of Act with certain modifications to schedule areas and for this PESA ACT,1996 enacted.

11. Eleventh Schedule

  • Consist of 29 functional items placed within purview of panchayats
    1. Agriculture, including agricultural extension.
    2. Land improvement, implementation of land reforms, land consolidation and soil conservation.
    3. Minor irrigation, water management and watershed development.
    4. Animal husbandry, dairying and poultry.
    5. Fisheries.
    6. Social forestry and farm forestry.
    7. Minor forest produce.
    8. Small scale industries, including food processing industries.
    9. Khadi, village and cottage industries.
    10. Rural housing.
    11. Drinking water.
    12. Fuel and fodder.
    13. Roads, culverts, bridges, ferries, waterways and other means of communication.
    14. Rural electrification, including distribution of electricity.
    15. Non-conventional energy sources.
    16. Poverty alleviation programme.
    17. Education, including primary and secondary schools.
    18. Technical training and vocational education.
    19. Adult and non-formal education.
    20. Libraries.
    21. Cultural activities.
    22. Markets and fairs.
    23. Health and sanitation, including hospitals, primary health centers and dispensaries.
    24. Family welfare.
    25. Women and child development.
    26. Social welfare, including welfare of the handicapped and mentally retarded.
    27. Welfare of the weaker sections, and in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
    28. Public distribution system.
    29. Maintenance of community assets

(But provision is –  powers may be devolved to enable them to carry responsibilities conferred upon them in Schedule 11. It is not a mandatory provision)

12. Compulsory Provisions

  • Organisation of Gram Sabha in village or group of villages
  • Establishment of Panchayat at village, intermediate & district
  • Direct election to all seats at all levels
  • Indirect election of Chairman at Intermediate & District level
  • 21 years – minimum age for contesting elections
  • Reservation of seats (for Members & Chairperson) for SC/ST at all three levels , 1/3rd reservation for woman for Members & Chairperson
  • Tenure =5 years & holding elections within 6 months if dissolved earlier
  • Establish State Election Commission
  • Constitution of State Finance Commission every 5 years

13. Voluntary Provisions

  • Giving representation to MP & MLA in Panchayats
  • Providing reservation to OBC
  • Making them autonomous bodies
  • Devolution of powers & responsibilities upon Panchayats to prepare plans for economic development & social justice
  • Granting Financial Powers to Panchayats

Panchayat Samiti 

  • Second or middle tier of the Panchayati Raj
  • Provides a link between Gram Panchayat and a Zila Parishad.
  • Strength depends on the population in a Samiti area.
  • Some members are directly elected. Sarpanchs of Gram Panchayats are ex-officio members of Panchayat Samitis. However, all the Sarpanchs of Gram Panchayats are not members of Panchayat Samitis at the same time. The number varies from State to State and is rotated annually. It means that only chairpersons of some Gram Panchayats in a Samiti area are members of Panchayat Samiti at a time. In some Panchayats, members of Legislative Assemblies and Legislative Councils as well as members of Parliament who belong to the Samiti area are co-opted as its members.
  • Chairpersons of Panchayat Samitis are, elected indirectly- by and from among the elected members


  • Panchayat Samitis are at the hub of developmental activities. They are headed by Block Development Officers (B.D.Os).
  • Implementation of some specific plans, schemes or programmes to which funds are earmarked. It means that a Panchayat Samiti has to spend money only on that specific project.

Zila Parishad

  • Uppermost tier of the Panchayati Raj system.
  • Institution has some directly elected members whose number differs from State to State as it is also based on population.
  • Chairpersons of Panchayat Samitis are ex-officio members of Zila Parishads
  • Members of Parliament, Legislative Assemblies and Councils belonging to the districts are also nominated members of Zila Parishads.
  • Chairperson of a Zila Parishad, called Adhyaksha or President is elected indirectly- by and from among the elected members thereof. The vice-chairperson is also elected similarly.
  • Zila Parishad meetings are conducted once a month. Special meetings can also be convened to discuss special matters. Subject committees are also formed.


  • Links Panchayat Samitis within the district. It coordinates their activities and supervises their functioning
  • It prepares District Plans and integrates Samiti Plans into District Plans for submission to the State Govt
  • Zila Parishad looks after development works in the entire district

Nyaya Panchayats

Gram Nyayalaya Act 2008

  • It came into force on 2 October 2009
  • It mandates establishing Gram Nyayalayas to make justice easily accessible to the rural population and dealing with the backlog of cases by making courts available at Panchayat level and dispose the work by going to the villages. 

Salient Features

  • Each Gram Nyayalaya is a court of Judicial Magistrate of the first class, appointed by state governments
  • Established for every Panchayat at intermediate level or a group of contiguous Panchayats at intermediate level in a district.
  • Functions as a mobile court and exercises the powers of both Criminal and Civil Courts.
  • An appeal against a judgement of the Gram Nyayalaya can be taken to Session Courts in  criminal case and District Courts in Civil cases.

Devolution Index

  • Progress in effective decentralisation of governance is not uniform across all states 
  • Ministry of Panchayati Raj asked National  Council of Applied Economic Research(NCAER) to develop working devolution index to measure how States are performing in process of devolution 
  • Scale ranges from 0 to 1
  • Note = Kerala scores highest (Kerala model of Panchayati Raj)

Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Abhiyan  (RGSA)

2018 : Government launched Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Abhiyan on the Panchayati Raj Day.

Main features

  • Revamped version of Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Sashaktikaran Abhiyan
  • It is a centrally sponsored scheme
  • Aims at making rural local bodies self-sustainable, financially stable and more efficient.
  • Strengthening Gram Sabhas to function effectively as the basic forum of people’s participation
  • Activities under the scheme will be aligned for achieving the SDGs with main thrust on Panchayats identified under Mission Antyodaya and 115 Aspirational districts 

Critical Analysis of Panchayati Raj

# Pros of Panchayati Raj

  1. Some of the most important schemes like NREGA & NRHM are implemented through Panchayati Raj Institution.
  2. Bottom up approach of development achieved which is less wasteful and keep in mind local needs of people. Social Audits done by Gram Panchayats have increased the efficacy of outcomes of funds.
  3. There are about 2.4 Lakh Panchayati Raj Institutions and number of persons elected in them are 36 lakh in Panchayats & Nagapalikas (even higher than population of Norway )
  4. In terms of empowerment of woman , it is the greatest experiment taken by any democracy in the world . More than 10 Lakh woman are elected through Panchayati Raj Institutions 
  5.  SC/ST/ OBC have been given reservation . This has helped in breaking the old hierarchy in villages & played part in undermining the institution of caste 

# Cons of Panchayati Raj

Main problems with Panchayati Raj Institutions are – FUNDS , FUNCTIONS & FUNCTIONARIES

  1. Powers have not been devolved adequately & Devolution index prepared by NCAER clearly points that 
  2. Grant in aid are major component of Panchayati Raj Institutions revenue 
  3. Most of the states are not constituting State Finance Commission . Even if they are constituted, their recommendations are not implemented . Panchayati Raj Institutions are always in Financial Crunch 
  4. Lack of training programmes for participants of Panchayati Raj Institutions to make them more professional & develop leadership qualities in them 
  5. Domination of bureaucracy over Panchayati Raj Institutions
  6. Although third layer of Governance has been added by 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment but parallel restructuring of bureaucracy hasn’t been done leading to shortage of manpower .
  7. Various parallel bodies like DRDA have undermined the importance of Panchayati Raj Institutions . These types of bodies should either be disbanded or made accountable to Panchayati Raj Institutions
  8. Elite control over system is a fact till today 
  9. State level leaders still see Panchayati Raj Institutions leadership as challenge to their power & do all in their power to undermine their authority

Women and  Panchayati Raj

  • Historically , women & lower castes were not allowed membership of Panchayat.
  • But  73rdAmendment Act, 1992, reserved at least 1/3rd seats at all levels of Panchayat for women.
  • Numerically, today India can actually boast that there are more elected women representatives (EWRs) in India that the rest of the world put together.
  • Elected women perceived enhancement in their self-esteem, confidence, decision-making ability and respect within the family after winning an election.

Pending  legislative reform

  • 110th & 112th Amendment Bill : Reserve  50 % seats for women in PRIs and Urban local bodies
  • Bihar, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh have already reserved 50% seats  for women in local governance.

Pending constraints

  • Women belonging to disadvantaged sections face double oppression. 
  • Acceptability of women as elected representatives . Male members try to create hurdles .
  • Issue of Sarpanch Patis, where the husband of the woman sarpanch manages the affairs of the Panchayat and she is only a proxy candidate.  
  • Social myths and prejudices create hurdles . For example, tradition of remaining silent before elderly members 

Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas)  Act,1996 (PESA   Act )

Need of PESA

  • Because 73rd Amendment  is not applicable to Scheduled and Tribal Areas

Objectives of PESA

  • To extend provisions of Part IX to Schedule Areas
  • To make gram sabha nucleus of all activities
  • To safeguard & preserve  traditions and customs of tribals
  • To prevent Panchayats at higher levels from assuming powers and authority of powers at lower levels

Features of PESA

  • Panchayats in these areas to be in consonance with local traditions
  • All villages to have Gram Sabha consisting of all whose name is in electoral rolls
  • Gram Sabha should approve plans  for social and economic empowerment and identification of beneficiaries of poverty alleviation programmes
  • Gram Sabha or the Panchayats’ at ‘appropriate level’ should be consulted for acquisition for development and rehabilitation project
  • All Chairpersons in these areas should be STs 
  • Gram Sabhas or Panchayats at appropriate level shall also have powers to
    1. manage minor water bodies;
    2. mandatory consultation in matters of land acquisition;
    3. prospecting licenses/mining leases for minor minerals;
    4. regulate and restrict the sale/consumption of liquor;
    5. manage village markets,
    6. control money lending to STs; and
    7. ownership of minor forest produces
  • Note – In PESA, Gram Sabha is the lynchpin. Hence, PESA introduces a strong element of subsidiarity

Why poor implementation of PESA ?

PESA has been very poorly implemented across the nine States. Following reasons can be attributed to this

  • Absence of Proper definition of Village in consonance with PESA :  All States, without exception, have continued with their earlier revenue definitions of the village. 
  • Ambiguous definitions within PESA – definition of many provisions are ambiguous like minor water bodies, minerals in the statute etc
  • Lack of coordination and overlapping jurisdiction – Both Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Panchayati Raj have overlapping jurisdiction 
  • State government laws and provisions cleverly negate  PESA  : For example, PESA is for rural areas, states upgrade rural panchayats  to urban panchayats to bypass PESA   (Xaxa Committee observation)
  • Attitudinal Problem of Bureaucracy: Government functionaries treat tribals as inferior.  
  • There is a large number of Centrally Sponsored Schemes which are not compatible with PESA e.g. Policy on wastelands, water resources and extraction of minerals.

Ways to improve

  • Define Villages in consonance with the PESA Act
  • Prior informed consent  to be taken’ to replace ‘consulted’  for acquisition for development and rehabilitation project
  • Representatives should be trained & educated  to use their powers  given to them under PESA effectively
  • Proper communication channel between Panchayati Raj and Tribal Affairs ministry
  • There is urgent need to amend Indian forest Act and other related Acts in consonance with PESA  
  • No state government should have any power to overrule any recommendation of the Gram Sabha.

Way Forward  – In the development offensive against the Maoists, PESA is a crucial weapon. Hence, it needs comprehensive reforms in provisions and implementation for holistic upliftment of tribal areas. 

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