Villages in India still have formal as well as informal form of local government. Formal government has more power and consists of elected members whereas informal works on traditional and religious lines of the region. Legal government comprised of local self government or Panchayati Raj. It is not a new but the oldest form of local governance in the political system of South Asia especially India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
It is clear through certain evidences in the Rig Veda (1700 BC) that the self-governing bodies known as ‘sabhas’ were there during that period. The sabhas later on changed to panchayats. In Modern India gram panchayats are given more powers. Literal meaning of Panchayat is “assembly of five (panch) wise persons.”
Gram panchayats are different from unelected khap panchayats (informal government) in some parts of Northern India.
In present judicial scenario gram panchayats are the fundamental unit of administrations and comprised of three levels
- Gram which means village or more than a village – Village-level Panchayats
- Janpad which includes taluka or a block – Block-level Panchayats
- Zilla includes district – District-level Panchayats
Panchayat Raj system is extended to the entire state making it a three-tier system with an objective of active participation of people at village level for rural reconstruction.
The Panchayati Raj Act
Panchayati Raj received a constitutional status with the Panchayati Raj Act that was introduced on April 24, 1993. Presently it is applicable to all the states except Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya and in all Union Territories (UTs) except Delhi. The Act streamlined the working of the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) that lacked timeliness and an organized way of functioning. This was damaging the essence of Panchayats.
- The Act gave 3-tier system of Panchayati Raj in all the states with population more than 20 lakh.
- Regularize election period. Panchayat elections are now being held once in every five years.
- Reservation of seats for SC, ST and women.
- District Planning Committees were formed to prepare development plans
- Appointment of State Finance Commission.
The Act resulted in the constitution of 2,32,278 village level Panchayats, 6,022 intermediate level and 535 district level Panchayats across India with 29.2 lakh elected representatives.
But the results were not satisfactory. The State government was still interfering in the local finance and administrative matters. Revenue generation was another major problem faced by the Panchayats. Something was holding back the participation of people in the Gram Sabhas.
Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (or PESA Act, 1996)
PESA Act came into existence on 24th December 1996 to extend Panchayats Raj to the Scheduled and Tribal areas in nine states viz Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan.
Major hurdles seen are:
The three-tiers of Panchayatis Raj do not work in mutual correlation but consider the lower structure as its subordinate. The structure which was considered as the backbone of the entire system was creating the problem of dominance.
Funds are the most essential part of the proper functioning of any constitution. Panchayati Raj faced the problem of inadequate fund.
Conclusion – Panchayati Raj is a backbone of villages for their proper functioning. Instead of problems ways should be found out to make these better.