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PANCHAYATI RAJ IN INDIA


Article submitted by Vahini, SASTRA Deemed to be University.


Abstract:

Panchayati Raj refers to the local government of rural and urban areas in India. Rural Areas constitute about 68% of the population, thus making efficient governance in those rural areas is a necessity. The 73rd Amendment of 1992 added Part IX to the Constitution, “Panchayats” and the eleventh schedule which cover 29 subjects related to the functions of the panchayats. Panchayat Raj came into existence 26 years ago, but it is necessary to strengthen the democracy at the grass root level. The Panchayati Raj bills were introduced in the Lok Sabha during Rajiv Gandhi government in 1989 but failed to become effective as law due to supposed interference with their autonomy.

After modifications, the bill was reintroduced and passed in December 1992. The Act provided and guaranteed for the basic and essential features in rural areas which included elections to Panchayats and devolution of financial and administrative powers. The states are obligated to hold elections on a regular basis so that a three-tier-Panchayat System at the village, Intermediate and District level is established, but not applicable if the population is less than 20 Lakhs. Article 40 of the constitution provides for organizing panchayats and endow them with powers and authority necessary for them to function as a self-government. On 24th march of 1993, Subsequently, the Panchayati raj act came into force.

History:

From the Vedic area, the concept of local and self-governance is being followed. Self-government is discussed in Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, Manu Smriti and Arthashastra. In the Gupta period, certain changes were made to the system where the district official was popularly known as Vishyapati and the village headman as Grampati. The well-established system of local government during that period functioned on a set patterns of traditions and customs. But even then, there are no reference of women heading or being a member of the panchayats.

In 1882, Lord Rippon provided a framework to these institutions. This was considered to be the Magna Carta of local democracy in India. The Royal Commission in the year 1907 recognized the importance of panchayats at the village level. The Montagu Chelmsford reform of 1919 recommended that the local government should have complete control over the functions and must be free from any sought of external powers. By 1926, many provinces and native states had also passed laws where the local bodies were given more power and tax was reduced. Yet, the local self- government institutions remained unaffected. Post-Independence, the constitution of panchayat came into force after which Article 40 mentioned panchayats and Article 246 empowered the state legislature to legislate on any subject relating to local self-government. But the inclusion of panchayat at the time of drafting of the constitution faced dissent, however it was later agreed and got added under Article 40 of the constitution.


Salient Features:

Gram Sabha, as per the definition clause under Article 243, a body consisting of persons registered in the electoral roll relating to a village within the area of Panchayat at the Village level. They are not elected representatives as members of the Gram Sabha are registered in electoral roll. It is the only permanent unit of Panchayati Raj system which is constituted for a period of time. Article 243(A) provides that the state legislature fixes the powers and functions of the Gram Sabha by law.

The Part IX of the constitution provides for a three-tier panchayat system. Panchayats at village, district and intermediate level which would be constituted according to Article 243-B in every state. Thus, creating a uniformity in the Panchayati Raj system. Panchayats at intermediate level may not be constituted in a state having a population not exceeding twenty lakhs. An indirect election takes place for electing the Sarpanch of panchayats at the intermediate and district levels, whereas at village level an indirect or direct election can be conducted.

Article 243-C of the constitution provides that the state can by law make provisions to the composition part of the constitution. The ratio between the population of a panchayat territory and the seats in the panchayat should be similar throughout the state. As per 243(C)(2), the territorial area of the constitution shall be divided into constituencies to ensure that the ratio between the population of each constituencies and the number of seats allotted shall be uniform throughout the state.

Reservation:

Seats are reserved for Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribes in every level of the Panchayat, out of which 1/3rd of seats have been reserved for women according to Article 243-D. The seats can be filled by direct or indirect elections. An amendment bill has been passed seeking to increase the reservation of seats for women by 50%.

Duration-

Election takes place every five years. The members hold their seats till the expiry of the term. Panchayats may be dissolved by the state legislature and elections must take place before expiry of six months from the time of dissolution according to Article 243-E.

Disqualification of the members as per Article 243-F makes any person who is qualified to become an MLA become member of the Panchayat. Qualification for the seat is 21 years of age and the criteria for disqualification can be decided by the state legislature by law.

Powers and Authority of the Panchayat:

Article 243-G states that a state legislature will have to enact laws to provide powers and authority to the Panchayats. The law may contain the devolution powers and responsibilities subject to conditions in respect of the preparation of plans for social justice, development and implementation of social schemes. The distribution of powers between State Legislatures and Panchayats is mentioned in the 11th schedule of the constitution. The matters listed in the eleventh schedule includes 29 subjects such as agriculture, land improvement, minor irrigation, water management, roads, communication, fuel and fodder, education(primary and secondary schools), welfare of the weaker sections, public distribution system etc. The distribution of power under Article 245 and Article 246 cannot be effected by the state legislature while vesting with the powers and authorities upon the panchayats as Article 243-G is subject to the constitution.

Tax, funds and Finance Commission:

The state legislature imposes taxes as mentioned under Article 243H. It authorises the panchayats to collect, levy and appropriate taxes, duties, tolls and fee in accordance with the specified procedure. It provides for making grants-in-aid to the panchayat from the consolidated fund of the state, constitution of funds for crediting all the monies received by or on behalf of the panchayats and for withdrawals.

The establishment of the finance commission is provided under Article 243-I to review the financial position of the panchayats. The duty of the finance commission is to make recommendations to the governor as to the distribution of the net proceeds of taxes, duties and fee between the state and panchayats. It determines taxes and fees which may be assigned to the appropriate panchayats, it suggests measures to governor on the improvement of the financial position of the panchayats. The governor shall cause every recommendation by the Commission together with an explanatory memorandum as to the actions taken thereon to be lad before the state legislature as stated under Article 243-I.

This Part IX of the constitution is applicable to Union Territories as stated under Article 243-L of the constitution. However, the president may by public notification, direct that provision of this part shall apply to Union Territory or part thereof subject to the exceptions and modifications as specified in the notification.

Article 243-M provides that this part of the constitution is not applicable to certain areas such as the scheduled areas mentioned under Article 244(2), the State of Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram, the hills in the State of Manipur, panchayats at the district levels of hill areas of the district Darjeeling in the State of West Bengal for which a council exists.


Continuance of the existing laws:

Article 243-N provides that any law related to panchayats before the commencement of the constitution (73rd Amendment Act,1992) which is inconsistent to this part.

Interference of the Courts:

The court cannot interfere with the matters of panchayat as per Article 243-O. Matters relating to allotment of seats, delimitation of constituencies and elections cannot be questioned by the courts.

Inference:

There are many issues that are not dealt with systematically. They are dependent on states for finance as their financial powers are very limited. After 73rd Amendment, there has been a positive impact and development in Rural India. Elections are conducted regularly in most of the states. The power equation between the State and the local government have been specified significantly. Thus, this has widened the democratic base of rural India by resulting in an integrated and overall economic growth.

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