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Evolution of Panchayati Raj Institution

Evolution of Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) is a system of rural local self-government in India. Local Self Government is the management of local affairs by such local bodies that have been el

 Evolution of Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) is a system of rural local self-government in India.

Local Self Government is the management of local affairs by such local bodies that have been elected by the local people.

PRI was constitutionalized through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 to build democracy at the grassroots level and was entrusted with the task of rural development in the country.

In its present form and structure, PRI has completed 26 years of existence. However, a lot remains to be done in order to further decentralization and strengthen democracy at the grass root level.

Evolution of Panchayati Raj in India

The history of Panchayat Raj in India can be divided into the following periods from the analytical point of view:

Vedic Era: In the old Sanskrit scriptures, the word ‘Panchayatan’ has been mentioned which means a group of five persons, including a spiritual man.

In the Rigveda, there is a mention of Sabha, Samiti, and Vidatha as local self-units.

These were the democratic bodies at the local level. The king used to get the approval of these bodies regarding certain functions and decisions.

Epic Era indicates the two great epic periods of India, that is, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

The study of Ramayana indicates that the administration was divided into two parts – Pur and Janpad or city and village.

The self-government of a village finds ample expression in the ‘Shanti Parva’ of the Mahabharata.

Ancient Period: There is a mention of village panchayats in Kautilya’sArthashastra.

During the Mauryan and Post-Mauryan periods too, the headman, assisted by a council of elders, continued to play a prominent role in village life.

The system continued through the Gupta period, though there were certain changes in the nomenclature, as the district office was known as the vishyapati, and the village headman was referred to as the grampati.

Thus, in ancient India, there existed a well-established system of local government that was run on a set pattern of traditions and customs.

However, it is significant to note that there is no reference to women heading the panchayat or even participating as a member of the panchayat.

Medieval Period: During the Sultanate period, the Sultans of Delhi divided their kingdom into provinces called ‘Vilayat’.

For the governance of a village, there were three important officials – Mukkaddam for administration, Patwari for collection of revenues, and Choudhrie for settling disputes with the help of the Panch.

The villages had sufficient powers as regards self-governance in their territory.

Casteism and the feudalistic system of governance under the Mughal rule in the medieval period slowly eroded the self-government in villages.

It is again noteworthy to note that even in the medieval period there is no mention of women’s participation in the local village administration.

British Period: Under the British regime, village panchayats lost their autonomy and became weak.

It is only in the year 1870 that India saw the dawn of representative local institutions.

The famous Mayo’s resolution of 1870 gave impetus to the development of local institutions by enlarging their powers and responsibilities.

The year 1870, introduced the concept of elected representatives, in urban municipalities.

Following the footsteps of Mayo, Lord Rippon in 1882 provided the much-needed democratic framework to these institutions.

This is considered to be the Magna Carta of local democracy in India.

Local self-government institutions received a boost with the appointment of the Royal Commission on Centralisation in 1907 under the Chairmanship of C.E.H. Hobhouse.

The commission recognized the importance of panchayats at the village level.

Post–Independence Period: After the Constitution came into force, Article 40 made a mention of panchayats and Article 246 empowers the state legislature to legislate with respect to any subject relating to local self-government.

However, this inclusion of panchayats into the Constitution was not unanimously agreed upon by the then decision-makers, with the major opposition having come from the framer of the Constitution himself i.e.B.R. Ambedkar.

After independence, as a development initiative, India implemented the Community Development Programmes (CDP) on the eve of Gandhi Jayanti, on the 2nd of October, 1952.

It encompassed almost all activities of rural development which were to be implemented with the help of village panchayats along with the participation of people.

In 1953, the National Extension Service was also introduced.

There were various reasons for the failure of the CDP like bureaucracy and excessive politics, lack of people participation, lack of trained and qualified staff, and lack of local bodies’ interest in implementing the CDP, especially the village panchayats.

In 1957, the National Development Council constituted a committee headed by Balwant Rai Mehta to look into the working of the community development program.

The team observed that the major reason for the failure of the CDP was the lack of people participation.

The committee suggested three-tier PRIs, namely, Grama Panchayats (GPs) at the village level, Panchayat Samiti (PSs) at the block level, and Zilla Parishad (ZPs) at the district level.

As result of this scheme of democratic decentralization was launched in Rajasthan on October 2, 1959.

In Andhra Pradesh, the scheme was introduced on 1st November 1959.

The necessary legislation had also been passed and implemented in Assam, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, etc.

The appointment of the Ashok Mehta Committee in 1977 did bring new thinking to the concepts and practices of the Panchayat Raj.

The committee recommended a two-tier Panchayat Raj institutional structure consisting of Zilla Parishad and Mandal Panchayat.

In subsequent years in order to revive and give a new lease of life to the panchayats, the Government of India appointed various committees.

The most important among them are the Hanumantha Rao Committee (1983), G.V.K. Rao Committee (1985), L.M.Singhvi Committee (1986) and the Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State relations (1988), P.K. Thungan Committee (1989) and Harlal Singh Kharra Committee (1990).

The G.V.K. Rao Committee (1985) recommended making the “district” the basic unit of planning and also holding regular elections while the L.M.Singhvi committee recommended providing more financial resources and constitutional status to the panchayats to strengthen them.

The Amendment phase began with the 64th Amendment Bill (1989) which was introduced by Rajiv Gandhi seeking to strengthen the PRIs but the Bill was not passed in the Rajya Sabha.

The Constitution (74th Amendment) Bill (a combined bill for the PRIs and municipalities) was introduced in 1990 but was never taken up for discussion.

It was during the Prime Ministership of P.V. Narasimha Rao that a comprehensive amendment was introduced in the form of the Constitution 72nd Amendment Bill in September 1991.

73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments were passed by Parliament in December 1992. Through these amendments, local self-governance was introduced in rural and urban India.

The Acts came into force as the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 on April 24, 1993, and the Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992 on June 1, 1993.

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