In 1959, Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurated the Panchayati Raj System, which is a three-tier structure of local self-government at the village, block, and district levels.
Essay on Panchayati Raj System in India
Rural local self-government, known as Panchayati Raj, is crucial in India where 70% of the population lives in villages. Panchayats have been among the oldest political institutions in India and were advocated by Gandhiji during the pre-independence era. According to him, Panchayats should have full power in every village and be self-sustained to manage their own affairs.
Efforts were made during the interim government to understand the structural aspects of Panchayats. In 1959, Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurated the Panchayati Raj System, which is a three-tier structure of local self-government at the village, block, and district levels. The Gram Sabha elects five or more public representatives by secret ballot, except in Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, and Uttar Pradesh where the mode of election is by show of hands.
The presiding officer of the Panchayet is called by different names like ‘President’, ‘Sarpanch’, ‘Pradhan’, ‘Mukhiya’, or ‘Adhyaksh’, and is elected by a majority vote of members of the Panchayet. The Panchayet generally consists of nine members, including the President, with four directly elected and four nominated by the President. All state legislations have provisions for the removal of the President, which usually requires a two-thirds majority vote of the Panchayet members. The Constitution of India, under Article 40, mandates the state to take necessary steps to endow village Panchayats with powers and authority to function as self-government units.
Rural local self-government known as Panchayati Raj is very important in India as about seventy per cent of the population lives in villages. Panchayats are one of the oldest political institutions in India and were wanted by Gandhiji even before India gained independence. He believed that Panchayats should have full powers to manage their own affairs at the village level. The Panchayati Raj System was inaugurated by Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959 at Nagaur, Rajasthan. It consists of a three-tier structure of local self-government at the village, block, and district levels.
The Gram Sabha is responsible for electing five or more public representatives to form a Panchayet. In Bihar, the Panchayet has nine members including a President. The presiding officer of the Panchayet can be called by various names and there are provisions in all state legislation regarding the removal of the President. The Panchayet’s tenure varies from three to five years.
The Parliament passed the Seventy-third Amendment Act in December 1992 to grant constitutional status to the Panchayati Raj institutions in the country and bring about uniformity. It added Part IX to the Constitution, which envisages a three-tier system of Panchayats: the village level (Gram Sabha), the block level (Panchayat Samity), and the district level (Zilla Parishad) Panchayats.
The functions of a Panchayet are classified into two categories: obligatory and discretionary. Obligatory functions include the construction and maintenance of public wells and roads, providing sanitation, developing agriculture and cottage industry, registering births, deaths, and marriages, collecting house tax, etc. Discretionary functions generally include planting and nursing trees on the roadside, constructing and maintaining rest houses and ‘Dharamshala’, looking after public health and safety, etc. The Panchayats are granted money by the State and Central Governments to perform these functions and are also empowered to impose some compulsory taxes.
The Panchayati Raj System plays an important role in our democracy and has been successfully implemented in West Bengal. The state government took the initiative in 1978 to revitalize its Panchayats based on the Ashok Mehta Committee’s recommendations.
However, the lack of adequate financing, trained and full-time secretaries, and timely action against defaulters hinders effective functioning, leading to a loss of faith in the institution. In some cases, Panchayats themselves act oppressively, and factors such as the absence of land reforms, low literacy rates, and a patriarchal system work against weaker sections in the village.
The State government has the power to alter the jurisdiction of Panchayats and remove ‘Panch’ or ‘Sarpanch’ under certain conditions. There are also reserved seats for women, S.T., S.C., and O.B.C. to ensure their representation. The Election Commission conducts and supervises Panchayat elections to ensure free and fair elections. All these measures promise a bright future for the Panchayati Raj System, which remains the only way to achieve rapid development in Indian villages.
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