Evolution of Panchayati Raj System in India.

Since the beginning of India’s foundation, Panchayats have been the pillar of Indian rural set up. According to Mahatma Gandhi, development and governance in India should not be in big cities and towns but in rural areas and small villages because majority of Indian population resides in villages.

A Panchayati Raj meeting in India. Picture Credits: India Today.

The Panchayati Raj system in India derives its existence from Indian Constitution under Part IX under the head The Panchayats. When power is taken away from Central and State Governments and given to local government, it is called decentralisation.

Most of our Indian states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra are internally very diverse. There is thus a need for power sharing within these states. Federal power sharing in India needs another tier of government, below that of the State governments. This is the rationale for decentralisation of power. Thus, this resulted in a third-tier of government, called local government. People have better knowledge of problems in their localities.

The need for decentralisation was recognised in our constitution. Since then there have been several attempts to decentralise power to the level of villages and towns. Panchayats in villages were set up in all states. An independent institution called the State Election Commission has been created in each state to conduct Panchayat elections.

A major step towards decentralisation was taken in 1992. The Constitution was amended to make the third-tier of democracy more powerful and effective. Now it is constitutionally mandatory to hold regular elections to local government bodies.

Now it is constitutionally mandatory to hold regular elections to local government bodies. Seats are reserved in the elected bodies and the executive heads of these institutions for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. At least one-third of all positions are reserved for women. The State governments are required to share some powers and revenue with local government bodies. The nature of sharing varies from State to State.

Rural Local Governments is popularly known by the name panchayati raj. Each village or a group of villages in some states have a gram panchayat. This is a council consisting of several ward members often called panch, and a president or sarpanch. They are directly elected by all the adult population living in that ward or village. It is the decision making body of the entire village. The Panchayat works under the overall supervision of the gram sabha. All the voters in the village are its members. It has to meet at least twice or thrice in a year to approve the annual budget of the gram panchayat and to review the performance of the gram panchayat.

The local government structure goes right up to the district level. A few gram panchayats are grouped together to form what we call as a panchayat samiti or block or mandal. The members of this representative body are elected by all the panchayat members in that area. All the panchayat samitis in a district together constitute the zilla parishad.

Despite of the many flaws, Panchayats have contributed a lot maintaining the rule of law inside villages and educating the rural population about various different matters pertaining to their interests.