Structure and Functions of Panchayati Raj System
The sturdy foundations of Indian democracy have been built with the help of Panchayati Raj institutions. The Panchayats at the village levels are the basic administrative organs of this country. The history of Panchayati Raj institutions dates back to the Rig Vedic times. Many ancient scriptures describe the modus operandi of a Panchayat System. There were established methods of elections, expulsion and inclusion of the members of the Panchayats. Panchayats were respected in the villages and their opinions and orders were implemented in letter and spirit. Even today, Panchayats remain the sole link of the governing machinery (at block or district levels) with the rural masses.
In 1815, Munro stated that if Panchayats were restrained in their operations, they could be rendered redundant. On May 15, 1989, the Indian PM, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, introduced a Constitutional Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha. This step was taken in order to make Panchayati Raj in India an effective and a truly representative system for protecting the interests of the masses. However, the Bill could not become a law as the Rajya Sabha did not pass it. It was Again introduced in the Parliament by the government of Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao. It was passed as Seventy-third Constitution Amendment Act (1992) by the Indian Parliament. It came into force on April 24, 1993 and elaborates the constitution of Panchayats. It also describes the procedure of election of the chairperson of Panchayats as well as their powers. It stipulates the proportionate reservation of seats for SCs, STs and women. It also outlines the financial powers, authorities, the constitution of Finance Commission (for the purpose of reviewing their financial positions) and the powers of the State Election Commissioners.
Panchayat is elected through formal elections in a village. The elected representatives are known as Panchas. These Panchas elect a head or Sirpancha after mutual discussions.
The tenure of a Panchayat is years. The Panchas and the Sirpanch are required to take decisions regarding the daily and routine operations of the village. A Panchayat sorts out small disputes, gives opinions about land disputes and keeps a tab on the economic and social activities of the village. The district collector and the State Judiciary depend upon the Panchayat for routine, criminal and revenue-related issues. The testimony of Panchayat or the Panchas in a court of law is accepted as well as respected.
The governor of every state appoints a finance commission after every five years. This commission reviews the financial operations of the Panchayats. The Panchayati Raj institutions operate in the union territories of the Indian State as well. However, the provisions of the Seventy-third constitution Amendment Bill are not applicable in some areas of the North-Eastern states and to the Scheduled and Tribal areas.
There are 2.20 lakh village Panchayats, 5,500 Panchayat Samitis and 375 Zila Parishads. The Tenth Five Year Plan has special financial outlays for effecting reforms in the Panchayati System of governance. There are many anomalies in the operation of these institutions. However, it is in the interest of the vast Indian nation to strengthen the Panchayati Raj institutions as the operations of a nation like ours can be carried out efficiently through these institutions only. The experience of Panchayati Raj has been very good in the context of Indian administration. At present, there is no alternative for the Panchayati Raj institution Moreover, the government plans to strengthen Panchayats. This would enable governance of our vast nation on truly democratic lives.
No other nation can claim for this unique type of governance at mass level. We have proved that we can manage each and every individual in this vast country without any tears. However, there is always a scope for improvement in this system. Reforms in Panchayati Raj institutions would ensure that justice is meted out to the needy quickly. The government also stands to gain in financial and administrative terms. The responsibility for this herculean task of reforms squarely falls on the state governments as well as on the Central Government. In sum, Panchayati Raj institutions have a bright future in India.