On 24th April 1993, the Constitution Act 1992 (73rd Amendment) came into force to provide constitutional status to the Panchayati Raj Institution. The salient features of the act are:
- To provide three-tier system of Panchayati raj for all the States having population of over 20 lacs
- To hold the Panchayati Election every five years
- To appoint State Finance Commission to make recommendations towards the financial powers of the panchayats
- To constitute District Planning Committee to prepare draft development plan for the district as a whole
- To provide reservation for SC/ST/Women of not less than 33%
According to the commission the panchayat shall be given powers and authority to function as an institution of self governance. The responsibilities and powers delegated to the panchayats included; preparing plan for economic development and social justice; implementing the schemes for the same in relation to the 29h issues given in the 11th schedule of the constitution and to levy and collect taxes, duties fees and tolls.
The Panchayat Raj System
The Balwant Rai Mehta Committee which was appointed in January 1957 has suggested a three tier system of decentralization, at the village level it suggested Village Panchayat; at the block level the Panchayat Samiti and at the district level the Zilla Parishad. Although, no rigid institutional pattern was laid down for the panchayat raj, the fundamental principles governing the set-up could be summarized in the following principles:
- A three-tier structure from the village structure of local self-governing bodies; from the village to the district, the bodies being organically linked up;
- Genuine transfer of power and responsibility to them;
- Adequate resources be transferred to these bodies to discharge the responsibilities devolving on them and
- System facilitation of further devolution and dispersal of power and responsibility in the future.
The village panchayat are the elected bodies of the people. All adults from the gram-sabha participate in the elections. The village panchayat send their selected representative to panchayat samities at block level which act as a link between the village panchayat and the zilla parishad. The samiti elects its president and the vice-president. Zilla Parishad is constituted by the presidents of the panchayat samities along with the MPs and MLAs of the district. The collector and the technical departments of the government offer guidance and assistance to the block panchayat samities. These samities are autonomous. Thus, the Panchayat Raj is associated with people’s representatives at all levels. The main advantages of the Panchayat Raj System are ascribed as:
- The people would have a better understanding of what the Government of India proposes to do;
- Peoples participation in decision making and implementation would help in choosing target programs for the respective villages;
- Peoples participation would result in sustainability of the rural development programs
- This would improve the cost benefit analysis and bring about a radical social change and the system would become a mechanism for self-education
The Ministry of Rural Development extends limited financial assistance to the State for training and awareness building amongst the elected panchayati members. The Ministry also has been supplemented with financial assistance through CAPART to the NGOs for conducting the trainings and awareness building measures on panchayati raj. Ministry of Rural Development also commissions ‘research and evaluation studies’ from NGOs related to the panchayat raj.
The Gram Sabha in the panchayat raj set-up; has a key role for the effectual functioning of the panchayats. In the Gram Sabha meeting, the rural people get an opportunity to be a part of the decision making process related to the issues of rural development. The active functioning of the gramsabha insures a participatory democracy with transparency and accountability. The general features of a gramsabha would be; it meets at least in each quarter, decides need-based development roadmap; suggests measures for effective functioning of the panchayats; questions the panchayat and discusses the annual financial statement of the Gram Panchayats.
In the ‘Provisions of the Panchayats Act, 1996’, the Gram Sabha has been vested with the powers towards; rights of minor forest produce, approval of development plan, land acquisition consultations, managing minor water bodies, selecting beneficiaries, controlling minor leases, manage village market, control money-lending, control social sector institutions, restore unlawfully alienated land and prevent alienation of land.