– Rishi Bhosle*

Panchayati Raj is the name of localself government institutions in rural areas of India. As institutions of localself government, PanchayatiRaj Institutions are characterized by decentralization of political and administrative structures and processes, devolution of powers and participation of people in these structures and processes to manager theirown affairs.

These institutions of local self government are advocated in many democratic countries due to their various real and potential benefits. First, these institutions facilitate the expansion and deepening of democracy at grass root levels as they provide the opportunity to the people to participate in the political process. Second, they generate awareness and sense of responsibility among people due to their involvement and participation in the decision making process at lower level. Third, these institutions facilitate the ventilation of people’s grievances and effective solution of local problems at local level. Fourth, theseinstitutions areusefulin effective managementand proper utilization of local human and physical resources. Fifth, these institutions are said to ensure the participation of rural people in the formulation and implementation of rural development programmes in India.

Panchayats as villagelevel institutions claim a hoary past in India. The Rig Veda mentions of two institutions namely Sabha and Samiti, which performed a number of administrative and politicalfunctions at community level. In the ancient period, various forms of village Panchayats and caste Panchayats prevailed in these ruralareas, which used to manage administrativeand judicialaffairs of village community. In medical period, village Panchayats are said to have prospered during Chola dynasty in South India. However, it should be noted that the development of these institutions in the present form is the result of modern times. During British period, some efforts were made to revive the institutions of local self government in the colonial interest. Lord Rippon, the then Governor General of India, moved thefamous Resolution to devolvefinancial and administrative powers to the institutions of localself government. This resolution is known as the Magna Cartaof localself government in India. Because of these initiatives, Lord Rippon is known as the father of local self Government in India.

Some Indian leaders notable Mahatma Gandhi supported the cause of the village Panchayats. Gandhiji proposed a radical scheme of PanchayatiRaj. In his scheme, the village Panchayat constituted the central point in the concentric circles of Panchayats. After independence,the new Constitution ofIndia did not provideany viable scheme for the organization of village Panchayats. Only a casual reference to Panchayats was made in Article 40 under the Directive Principles of State Policy, which lack mandatory enforcement.

Inspite of this enabling provision, not much attention was paid by the State government to reform and empower the village Panchayats. It should be noted that under the Constitution of India, the subject of local self government is included in the State list and therefore the responsibility to organize the village Panchayats rests with the State Government. However, village Panchayats continued to function in states in various forms and shapes.

The Government of India launched the Community Development Programme in 1952 for the integrated development of rural areas. As the programme could not achieve the desired success, the Government of India appointed a Study Team known as Balawantrai Mehta Committee in January, 1957 to find out the reasons for the failure of the Programme and to suggest measures for its successful implementation. The committee submitted its Report in November, 1957 and concluded that the lack of participation of people in the Programme was the main cause of its poor implementation. Accordingly, it suggested the revival and reorganization of village Panchayats.

The Government of India accepted the recommendations of Balwant Rai Mehta Committee and Jawaharlal Nehru the then Prime Minister of India inaugurated the new scheme of Panchayats on October 2, 1959 in Nagaru district of Rajasthan.

Thought the new scheme of three tier Panchayati Raj institutions was implemented in almost allthe states, no serious attention was paid by the StateGovernments to strengthen them. TheseInstitutions continued to suffer from a number of weakness such as lack of timely elections, lack of adequate financial resources, negative view of district level bureaucracy and apathy of state levelpolitical leadership.

In view of the above shortcomings of Panchayati Raj Institutions, the Janata Party Government at the Centre appointed Ashok Mehta Committee in December, 1977 to study the problems of Panchayati Raj institutions and to suggestmeasures to review and strengthen them. The Committee submitted 132 recommendations but these were not implemented due to the fallof Janata Party Government.

The PlanningCommission appointed Dantewala Committeefor Block level planning in 1978, Hanumantha Rao Committee on District Planning in 1984 and G.V.K. Rao Committee in 1985. All these committees suggested leading role to Panchayats in Planning and development at district level. In 1986, a committee on revitalization of Panchayati Raj institution for democracy and development was appointed under L.M. Singhavi. This committee for the first time suggested for constitutional status to PanchaytiRaj Institutions.

In the above background 73rd Constitutional Amendment Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha which came into force on April 24, 1993. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment made radicalprovisions with respect to revitalizing PanchayatiRaj institutions. It added various provision in Articles 243 to 243(O)in partIX of the Constitution. The Act also added Eleventh Schedule in the Constitution,which contains 29 subjects assigned to Panchayats.

The above provision of theAct have far reaching effects for the revival and strengthening PanchayatiRaj institutions in thelong run. However, the new system of Panchayats stilldisplays some shortcomings such as non-cooperative attitude of the district level bureaucracy, lack of training and awareness among the elected representatives of Panchayats, traditional values and socialstructure of villages inhibiting the effective role of women members, lack of controlof Panchayats over the administrative machinery at the lower level, caste conflicts and group clashes in rural areas, political interference of state level leaders, corruption in the utilization of funds etc. the strong willpower in the state leadership is required to rectify these weakness of Panchayats.