Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) are institutions of local self governance existing since centuries in the rural India. In 1959, Rajasthan became the first state of India to give legal recognition and empowerment to the village panchayats. Other states too created their own models and followed the league. However, it was only with the 73rd Constitution (Amendment) Act 1992 that the Panchayati Raj Institutions got the recognition in the Constitution of India. The amendment added Part IX (Article 243 A-O) titled Panchayats to the Constitution. It also added the 11th Schedule listing 29 subjects that may be devolved to the PRIs by the state legislatures.
Local Self Governance is a subject in the state list. Thus, some compulsory obligations and a guiding framework was provided by the Constitution, and the state legislatures were left free to determine what powers they would devolve to these institutions of local self governance.
Here is a full pdf copy, of Part IX – The Panchayats and Part IXA – The Municipalities, of the Constitution of India.
Deepening democracy, empowering people
The formalisation of PRIs with the 73rd amendment was not only a historic landmark that deepened democracy, it also changed the rural power dynamics. Article 243D provided for reservation to Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes in proportion to their population. It also mandated reservation of one-third of the seats for women. Over 15 states have actually implemented 50% reservation for women in PRIs.
Article 243 defines Gram Sabha as a body consisting of all persons whose names are included in the electoral rolls of the Panchayat at the village level. A Gram Sabha may exercise such powers and perform such functions at the village level as the Legislature of a State may, by law, provide. (243A)
The 73rd amendment promoted public participation of women and brought power in the hands of backward classes and castes (groups with larger population), from the hands of upper/sanskritic castes which were smaller in population.
A three-tiered Panchayati Raj system is followed in most states:
- Gram Panchayat (village level)
- Panchayat Samiti (tehsil level or block level or intermediate level)
- Zila Parishad (district level)
Panchayati Raj system in the country has evolved with various studies and recommendations by expert committees, finally culminating into the 73rd amendment and its implementation by the states with regional adaptations. Some of the popular committees formed to study Panchayati Raj were:
- Balwant Rai Mehta Committee 1957
- It was constituted to examine the working of the Community Development Programme (1952).
- It recognised flaws in the implementation of the Community Development Programme, and recommended democratic decentralisation as the way forward for rural development. Its recommendations set the stage for launching of Panchayati Raj Institutions throughout the country, starting with Rajasthan in 1959.
- Ashok Mehta Committee 1978
- The Ashok Mehta Committee recommended that the three-tiered panchayati raj system should be replaced with a two-tiered system consisting of Zila Parishad at the district level, and the Mandal Panchayat consisting of a group of villages.
- LM Singhvi Committee 1986
- PK Thoongan committee 1988
Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 – PESA
- The PESA Act extends Panchayati Raj provisions of the 73rd Amendment Act to Scheduled Areas (identified by the Fifth Schedule) with modification.
- It provides such areas self-governance with respect to a number of matters – customary resources, minor forest produce, selection of beneficiaries of a welfare policy, sanction of projects, and control over local institutions. Consent of Gram Sabha is required for Land Acquisition by government in a scheduled area.
State Election Commissions (SECs)
- SECs are constituted under the 73rd and 74th Amendment Act 1992, and exercise powers of supervision of elections for local governance bodies – panchayats and municipalities. Each State Election Commission is governed by a separate Act enacted by the state legislatures.
- A State Election Commissioner is appointed by the state Governor, though he can be removed only by the President of India in a manner similar to that of a judge of a High Court.
- State Election Commissions are distinct from the Election Commission of India, the latter has no role in the preparation of the electoral rolls for or the conduct of elections to the Panchayats and Municipalities.