Ntional seminar on “25 YEARS OF PANCHAYATI RAJ SYSTEM IN INDIA: ISSUES AND CHALLENGES”

​TWO-DAY NATIONAL SEMINAR TO BE ORGANIZED ON 18TH AND 19TH AUGUST 2017 BY THE 

CENTRE FOR REGULATORY STUDIES, GOVERNANCE AND PUBLIC POLICY AT THE WEST 

BENGAL NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF JURIDICAL SCIENCES, KOLKATA

I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

The Panchayati Raj system in India is one of the unique and sought-after institutional frameworks that not only supports effective management of resources through democratic decentralization but also promotes knowledge creation and capacity building through training and other organised activities. The Gram Panchayats, Panchayat Samitis and Zila Parishads are the three independent tiers within the Panchayati Raj framework. All the three tiers of local self-governance take part in participatory planning, in institutional development, in resource mobilization and, most importantly, in the administration and effective implementation of rural development schemes and programmes. Even though the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) seem to be a gift of modern democracy, in reality, they have been existing since centuries. If we look through the lens of history, we see that similar institutions existed in the time of Rig Vedas (1700 BC), in form of self-governing village bodies named „Sabhas.‟ The importance of the Sabhas can also be seen in the great epic Mahabharata in the form of „Panchala Kingdom,‟ which was a mahajanapada of ancient India. The name Panchala janapada indicates that it was a mix of Five Janas. Furthermore, the system of Janapada, flourished between 1500 BCE and 500 BCE. Arguably, the earliest mention of the term „Janapada‟ occurs in the Aitareya and Shatapatha Brahmana texts. Over time, these Janapadas evolved to be Panchayats, which was a council of five persons. These Panchayats were productive institutions responsible for local governance and administration. They had wide powers, both executive and judicial. Land wasdistributed by the Panchayats, which also collected taxes out of the produce and paid the government‟s share on behalf of the villages. These institutions existed for centuries (albeit in different forms) although, arguably, during the Mughal and British regimes there were signs of erosion of these institutions. The early 20th century marked a revival of these institutions and the British policy of „divide and rule‟ eventually made way for political decentralization. 

The importance of local self-government found its demand with the Royal Commission on Decentralization in 1907 under C.E.H. Hobhouse, where the commission recommended: “it is most desirable, alike in the interests of decentralization and in order to associate the people with the local tasks of administration, that an attempt should be made to constitute and develop village Panchayats for the administration of local village affairs.” The observations of the Commission were further consolidated with the introduction of the Montague-Chelmsford reforms in 1919 that tried to bring the Panchayat system as a provincial transferred subject, under the domain of Indian ministers in the provinces. By 1926, eight provinces of British India had passed Panchayat acts and six native states had passed Panchayat laws. The Panchayats in India eventually evolved under the Government of India Act, 1935. In the Constituent Assembly debates, especially the one that was held on 19th November, 1949, lively discussions on the pros and cons of the Panchayat System ensued. Because of that, a directive to the state came in the form of Article 40 of the Indian Constitution. Article 40 reads, “The State shall take steps to organize village Panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.”

In independent India, the system was introduced in October, 1959 in Naguar district of Rajasthan pursuant to the recommendations of the Balwantrai Mehta Committee, 1957. Apart from the Balwantrai Mehta Committee, several other committees and commissions were instituted to look into the functional autonomy of the Panchayati Raj framework. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 formalized the framework by creating PRIs as institutions of local governance. Vide the 73rd Amendment, a new Part (Part IX) was appended to the Constitution and new articles defining gram sabhas, composition of Panchayats, reservation of seats, etc., were added. Since the Amendment, almost all states except Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram adopted the system. As of today, the PRIs are enabling foundations supporting the cause of bottom-up development and institutional capacity building at the grass-roots level.

Important linkdistributed by the Panchayats, which also collected taxes out of the produce and paid the government‟s share on behalf of the villages. These institutions existed for centuries (albeit in different forms) although, arguably, during the Mughal and British regimes there were signs of erosion of these institutions. The early 20th century marked a revival of these institutions and the British policy of „divide and rule‟ eventually made way for political decentralization. The importance of local self-government found its demand with the Royal Commission on Decentralization in 1907 under C.E.H. Hobhouse, where the commission recommended: “it is most desirable, alike in the interests of decentralization and in order to associate the people with the local tasks of administration, that an attempt should be made to constitute and develop village Panchayats for the administration of local village affairs.” The observations of the Commission were further consolidated with the introduction of the Montague-Chelmsford reforms in 1919 that tried to bring the Panchayat system as a provincial transferred subject, under the domain of Indian ministers in the provinces. By 1926, eight provinces of British India had passed Panchayat acts and six native states had passed Panchayat laws. The Panchayats in India eventually evolved under the Government of India Act, 1935. In the Constituent Assembly debates, especially the one that was held on 19thNovember, 1949, lively discussions on the pros and cons of the Panchayat System ensued. Because of that, a directive to the state came in the form of Article 40 of the Indian Constitution. Article 40 reads, “The State shall take steps to organize village Panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to functionas units of self-government.”

In independent India, the system was introduced in October, 1959 in Naguar district of Rajasthan pursuant to the recommendations of the Balwantrai Mehta Committee, 1957. Apart from the Balwantrai Mehta Committee, several other committees and commissions were instituted to look into the functional autonomy of the Panchayati Raj framework. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 formalized the framework by creating PRIs as institutions of local governance. Vide the 73rd Amendment, a new Part (Part IX) was appended to the Constitution and new articles defining gram sabhas, composition of Panchayats, reservation of seats, etc., were added. Since the Amendment, almost all states except Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram adopted the system. As of today, the PRIs are enabling foundations supporting the cause of bottom-up development and institutional capacity building at the grass-roots level.

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