Concept Of Village Panchayat: Constitutional Analysis

By Nidhi Kumari, CNLU

CONCEPT OF VILLAGE PANCHAYAT

It is the oldest system of local government in the Indian subcontinent. The word “panchayat” literally means “assembly” (ayat) of five (panch) wise and respected elders chosen and accepted by the local community.[i] Traditionally, these assemblies settled disputes between individuals and villages.British established local self-government in 1869 when they made a District Local Fund in Bombay. This was a nominated body.In 1882, Lord Ripon established local self- government in India with the seating up of district local boards. District boards and  councils were established in Maratheada and vidarbh.

The next important piece of legislation was the Bombay Village Panchyat Act 1920. Under this Act, the Panchayats was constituted into an elected body. Members were elected by adult male villagers and the Panchayat was entrusted with local functions, mainly of a civil nature. Panchayat was empowered to collect compulsory house taxes. The Bombay Village Panchayat Act 1920 empowered village Panchayats to take up various activities, including some social-economic functions and gave the power to heavy taxes and duties in order to increase their income.

After the reorganization of states in 1956, laws to introduce the Panchayat system in different stator were gradually enacted. This process was almost complete in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Madras, Mysore, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Utter Pradesh, and Bombay.[ii]

The Bombay Village Panchayats Act was enacted in Producers for seeking legal redress through judicial courts are both long and enormously complicated, and also involve considerable expenses. It is because of this that several different and newer ways of setting disputes both quickly and inexpensively have come up.

One such method is Lok Adalat, established under Lok Adalat Act, 1958. Under the Act, a district village for the supervision and control of village Panchayats.[iii] These Mandals were, however, abolished in 1962.Apart from this enactment in various states, a direction is contained in the Constitution of India in Article 40 which says that “The State shall take steps to organize village Panchyats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.[iv]

Under the new enactment, a Gram Sabha of adult residents in the village was constituted, and it was made obligatory on the Panchayats to hold meetings of the Gram Sabha within two months from the commencement of every financial year and to prepare an annual statement of accounts to be placed before such a meeting.

The administrative report, the proposed development programmes, adult report, compliance of adult objections and other such matters were also required to be placed before this meeting. Group NyayaPanchyats were established, but later they were abolished.

Obligatory duties of the Panchayats were mainly of a civil nature that is, making provisions for sanitation, street lights and drinking water. The discretionary functions covered the fields of agriculture, cooperation, animal husbandry, self-defence and other such administrative and development works.

Village Panchayats are controlled and supervised by ZillaParishads, PanchayatSamitis and their officers. The state government also has direct control over Panchayats through the Collector of the district. District Village Panchayat officers work under ZillaParishads to supervise and control the village Panchayats, and are appointed by the state governments. There is however, no proper machinery for the public to air their grievances and control malpractice in ZillaParishads.

Vested interests in the government have always been found to be sheltering corrupt elements in the system and they are now well entrenched. Government control over this institution has seldom proved to be effective and the poor masses at the grassroots level are yet to get benefit from the existing system of Panchayati Raj. In view of these shortcomings, part IX, consisting of Article 243 was inserted by the Constitution (73 rd Amendment) Act, 1992.

RECOMMENDATIONS OF BALWANT RAI MEHTA COMMITTEE

The Balwant Rai Mehta Committee was a committee appointed by the Government of India in January 1957 to examine the working of the Community Development Programme (1952) and the National Extension Service (1953) and to suggest measures for their better working.

The recommendations of the committee were approved by NDC in January 1958 and this set the stage for the launching of Panchayati Raj Institutions throughout the country. The committee recommended the establishment of the scheme of ‘democratic decentralisation’ which finally came to be known as Panchayati Raj.

Establishment of a 3-tier Panchayati Raj system Gram Panchayat at the village level, Panchayat Samiti at the block level, and Zila Parishad at the district level. This system was adopted by state governments during the 1950s and 60s, as laws were passed to establish panchayats in various states. It also found backing in the Indian Constitution, with the 73rd amendment in 1992 to accommodate the idea.

The Amendment Act of 1992 contains a provision for devolution of powers and responsibilities to the panchayats both for the preparation of economic development plans and social justice, as well as for implementation in relation to 29 subjects listed in the eleventh schedule of the constitution.[v]

The panchayats receive funds from three sources:

  1. Local body grants, as recommended by the Central Finance Commission
  2. Funds for implementation of centrally sponsored schemes
  3. Funds released by the state governments on the recommendations of the State Finance Commissions.

The Balwant Rai Mehta Committee was a committee appointed by the Government of India in January 1957 to examine the working of the Community Development Programme (1952).[vi]

The recommendations of Balwantrai Mehta Committee were implemented by manystates in the country. Till the mid sixties, Panchayati Raj system flourished in India. But there was a decline in Panchayati Raj Institutions after the mid-sixties mainly because of centralized tendencies of functioning all over the country.

The elections were not held regularly andthe participation of people weakened in these bodies. Inefficiency, corruption, favoritism, uncertainty and irregularity led to their decline. Most of the development programmes werekept out of their preview.

Centrally sponsored schemes were initiated; parallel administrativebodies were created and government reduced funds considerably. During the period of national emergency, bureaucracy got the upper hand and these institutions lost theirsignificance. The village panchayats were made subordinate units of government toimplement its programmes.

 Ashok Mehta Committee (1977)

In this backdrop in 1977, the Janata government appointed a Committee with Ashok Mehta as chairman and was entrusted with the task of enquiring into the causes responsiblefor the poor performance of Panchayati Raj Institutions. It was also asked to suggestmeasures to strengthen Panchayati Raj Institutions.

The committee suggested two tire systemof Panchayati Raj consisting of ZillaParishads at the district level and MandalPanchayatsatthe grass root level as against three tier system suggested by the Balwantrai MehtaCommittee. The committee recommended constitutional protection to the Panchayati RajInstitutions and further decentralization of power at all levels.[vii]

The Ashok Mehta Committee Suggested:

  • Reservation of seats for the weaker sections
  • Two seats for women
  • Adequate financial resources for the panchayats
  • Requirement of Constitutional sanctions
  • To extend people’s participation in developmental activities.

 Due to the fall of the Janata government, the Ashok Mehta Committeerecommendations were not implemented. Few states including Karnataka formulated newlegislation on the basis of the recommendations of this Committee. Both the Committeesoverlooked the importance of panchayats as units of self government. During the 1980’s, two important Committees were appointed to look into local governments.

GVK Rao Committee in 1985 and Dr. L.M. Singhvi Committee in 1986. The GVK Rao committee recommended the revival of Panchayati Raj Institutions such as that greater responsibility of planning, implementation, and monitoring of rural development programmes could be assigned to them.

L.M. Singhvi Committee recommended that thePanchayati Raj Iinstitutions should be constitutionally recognized and protected. New chapterin the constitution should be provided to define their powers and functions and free and fairelection to be conducted through the election commission.

Committee recommended for the appointment of finance commission and all the rural development programmes are entrustedto the Panchayati Raj Institutions by amending schedule VII of the constitution.[viii]

In the history of Panchayati Raj in India, on 24 April 1993, the Constitutional (73rd Amendment) Act 1992 came into force to provide constitutional status to the Panchayati Raj institutions.[ix] This act was extended to Panchayats in the tribal areas of eight states, namely Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Prades, Odisha and Rajasthan starting 24 December 1996. Currently, the Panchayati Raj system exists in all the states except for Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Mizoram, and in all Union Territories except Delhi.[x]

Modern Indian government has decentralized several administrative functions to the local level, empowering elected gram panchayats.

It is a basic, a first formal democratic institution at the village level.  The chairperson of this unit is called as Sarpanch.  It is the primary unit of local self-government.  Gram panchayat is a cabinet of the village elders, directly elected by the adult citizens of the village.

There are 8 to 10 ward punches, two or three coopted members, who constitute the body of Gram Panchayat; they are consists of 8 to 10 villages. There are three functional sub-committees which meet four times every month to decide agricultural production program, cottage industry programme, finance and budget and social amenities in the Gram panchayat area.

The members of the Gram Panchayats have a tenure of five years and are directly elected from wards while the Sarpanch is elected by the members.

There is provision for reservation of seats for women and for scheduled casts and scheduled tribes.  There is Gram Sabha for each panchayat and the Sarpanch is required to conduct Gram Sabha meetings at least once in six months.[xi]

Also, Sarpanch is required to conduct a meeting of the members of the Panchayat once in a month.

Powers and Functions of the Sarpanch:

  1. To convene and preside over the meetings of the Gram Panchayat.
  2. To conduct and regulate and be responsible for the proper maintenance of the records of the proceedings of the meetings.
  3. To execute documents relating to controls on behalf of the Gram Shasan.
  4. To be responsible for the proper custody of all records and documents, all valuable securities and assets belonging to the Gram panchayat or belonging to the Gram shasan.
  5. To be responsible for the proper working of the Gram panchayat as required by or under the Act.
  6. To exercise supervision and control over the acts and proceedings of all officers and employees of the Gram panchayat.
  7. To have authority to enter into correspondence on behalf of Gram panchayat.
  8. To order the preparation of all statements and reports.
  9. To exercise such other powers, discharge such other duties and perform such other functions as may be conferred or imposed on or assigned to him.[xii]

 Power of Gram Panchayat Members:

  1. To supervise during office hours, the records of the Gram Panchayat after giving due notice to the Sarpanch.
  2. To move resolution or question on any office bearer on matters connected with the administration of the Gram Panchayat.
  3. To exercise inspection overt all works undertaken by the Gram Panchayat.
  4. To supervise all institutions working under the direction, management and control of the Gram panchayat.
  5. To bring to the notice of the Sarpanch the irregularities if any, noticed during such inspection.[xiii]

Functions of Gram Panchayat:

There are a number of functions perform by Gram Panchayats.

These functions are divided into two categories, namely, the obligatory functions and the options functions.

Following are the Obligatory or the Compulsory Functions:

  1. Construction, repairs, maintenance, alteration and extension of village roads, provisions of lights on the roads and other places of public resort and removal of encroachments and obstructions on the roads and other public places.
  2. Construction, maintenance and cleaning of the drainage system and provision of sanitation in the village by the removal of filth and clearance of marshy areas.
  3. Supply of drinking water to the villages.
  4. Adoption of preventive measures against epidemics and other dangerous diseases, prevention of obnoxious and dangerous trade, registration of births and deaths and the preparation of the necessary records for the purpose.
  5. Maintenance of common pasture and other public institutions.
  6. Preparation of census records of men and animals, maintenance of relevant records and submission of periodic records and returns.
  7. Management of Panchayat properties as assets.
  8. Spread of primary education and its management.
  9. Social conservation.
  10. Control of Markets, ferries, fairs, Ghats and other public places.
  11. Adoption and encouragement of improved methods of cultivation.
  12. It has to perform such other functions which are given to the Gram panchayat on a compulsory basis.[xiv]

Optional Functions

In addition to the compulsory functions, each Gram Panchayat is also required to perform certain optional functions for the development of the rural people.  These functions are given below:

  1. Development and maintenance of village forests.
  2. Construction, management and control of slaughter houses.
  3. Famine relief measures.
  4. Organization of the Fire services and protection of life and property in case of fire.
  5. Maternity and child welfare and establishment of centers of the purpose.
  6. Establishment and maintenance of works for providing employment in a time of scarcity and establishment and granaries.
  7. Organization, management and promotion of cottage industries.
  8. Construction and maintenance of Dharmasalas and Rest houses.
  9. Provision of adult education, the establishment of primary schools with the prior approval of the Panchayat Samiti.
  10. To keep the records about the unemployed persons.[xv]

Judicial Power

It decides minor & criminal cases within its areas. Now the villagers need not go to the Tahasil or the District headquarters to set their disputes decided. In the criminal sphere, the Panchayat can hear cases involving mischief, assault, theft of property etc. on payment of prescribed fee. These fees are of a nominal nature. They can hear civil cases of the value of Rs. 200/-.

They can impose a fine up to Rs. 200/-. One thing is to be noted that the lawyers cannot appear before the Panchayats. Both the parties are to appear before the Panchayat to plead their case. In criminal cases, the Panchayat can only impose a fine and it cannot sentence anybody to imprisonment. It can impose a fine up to Rs. 25 openly those who defy its orders.[xvi] Normally the decision of the Panchayat is final but an appeal can be made to the Court of District Magistrate with its prior sanction.

Sources of income –

  • It gets 10% of the total revenue collected from the village.
  • It imposes House tax.
  • It sets profit from the sale of fertilizers.
  • It imposes tax on animals, profession etc.
  • Drainage fee.
  • The Panchayats issue various types of license & get a fee for the same.
  • It takes money by selling the slain of dead animals.[xvii]

BLOCK PANCHAYAT

A block panchayat (panchayatsamiti) is a local government body at the tehsil or taluka level in India. This body works for the villages of the tehsil or taluka that together are called a Development Block. The panchayatsamiti is the link between the gram panchayat and the district administration.[xviii]There are a number of variations of this institution in different states. It is known as Mandal Praja Parishad in Andhra Pradesh, Taluka panchayat in Gujarat, MandalPanchayat in Karnataka, PanchayatSamiti in Maharashtra etc. In general, the block panchayat is a form of the Panchayati raj but at a higher level.

Constitution

The constitution is composed of ex-official members (all sarpanchas of the panchayatsamiti area, the MPs and MLAs of the area and the SDO of the subdivision), co-opt members (representatives of SC/ST and women), associate members (a farmer of the area, a representative of the cooperative societies and one of the marketing services), and some elected members. The samiti is elected for 5 years and is headed by the Chairman and the Deputy Chairman.[xix]

Departments

The common departments in the Samiti are as follows:

  1. General administration,
  2. Finance,
  3. Public work,
  4. Agriculture,
  5. Health,
  6. Education,
  7. Social welfare,
  8. Information technology, and others.

There is an officer for every department. A government appointed Block Development Officer (BDO) is the executive officer to the Samiti and the chief of its administration.

Functions:

  1. Implementation schemes for the development of agriculture.
  2. Establishment of primary health centres and primary schools.
  3. Supply of drinking water, drainage and construction/repair of roads.
  4. Development of cottage and small-scale industries, and the opening of cooperative societies.
  5. Establishment of youth organisations.[xx]

Sources of income:

The main source of income of the panchayatsamiti are grants-in-aid and loans from the State Government.

DISTRICT LEVEL PANCHAYAT

The governing system at the district level in Panchayat Raj is also popularly known as “Zila Parishad”. Chief of administration is an officer from IAS cadre.

 Functions:

  1. Provide essential services and facilities to the rural population.
  2. Supply improved seeds to farmers. Inform them of new farming techniques.
  3. Set up and run schools and libraries in the rural areas.
  4. Start Primary Health Centers and hospitals in villages. Start vaccination drives against epidemics.
  5. Execute plans for the development of the scheduled castes and tribes. Run ashramshalas for adivasi children. Set up free hostels for them.
  6. Encourage entrepreneurs to start small-scale industries and implement rural employment schemes.
  7. Construct bridges, roads & other public facilities and their maintenance.
  8. Provide employment.

Sources of income:

  1. Taxes on water, pilgrimage, markets, etc.
  2. Fixed grant from the State Government in proportion with the land revenue and money for works and schemes assigned to the Parishad.     

CENTRALITY OF PANCHAYATI RAJ INSTITUTIONS

In various Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSSs) and Additional Central Assistance (ACAs) the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI’s) have been given centrality.

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA)

Under Section 13 of the Act , Panchayats at district, intermediate and village levels are the principal authorities for planning and implementation of MGNREGA . and at least  50 per cent of MGNREGA funds are to be spent by the Gram Panchayats (GPs).[xxi]

For this, the Gram Sabhas (GSs) has to recommend special projects to the GPs and conduct social audit of MGNREGA works. Also, the District  Programme Coordinators and Programme Officers are to assist District and Intermediate Panchayats respectively in the discharge of their functions.

Saakshar Bharat Mission(SBM)

The SBM launched in 2009, is a programme aimed at creating a Literate Society through a variety of teaching learning programmes for non-literate and neo-literate of 15 years and above. The SBM is envisaged to involve community PRI’s and women self-help groups in its endeavour. Around 495 blocks with 7,739 panchayats will be covered under the mission.[xxii]

Each panchayat would have a LokShiksha Kendra. A male and a female prerak, elected by the panchayat, will comprise a LokShiksha Kendra to monitor the volunteers under the mission. Each LokShiksha Kendra will have around 50-60 ShikshaKendras, where each volunteer would educate around 20-30 persons in an area.[xxiii]

RESERVATION FOR WOMEN IN PANCHAYATI RAJ INSTITUTIONS IN INDIA

The Union Cabinet of the Government of India, on 27 August 2009, approved 50% reservation for women in PRIs (Panchayati Raj NIJO Institutions). The Indian states which have already implemented 50% reservation for women in PRIs are Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

As of 25 November 2011, the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharastra, Orissa, Rajasthan and Tripura also reserve 50% of their posts for women.

FUNDS FOR PANCHAYTI RAJ INSTITUTIONS

Funds from Central Government

The national level plan for improving the functioning of Panchayati Raj Institutions(PRIs) is chalked out in the Roadmap for Panchayati Raj (2011-2017). It has been noted that due to poor resource base and economic activity in rural areas, the Panchayats would continue to depend on State/Central transfers, grants etc. The national roadmap is enabled and assisted by the Central Government by the provision of funds under several schemes, to name few[xxiv]:

Scheme Name Details
Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF) Provides untied grants to the Panchayats in the backward regions in order to reduce development deficits of the country, with the requirement that the District Plans for utilization of the grant be prepared by the involvement of the Gram Sabhas
Rashtriya Gram SwarajYojana (RGSY) Aims at capacity building and training of the elected representatives of Panchayati Raj Institutions as well as the Functionaries. Funds are released to States uncovered by the BRGF
Rural Business Hubs (RBH) Aims to assist the Panchayats to empower rural labour productivity by providing forward backward linkages with technical assistance in Public-Private-Partnership. RBH projects have been sanctioned for various products including metal work, carpets, embroidery, biofuels, horticultural products.
PanchayatMahila`EvamYuva Shakti Abhiyan Aims to enable women and youth Panchayat leaders to come together to articulate their problems as women Panchayat Leaders.
E-Panchayat For computerizing the databases, accounts and other functions of the Gram Panchayats for accountability and transparency
Panchayat Empowerment & Accountability Incentive Scheme To recognize and incentivize the efforts of Panchayats with respect to transparency, accountability and efficiency and of States with respect to the devolution of funds, functions and functionaries to Panchayats.

73rd Constitutional Amendment Act

Panchayat: 3 – Tier System

PART IX of the Constitution envisages a three­tier system of Panchayats, namely,

(a) The village level;

(b) The District Panchayat at the district level;

(c) The Intermediate Panchayat which stands between the village and district Panchayats in the States where the population is above 20 lakhs.

Following these circumstances, Rajiv Gandhi the then Prime Minister of India, introduced the 64th Amendment bill on local government on the 15th May, 1989 in the parliament, but it failed to get the required support. A second attempt was made in September1990 to pass the bill in the Parliament.

The bill however was not even taken up forconsideration. In September 1991, a fresh bill on Panchayati Raj was introduced by the Congress government under P. V Narasimha Rao, the then Prime Minister. It was passed in1992 as the 73rd Amendment Act 1992 with minor modifications and came into force on 24th April 1993.

The Salient Features of the Act are:

 The Act provided for the establishment of gramasabha in each village. It will be abody comprising of all the adult members registered as voters in the panchayat area. Three shall be a three-tier system of panchayat at village, intermediate and district levels. Smaller states with a population below 20 Lakes will have the option not to have intermediate level panchayat.

Seats in panchayats at all three level shall be filled by direct election. In addition, the chairperson of the village panchayat can be made a member of the panchayat at the intermediate level. MP, MLA, MLC, could also be a member of panchayat at the intermediate and the district level.[xxv]

In all the panchayats, seats should be reserved for SCs and STs in proportion to theirpopulation and 1/3 of the total number of seats will be reserved for women. Offices of thechairperson of the panchayat at all levels shall be reserved in favour of SCs and STs inproportion in the state. One-third of the offices of the chairperson of panchayats at all levels shall also be reserved for women.

Legislature of the state shall be at liberty to provide reservation of seats and office of the chairperson in panchayat in favour of backward class citizens. Panchayats shall have a uniform five year term and elections to constitute new bodies shall be completed before the expiry of the term. In the event of dissolution, an election will be compulsorily held within six months.

The reconstituted panchayat will serve for a remaining period of five year term. It will not be possible to dissolve the existing panchayats by amendment of any Act beforethe expiry of its duration. A person who is disqualified under any law, election to the legislature of the state orunder any of the state will not be entitled to become a member of a panchayat.

The Independent election commission will be established in the state to the superintendence, direction, and control of the electoral process and preparation of electoral rolls. Specific responsibilities will be entrusted to the panchayats to prepare plans foreconomic development and social justice in respect of matters listed in XI Schedule. For the implementation of development schemes, the main responsibility will be entrusted to the panchayat.

The panchayats will receive adequate funds for carrying out their plans. Grants from state government will constitute an important source of funding but the state government is also expected to assign the revenue of certain taxes to the panchayats.[xxvi]

In some cases, panchayatwill also be permitted to collect and retain revenue it raises. In each state, the finance committee will be established within one year and after every five years to determine principles on the basis of which adequate financial resource would be trusted for panchayats. Panchayats existing on the 24th April 1993 will be allowed to complete their full termexcept when they are dissolved by the house by resolution.[xxvii]

Composition:

All the seats in a Panchayat shall be filled by persons chosen by direct election from territorial constituencies in the Panchayat area. The electorate has been named GramaSabha consisting of persons registered in the electoral rolls relating to a village comprised within the area of a Panchayat. In this way, representative democracy will be introduced at the grassroots.

The Chairperson of each Panchayat shall be elected according to the law passed by a State and such State Law shall also provide for the representation of Chairpersons of Village and Intermediate Panchayats in the District Panchayat, as well as members of the Union and State Legislature in the Panchayats above the village level.

Reservation of seats for Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes:

Article 243D provides that seats are to be reserved for (a) Scheduled Castes, and (b) Scheduled Tribes. The reservation shall be in proportion to their population.

If, for example, the Scheduled Castes constitute 30% of the population and the Scheduled Tribes 21%, then 30% and 21% seats shall be reserved for them respectively.

Out of the seats so reserved not less than 1/3rd of the seats shall be reserved for women belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, respectively.[xxviii]

Reservation for women:

Not less than 1/3rd of the total number of seats to be filled by direct elections in every Panchayat shall be reserved for women.

Reservation of offices of Chairpersons:

A State may by law make provision for similar reservation of the offices of Chairpersons in the Panchayats at the village and other levels.

These reservations favouring the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall cease to be operative when the period specified in Article 334 (at present 60 years i.e., upto ­2010).

A State may by law also reserve seats or offices of Chairpersons in the Panchayat at any level in favour of backward classes of citizens.[xxix]

Duration of Panchayat:

Every Panchayat shall continue for five years from the date of its first meeting. But it can be dissolved earlier in accordance with the procedure prescribed by State Law. Elections must take place before the expiry of the above period. In case it is dissolved earlier, then the elections must take place within six months of its dissolution. A Panchayat reconstituted after premature dissolution (i.e., before the expiry of the full period of five years) shall continue only for the remainder of the period. But if the remainder of the period is less than six months it shall not be necessary to hold elections.

Qualification for membership:

Article 243F provides that all persons who are qualified to be chosen to the State Legislature shall be qualified to be chosen as a member of a Panchayat. The only difference is that a person who has attained the age of 21 years will be eligible to be a member (in case of State Legislature the prescribed age is 25 years- ­Article 173).[xxx]

If a question arises as to whether a member has become subject to any disqualification, the question shall be referred to such authority as the State Legislature may provide by law.

Powers, authority and responsibilities of Panchayats:

State Legislatures have power, to confer on the Panchayats such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self­government [Arts. 243G & ­243H]. They may be entrusted with the responsibility of:

(a) preparing plans for economic development and social justice,

(b) implementation of schemes for economic development and social justice, and

(c) in regard to matters listed in the Eleventh Schedule (inserted by the 73rd Amendment). The list contains 29 items, e.g., land improvement, minor irrigation, animal husbandry, fisheries, education, women and child development etc. The 11th Schedule thus distributes powers between the State Legislature and the Panchayat just as the 7th Schedule distributes powers between the Union and the State Legislature.

Powers to impose taxes and financial resources:

A State may by law authorise a Panchayat to levy, collect and appropriate taxes, duties, tolls etc. The law may lay down the procedure to be followed as well as the limits of these exactions. It can also assign to a Panchayat various taxes, duties etc. collected by the State Government. Grants­in­aids may be given to the Panchayts from the Consolidated Fund of the State.

Panchayat Finance Commissions:

Within one year from 25th April 1993, i.e., the date on which the Constitution 73rd Amendment came into force and afterwards every five years the State Government shall appoint a Finance Commission to review the financial position of the Panchayats and to make recommendations as to­­­the distribution between the State and the Panchayats of the net proceeds of taxes, duties, tolls and fees leviable by the State which may be divided between them and how allocation would be made among various levels of Panchayats;what taxes, duties, tolls and fees may be assigned to the Panchayats; grant­in­aid to the Panchayats.

The report of the Commission, together with a memorandum of action taken on it, shall be laid before the State Legislature. These provisions are modelled on Article 280 which contains provisions regarding the appointment of a Finance Commission for distribution of finances between the Union and the States.

State Election Commission:

Article 243K is designed to ensure free and fair elections to the Panchayats.

Article 243K provides for the Constitution of a State Election Commission consisting of a State Election Commissioner to be appointed by the Governor.

Powers of superintendence, direction and control of elections to the Panchayats, including preparation of electoral rolls for it shall vest in the State Election Commission.[xxxi] To ensure the Independence of the Commissioner it is laid down that State Election Commissioner can be removed only in the same manner and on the same grounds as Judge of a High Court. The State Legislatures have the power to legislate on all matters relating to elections to Panchayats.

Bar to interference by Courts in electoral matters:

As under Article 329, courts shall have no jurisdiction to examine the validity of a law, relating to the delimitation of constituencies or the allotments of seats, made under Art. 243K. An election to a Panchayat can be called in question only by an election petition which should be presented to such authority and in such manner as may be prescribed by or under any law made by the State Legislature.

Eleventh Schedule(Article 243 G) is also being added by the constitution 73rd amendment.

The list contains 29 items, e.g., land improvement, minor irrigation, animal husbandry, fisheries, education, women and child development etc. The 11th Schedule thus distributes powers between the State Legislature and the Panchayat just as the 7th Schedule distributes powers between the Union and the State Legislature.[xxxii]

CASE LAWS

BHANUMATI V. STATE OF U.P.[xxxiii]

The facts were that the U.P. KeshetraPanchayats and ZilaPanchayatsAdhiniyam ,1961 was amended in 1965,1976,1990,1994,1998 and 2007. IN 1994, The Amendment was also done of United Provinces Panchayat raj act, 1947. The amendments in 1947 and 1961 acts were in keeping with the objectives of the Constitution 73rd amendment act, 1992. By section 9 of the U.P.Panchayat Laws (amendment ) ordinance  ,2007, latter on act , 2007 , the offices of “ Up – pramukh,” “Senior Up-pramukh”, “Junior Up –pramukh” and “upadhyakshaya” were omitted from 1961 Act.

Section  2  of the amendment act omitted “Up-pradhan” wherever occurring including the marginal  heading .The  amendment was in total contravention of part IX  of the constitution providing for a three tier structure of Panchayat  administration and the reason for such a three tier to minimize the executive interference . In the case of removal   or disqualification of “Pramukh“ or Pradhan” from running the administration , the “Up-pramukh” or up- Pradhan”  prior to such amendment could have taken over whereas the abolition of these office will pave the way for executive interference.

It was also argued that there is no  provision of no- confidence motion in chapter IX of the constitution and therefore incorporation of this of this principle militates against  the  principle ofPanchayati Raj institution .

Besides, substitution of the provision ‘more than half’  in  place of ‘not less than two-thirds’ i.e. the no-confidence resolution to be  carried on by simple majority instead of two-thirds majority and the reduction of   ‘one year’  in place  of  two year for bringing no-confidence motion dilutes the principle of stability and continuity which are main purposes behind  the object and reason of constitutional amendments in Part IX of the Constitution. The SC dismissed  the appeal and  held – a constitution is not to give all details of the provisions.

In Articles  likes  243A, 243C(1), (5), 243D(4), 243X(6), 243F(1),(6), 243G, 243H, 243I(2),(4) the state Legislature has been empowered to make a law to implement the constitutional provision. Further in view of  the “Constitution doctrine of Silence”, the  petitioners arguments cannot be accepted.

A Constitution professing to be a  democratic and republican in character  cannot  be interpreted to  exclude the provision of the no-confidence motion in respect of  the chairperson of the Panchayat just because of its silence on that aspect.

As a result of no-confidence motion, the chairperson of Panchayat, does not lose this position as a member of Panchayat  and therefore there is no set back to the institution .the essence of democratic republicanism is that all person who comprise  such bodies . Therefore, the statutory provision cannot be called either unreasonable or ultra vires of Part IX  of the constitution .

Regarding the  contention that the  post  of chairperson  should have the same immunity as the president of India, the court held the argument of argument of desperation and  advanced  without any regard to the vast difference  between  the constitution status and position between the two posts ,which were not comparable at all by any standards even the president of India  being  subject to impeachment proceedings under Art. 61 of the constitution.

UNION OF INDIA V.RAKESH KUMAR[xxxiv]

A three judges bench of the SC consisting of C.J.I. K.G. Balakrishnan, J .Sathasivam and  J J.M.Panchal held that the proviso to section 4 (g) of provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled area)Act ,1996 containing exception  to the norm of ‘Propositional representation”, and the exceptional treatment  incorporated  in Jharkhand Panchayat  Raj Act 2001 [ sec 21(B),40(B),55(B) ] providing 100% reservation in favour  of  scheduled tribes for chairman’s position in panchayats located  in scheduled area in Jharkhand is constitutionally permissible since art 243M(4)(B).

Expressly empowers parliament to provide  for  ‘exceptions and modifications’  in the application of part IX toscheduled areas.

INDIRA SAWHNEY V. UNION OF INDIA[xxxv] AND M.R. BALAJI V. STATE OF MYSORE[xxxvi]

Is applicable  only to reservations enabled by Art 16(4).Therefore, the aggregate reservation amounting to 80%  in  scheduled areas is not unconstitutional on the ground of unreasonable  restriction on the rights of  political participation of persons belonging to the general category . The exercise of  electoral franchise is an essential component of a liberal democracy. Such right do not have the status of fundamental rights and are instead legal rights which are controlled through legislative means. There is no inherent right to contest an election since  there are explicit legislative  control over it.

PANCHAYATS ENJOY CONSTITUTIONAL STATUS: SC

Village Panchayat Calangute vs Additional Director Of Panchayat[xxxvii]

Panchayats can formulate their own programmes of economic development and social justice as they enjoy a Constitutional status, the Supreme Court has ruled. The apex court said Article 40 and Articles 243 to 243-O envisages that the framers of the Constitution had envisaged village panchayat to be the foundation of the country’s political democracy – a decentralised form of government where each village was to be responsible for its own affairs.

A bench of justices GS Singhvi and SJ Mukhopadhya passed the ruling while allowing an appeal filed by the village panchayat of Calangute in Goa challenging a Bombay High Court order which had taken the view that the local body cannot challenge any decision taken by the executive authority.

In this case, the Additional Director of Panchayat-II had overruled a resolution passed by the panchayat quashing the permission granted to a private company for carrying out certain commercial activities. Though the Panchayat appealed against the official’s decision the high court dismissed it following which it appealed in the apex court.

“The primary focus of the subjects enumerated in the Eleventh Schedule is on the social and economic development of the rural parts of the country by conferring upon the Panchayat the status of a constitutional body. Parliament has ensured that the Panchayats would no longer perform the role of simply executing the programs and policies evolved by the political executive of the state.”[xxxviii]

“By virtue of the provisions contained in Part IX, the panchayats have been empowered to formulate and implement their own programs of economic development and social justice in tune with their status as the third tier of government which is mandated to represent the interests of the people living within its jurisdiction,” the bench said.

POSITION OF GRAM SABHA IN PANCHAYAT SYSTEM

The Gram Sabha (GS) is the cornerstone of the entire scheme of democratic decentralisation in India initiated through the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution. Hence, the success or failure of the Panchayati Raj system largely depends on how powerful and effective the GS is at the decentralised level to fulfil the desires and inspirations of the people. Recognizing the critical role of theGS in village economy Gandhiji had said that true democracy could not be worked by some persons sitting at the top. It had to be worked from below by the people of every village.

Later on, endorsing the view of Gandhiji, Jay Prakash Narain had said: “To me, Gram Sabha signified village democracy. Let us not have only representative government from the village upto Delhi. In one place, at least let there be direct government, direct democracy. The relationship between Panchayat and Gram Sabha should be that of Cabinet and Assembly”. It is due to the importance of this institution at a local level that the Year 1999-2000 has been declared as ‘Year of Gram Sabha’ by the Government of India.[xxxix]

Article 243(B) of the Constitution defines the GS as a body consisting of persons registered in the electoral rolls relating to a village comprised within the area of the Panchayat at the village level. With regard to its powers and authority, Article 243 (A) of the Constitution says that the GS may exercise such powers and perform such functions of the village level as the Legislature of a State may, by law, provide. It is in the light of this that State legislatures have endowed certain powers to this corporate body relating to the development of the village.

A study of the State Panchayat Acts reveals that the GS is to perform numerous functions like discussing the report on socio-economic development programmes implemented by the Gram Panchayat (GP) in the previous financial year, examine the annual statement of the accounts and audit report as well as annual report of administration of the GP in the last financial year; (c) examine the budget of the GP for the next financial year, identification of the beneficiaries of various anti-poverty and rural development programmes; scrutinize on-going and completed schemes and works of the GP, undertake programmes of adult education and family welfare in the village mobilisation of voluntary labour and contributions in kind or cash or both for community welfare programmes and promotion and unity and harmony among all sections of society in the village.

This list of functions indicates that the GS has the power only to discuss, debate, examine and scrutinize. There is no binding on the part of the Gram Panchayat to implement its directions and decisions of the GS. If the institution of the GS has to be made functional as it ought to be, it must be endowed with the power to implement schemes.

Gram Panchayats should be accountable to the Gram Sabha and the process of making Panchayats accountable should be the business of the Gram Sabha. While democratic institutions provide opportunities for achieving democratic ideals, it is democratic practice through which these can be realised. While both democratic institutions and democratic practice are important for good governance, the latter is not guaranteed by the former.

In the context of Panchayati Raj institutions, strengthening people’s participation in the Gram Sabha is a critical prerequisite for making Panchayats and the system accountable to people. A strengthened Gram Sabha is more effective both in the short run for immediate accountability and in thelong-run for building a healthy decentralised democracy.

Gram Sabha has been described as the institution for direct democracy, for the participation of the local community in decisions on their concerns, programmes, and projects, fixing priorities, selecting beneficiaries, receiving annual reports and accounts, approving the coming year’s programmes, conducting the social audit, etc.[xl] But the enthusiasm of scholars and policy makers has not caught the imagination of the local citizens and the extent of participation has remained a matter of concern.

Measures suggested and sometimes even implemented e.g., a smaller size of Gram Sabha, holding meetings in the ward/village as PalliSabha, Ward Sabha, appointing nodal officers to ensure that Gram Sabha meetings are conducted on the days/dates every quarter or six months fixed in different states and even changed.

However, provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act 1996, Extension Act for short, has not only extended development, planning and audit functions to the GS but also endowed it with the management and control of natural resources and the adjudication of justice in accordance with traditions and customs.

But this is applicable in areas dominated by the Scheduled Tribes in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Gujarat and Rajasthan where it has not been made functional so far as elections to the Panchayats are yet to be held there in conformity with the Extension Act. It would have been better if the provisions of the extension Act were extended to the non-scheduled areas. But none of the States has taken any initiative in this regard except Madhya Pradesh and, that too, as late as in 1999.

Shortcomings

But in most of the States, the people are apathetic towards this body. It has been noticed that meetings of the GS end in a mere formality. Decisions which were supposed to be taken by the GS were taken by the local elite, thereby rendering this body redundant. Meetings were conducted without any consideration of quorum. The absence of women and weaker sections of rural society was another feature of the GS.

Hence, the entire exercise could not deliver the expected results. The reason for poor attendance is due to the fact that provisions relating to the GS contain nothing of substance which could attract the masses towards it. The people, particularly the poor, did not want to lose their daily wages for the sake of attending the GS meetings.

Apart from giving the GSs only a ritualistic role, the problem is compounded by having the meetings of the Sabha at a time of the day when the women and weaker sections are busy at home or in earning their wages. This renders the GS meetings meaningless. The role of the GS in bringing transparency in its own functioning in ensuring equitable distribution of the benefits, in creating community assets where these are needed and bring about social cohesion which is the most important factor in the success of the GPs.[xli]

In order to make the GS a powerful, vibrant and pulsating institution we must make it as a fulcrum of the entire scheme of democratic decentralisation.

The institution of the GS is very important as it gives an opportunity to each and every voter of the GP at the local level to take part in the decision-making of decentralised governance, planning and development.

CONCLUSION

The term ‘Panchayat Raj’ is relatively new, having originated during the British administration. ‘Raj’ literally means governance or government. Mahatma Gandhi advocated Panchayati Raj, a decentralized form of Government where each village is responsible for its own affairs, as the foundation of India’s political system. His term for such a vision was “Gram Swaraj” or Village Self-governance.

It was adopted by state governments during the 1950s and 60s as laws were passed to establish Panchayats in various states. It also found backing in the Indian Constitution, with the 73rd amendment in 1992 to accommodate the idea. The Amendment Act of 1992 contains a provision for devolution of powers and responsibilities to the panchayats to both for preparation of plans for economic development and social justice and for implementation in relation to twenty-nine subjects listed in the eleventh schedule of the constitution.

The panchayats receive funds from three sources ie, local body grants, as recommended by the Central Finance Commission, funds for implementation of centrally-sponsored schemes, and funds released by the state governments on the recommendations of the State Finance Commissions.

By the seventy third amendmentPanchayat became an ‘institution of self governance’ – Article 243(d) and comprehensive provisions came to be incorporated for democratic decentralization of governance on Gandhian principle of participatory democracy. The Panchayati Raj institutions structured under the 73rd Amendment are meant to bring about sweeping changes in the governance at the grass root level. By this amendment, Parliament introduced three tier system of Panchayati Raj institutions at Village, Block and District levels.

Article 243C provides for the composition of a Panchayat and filling up of the seats in a Panchayat by direct election. Article 243D provides for reservation of seats and Article 243E provides for the duration of Panchayat. Article 243F enumerates the grounds of disqualification of membership of the Panchayat and Article 243G prescribes the powers, authority and responsibilities of a Panchayat.

Article 243H gives power to the State Legislatures to enact law and authorise a Panchayat to levy, collect and appropriate taxes, duties, tolls, and fees; assign to a Panchayat such taxes, duties, tolls and fees levied and collected by the State Government and also provide for making such grants-in-aid to the Panchayats from the Consolidated Fund of the State.

Clause (d) of this Article envisages a legislative provision for constitution of appropriate provisions for crediting all monies received by or on behalf of the Panchayats and also for withdrawal of such monies. Article 243I envisages constitution of Finance Commission to review the financial position of the Panchayats.

An analysis of Article 40 and Articles 243 to 243O shows that the framers of the Constitution had envisaged Village Panchayat to be the foundation of the country’s political democracy -a decentralized form of Government where each village was to be responsible for its own affairs. By enacting the Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) Act, Parliament has attempted to remedy the defects and remove the deficiencies of the Panchayati Raj system evolved after independence, which failed to live up to the expectation of the people in rural India.

The provisions contained in Part IX provides a firm basis for self-governance by the people at the grass root through the institution of Panchayats at different levels. For achieving the objectives enshrined in Part IX of the Constitution, the State Legislatures have enacted laws and made provision for devolution of powers upon and assigned various functions listed in the Eleventh Schedule to the Panchayats. The primary focus of the subjects enumerated in the Eleventh Schedule is on the social and economic development of the rural parts of the country by conferring upon the Panchayat the status of a constitutional body.

Parliament has ensured that the Panchayats would no longer perform the role of simply executing the programs and policies evolved by the political executive of the State. By virtue of the provisions contained in Part IX, the Panchayats have been empowered to formulate and implement their own programs of economic development and social justice in tune with their status as the third tier of government which is mandated to represent the interests of the people living within its jurisdiction.

The system of Panchayats envisaged in this Part aims at establishing strong and accountable systems of governance that will in turn ensure more equitable distribution of resources in a manner beneficial to all. The Union Cabinet of the Government of India, on 27 August 2009, approved 50% reservation for women in PRIs (Panchayati Raj NIJO Institutions). The Indian states which have already implemented 50% reservation for women in PRIs are Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. As of 25 November 2011, the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharastra, Orissa, Rajasthan and Tripura also reserve 50% of their posts for women.

Formatted on February 19th, 2019.

REFERENCES:

[i]http://www.publishyourarticles.net/knowledge-hub/essay/how-to-write-an-essayarticle-on-village-panchayat.html as accessed on 15th Oct, 2103.

[ii]Pandey, J.N., “The Constitution Of India”, Central Law Agency, 50th Edition, 2013, Pg. 653.

[iii] ibid

[iv]http://freelegaladvisors.com/bareacts/lawsbydetail/1122 as accessed on 15th Oct, 2013.

[v]http://youngindian.in/2013/03/balwant-rai-mehta-committee/ as accessed on 15th Oct, 2013.

[vi] ibid

[vii]http://www.scribd.com/doc/103469321/panchayat-raj as accessed on 16th Oct, 2013.

[viii]Aslam, M., “Panchayati Raj In India”, National Book Trust, 2007, Pg. 29.

[ix] ibid

[x] ibid

[xi]http://www.winentrance.com/general_knowledge/polity/panchayati-raj.html as accessed on 15th Oct, 2013.

[xii]http://www.arthapedia.in/index.php?title=Structure_and_Major_Functions_of_Panchayati_Raj_Institutions_(PRI)_in_India as accessed on 16th Oct, 2103.

[xiii]ibid

[xiv]http://agriinfo.in/?page=topic&superid=7&topicid=549 as accessed on 14th Oct, 2013.

[xv] ibid

[xvi]http://www.publishyourarticles.net/knowledge-hub/political-science/what-is-the-functions-of-gram-panchayats.html as accessed on 15th Oct, 2013.

[xvii] ibid

[xviii] Supra Note 18.

[xix]Aslam, M., “Panchayati Raj In India”, National Book Trust, 2007, Pg. 78.

[xx] Supra Note 14.

[xxi]http://www.indiangovernance.in/panchayat.html as accessed on 16th Oct, 2013.

[xxii] ibid

[xxiii]http://indianblogger.com/panchayati-raj-ideals-powers-and-responsibilities/ as accessed on 16th Oct, 2013.

[xxiv]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panchayati_raj as accessed on 16th Oct, 2013.

[xxv]Aslam, M., “Panchayati Raj In India”, National Book Trust, 2007, Pg. 37.

[xxvi]http://www.scribd.com/doc/103469321/panchayat-raj as accessed on 16th Oct, 2013.

[xxvii] ibid

[xxviii] Singh, M.P., “Constitution Of India”, Eleventh Edition, Eastern Book Company. Pg. 696.

[xxix] ibid

[xxx] Singh, M.P., “Constitution Of India”, Eleventh Edition, Eastern Book Company. Pg. 698.

[xxxi] Singh, M.P., “Constitution Of India”, Eleventh Edition, Eastern Book Company. Pg.702.

[xxxii] ibid

[xxxiii] AIR 2010 SC 3096

[xxxiv] AIR 2010 SC 3244

[xxxv]AIR 1993 SC 477

[xxxvi]1963 AIR 649

[xxxvii]CIVIL APPEAL NO.4832 OF 2012

(Arising out of SLP (C) No. 1758 of 2011

[xxxviii]http://www.dnaindia.com/india/1710148/report-panchayats-enjoy-constitutional-status-sc

[xxxix]Swamy, Narayan. “Empowering People: Issues and Solutions”, Kanishka Publishers, Pg. 97.

[xl]Dreze, Jean and Amartya Sen. “India: Development andParticipation”, Oxford University Press, 2002, New Delhi as accessed on 16th Oct, 2013.

[xli]Kurien.Lucyamma: The structure and functioning of Gram Sabhas: A study focused on the district of Kottayam : Chapter VIII:Shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/354/15/15 accessed on 16th Oct, 2013.

 

3 Replies to “Concept Of Village Panchayat: Constitutional Analysis”

  1. In Feb 2015 panchayat election Rajasthan a female candidate is being elected as sarpanch in a gram panchayat her husband is gram sahayak(MNREGA) in same gram panchayat can they continue office or one of whom has to resign
    Pls suggest

    1. sarpanch need not step down or come out of her office as also her husband can continue as a worker under MGNREGA..which stands as justified for ever in INDIA

  2. A sarapanch of kanimul grama panchayat of jagatsinghpur district of odisha distribute bardhakya bhata from his own parental resident and he demands money for that.Is it legal? Can he does that work from own resident? Please answer..please..

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