(Dr. Shankar Chatterjee)
National Panchayati Raj Day is the national celebration that commemorates the Panchayati Raj Systems in India. It is celebrated every year on the 24th of April in our country as on this date in 1992 the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act was passed.
Panchayats play an important role in empowering people in rural areas. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “India Lives in its Villages”. If one would like to get an idea about the social and cultural situations of India, visiting villages by staying a few days is the sine qua non.
After independence, the Panchayat Raj system was first introduced in Rajasthan in Nagaur district on 2 Oct 1959. The other states adopted this system later on and the second state was Andhra Pradesh.
It is pertinent to mention that Panchayati Raj Institutions as units of local government have been in existence in India for a long time, even in the Rig Veda reference is found. Also, it may be mentioned that in 1830, Sir Charles Metcalfe, the then acting Governor-General of India wrote: “The Indian village communities are little republics”. However, in 1992 officially established by the Indian Constitution that Panchayati Raj was the third level of India’s federal democracy through the 73rd Amendment Act. The Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) consists of three levels: a) Gram Panchayat at the village level b) Block Panchayat or Panchayat Samiti at the intermediate level and c) Zilla Panchayat at the district level. The involvement of these Institutions in the management of rural development programmes and service delivery is a multi-dimensional aspect, which includes the participation of the people in Gram Sabha, general body meetings of elected public representatives, and standing committees to look after the sectoral programmes of central, state and local government in the Panchayati Raj Institutions.
Dr Sivaiah’s contribution to Panchayat Raj
While discussing the 73rd Amendment Act, a person who has done enormous work by giving his input in the 73rd Amendment Act is the late Professor (Dr.) M. Shiviah served at Osmania University, Hyderabad as Professor and Head of the Political Science department and later on joined in the present National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (at that time it was known as the National Institute of Rural Development) as Director in the Panchayat Raj department. During his stint at the National Institute of Rural Development, he did commendable academic activities by carrying out massive field works at the grassroots levels in addition to conducting a plethora of training programmes. All publications of Prof Shivaih on Panchayati Raj are assets to Indians. Here are only two publications I wish to mention, one is Panchayati Raj: Elections in West Bengal, 1978 and another is Panchayati Raj: Analytical Survey.
Since we are discussing Panchayati Raj Day so a few important features of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act may be mentioned by focussing on the three tier system of Panchayats: 1) Grama Sabha, 2) Reservation of Seats, 3) Fixed Tenure for five years, 4) Regular Elections, 5) Independent State Election Commission 6) Micro Level Planning on 29 subjects, 7) District Planning Committees and 8) Establishing of State Finance Commission. In the context of reservations, the Act has mentioned 1) 33 percent for women, 2) according to the population of the SCs & STs, and 3) Providing reservations to the Backward Classes was left to the decision of the State Government.
Basing on Bhuria recommendations…
Also, it may be mentioned that, on the basis of the recommendations of Bhuria Committee, the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 has extended to the scheduled areas of the fifth schedule. In the Schedule areas, every village will have a Gram Sabha consisting of persons whose names are included in the electoral rolls for the Panchayats at the village level. In the scheduled areas, there will be a minimum of 50% seat reservation for Scheduled Tribes (STs) at all the tiers of Panchayats.
It may be noted that as of January 2019, there were 630 Zilla Panchayats; 6614 Block Panchayats, and 253163 Gram Panchayats in India. Also, it is evident that more than 3 million elected representatives (of which more than 1 million are women) for panchayats at all levels (www.pria.org/panchayathub).
(The author is a former Professor& Head (CPME) NIRD &PR, Hyderabad)