Prelims: Indian Polity and Governance – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
Mains: Issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.
What is the historical background of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in India?
- PRIs in India have a long history dating back to ancient times. During pre-independence, these institutions were known as "panchayats" and were primarily responsible for maintaining law and order in rural areas.
- During the Vedic era (c. 1500-500 BC), the panchayat system was an important institution for administering justice.
- The panchayat was typically composed of the village headman and four other respected members of the village community, who were elected by the villagers.
- Panchayats were responsible for resolving disputes and providing a forum for village-level decision-making.
- In the 19th and early 20th centuries, British colonial rule introduced modern forms of local self-government in India, which were based on the Panchayati Raj system.
- PRIs have continued to evolve and play a vital role in the governance of rural areas in modern India. The British also introduced the concept of "revenue panchayats," responsible for collecting land revenue and maintaining land records.
What are some of the significant constitutional provisions related to PRIs?
The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992, also known as the Panchayati Raj Act, is a landmark legislation in India that aims to provide a three-tier system of decentralized self-governance in rural areas. The main provisions of the Act are outlined in Part IX of the Indian Constitution, which consists of Articles 243 to 243-O.
Some major provisions of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 are
- Three-tier system: Establishing a three-tier system of panchayats (local self-governments) in rural areas, comprising the gram panchayat (village council), panchayat samiti (block council), and Zilla parishad (district council).
- Population: Providing for the establishment of a panchayat at the village level for every village having a population of at least 500 persons.
- Elections: Mandating regular elections to panchayats and the conduct of elections in accordance with the provisions of the Act and the rules made thereunder.
- Reservation: Providing for the reservation of seats for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and women in panchayats at all levels, as well as reservation of office of the chairpersons of panchayats at the village and intermediate levels for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and women.
- State Finance Commission: Providing for the constitution of finance commissions to review the financial position of panchayats and to make recommendations for the devolution of funds, grants-in-aid, and taxes to panchayats.
- Power and Functions: Providing for the powers, authority, and responsibilities of panchayats, including the preparation of plans for economic development and social justice and the implementation of schemes for the development of agriculture, cottage and small-scale industries, education, health, and other sectors.
- State Election Commission: Providing for establishing a State Election Commission to conduct elections to local governments at three tiers.
- Dissolution: of panchayats and the filling of casual vacancies in panchayats.
- Suspension or removal of the chairpersons or members of panchayats.
What are the challenges faced by PRIs in India?
PRIs in India face several challenges. Some of these challenges include:
- Lack of financial resources: PRIs often do not have sufficient financial resources to carry out their functions effectively. This can limit their ability to implement development projects and provide basic services to their communities.
- Limited powers and functions: PRIs have limited powers and functions compared to other levels of government, which can hinder their ability to address local issues.
- Weak capacity and lack of trained personnel: Many PRIs lack the capacity and trained personnel to carry out their functions effectively. This can lead to poor planning and implementation of development projects.
- Limited participation of women and disadvantaged groups: PRIs often have low levels of participation from women and disadvantaged groups, which can limit their ability to represent the needs and interests of the entire community.
- Political interference: PRIs can be subject to political interference, undermining their independence and decision-making processes.
- Limited access to information: PRIs often have limited access to information, hindering their ability to make informed decisions and plan development projects.
- Poor coordination with other levels of government: PRIs can face difficulties coordinating with other levels of government, which can hinder their ability to implement development projects and provide services to their communities.
How can PRIs be strengthened in India?
2nd ARC recommendations on local governance
The Second ARC made several recommendations for improving Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in India. Some of these recommendations include
- Strengthening the financial position of PRIs: The Second ARC recommended that PRIs be provided with a greater share of resources and financial autonomy to enable them to carry out their functions effectively.
- Enhancing the powers and functions of PRIs: The Second ARC recommended that PRIs be given more powers and functions to address local issues more effectively.
- Improving the capacity and training of PRI functionaries: The Second ARC recommended the establishment of a National Institute for Panchayat Leadership and Training to provide capacity-building and training to PRI functionaries.
- Promoting the participation of women and disadvantaged groups: The Second ARC recommended measures to increase the participation of women and disadvantaged groups in PRIs, such as reserving seats for these groups and providing them with training and support.
- Ensuring the independence of PRIs: The Second ARC recommended measures to ensure the independence of PRIs and protect them from political interference.
- Enhancing the coordination of PRIs with other levels of government: The Second ARC recommended measures to improve the coordination of PRIs with other levels of government and ensure that their development plans and projects are aligned with those of other levels of government.
There are several potential suggestions for improving the Panchayati Raj institution in India, which are given below:
- Increase funding and resources: Increasing funding and resources for local governments could help to address the difficulties faced in improving infrastructure and other services.
- Enhance transparency and accountability: by promoting the participation of citizens in decision-making processes and increasing the accessibility of information about local government operations.
- Strengthen capacity-building efforts: through training programs for elected officials and staff, as well as technical assistance to help local governments develop the skills and knowledge needed to carry out their functions effectively.
- Promote women's participation: by setting quotas for women's representation and providing training and support to encourage women to become involved in local government.
- Address structural barriers to participation: Addressing the barriers, such as discrimination based on caste or religion, could involve measures such as affirmative action policies and targeted outreach efforts to engage underrepresented groups.
Case study of some successful PRIs in India
The Panchayat of Hiwara, Uttarakhand:
The Panchayat, which serves a population of approximately 10,000 people, has implemented several initiatives to improve the lives of its citizens, including
- Improved access to clean water: through the construction of water storage tanks, which have helped to improve access to clean drinking water for the community.
- Improved road infrastructure: easier for people to travel to and from the village and has helped to stimulate economic development.
- Promoted renewable energy: such as solar power, which has helped to reduce the community's reliance on fossil fuels and improve environmental sustainability.
- Improved education: worked with non-governmental organizations to improve the quality of education in the village.
Pedda Amberpet Gram Panchayat, Telangana:
Pedda Gram Panchayat’s key initiatives are given below:
- Solid waste management system: The village council set up a waste segregation unit where organic and inorganic waste is separated and processed. The organic waste is then used as manure, while the inorganic waste is recycled or disposed of.
- Other initiatives: the construction of toilets in every household, the provision of drinking water through borewells and water purification plants, and the development of community spaces for cultural and recreational activities.
Previous Year Questions(PYQs)
Q) Assess the importance of the Panchayat system in India as a part of local government. Apart from government grants, what sources the Panchayats can look out for financing development projects? (2018)
Q) In absence of well–educated and organised local level government system, ‘Panchayats’ and ‘Samitis’ have remained mainly political institutions and not effective instruments of governance. Critically discuss. (2015)
Q) Under which schedule of the Constitution of India can the transfer of tribal land to private parties for mining be declared null and void? (2019)
(a) Third Schedule
(b) Fifth Schedule
(c) Ninth Schedule
(d) Twelfth Schedule
Q) Local self-government can be best explained as an exercise in (2017)
(b) Democratic decentralization
(c) Administrative delegation
(d) Direct democracy
Q) Consider the following statements: (2016 )
- The minimum age prescribed for any person to be a member of Panchayat is 25 years.
- A Panchayat reconstituted after premature dissolution continues only for the remainder period.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
Q) The fundamental object of the Panchayati Raj system is to ensure which among the following? (2015)
- People’s participation in development
- Political accountability
- Democratic decentralization
- Financial mobilization
Select the correct answer using the code given below:
(a) 1, 2 and 3 only
(b) 2 and 4 only
(c) 1 and 3 only
(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4
Q) The Government enacted the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act in 1996. Which one of the following is not identified as its objective? (2013)
(a) To provide self-governance
(b) To recognize traditional rights
(c) To create autonomous regions in tribal areas
(d) To free tribal people from exploitation
Q) Under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, who shall be the authority to initiate the process for determining the nature and extent of individual or community forest rights or both? (2013)
(a) State Forest Department
(b) District Collector/Deputy Commissioner
(c) Tahsildar/Block Development Officer/Mandal Revenue Officer
(d) Gram Sabha
Q) Which of the following provisions of the Constitution of India have a bearing on Education? (2012)
- Directive Principles of State Policy
- Rural and Urban Local Bodies
- Fifth Schedule
- Sixth Schedule
- Seventh Schedule
Select the correct answer using the codes given below:
(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 3, 4 and 5 only
(c) 1, 2 and 5 only
(d) 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5
Q) The Constitution (Seventy-Third Amendment) Act, 1992, which aims at promoting the Panchayati Raj Institutions in the country, provides for which of the following? (2011)
- Constitution of District Planning Committees.
- State Election Commissions to conduct all panchayat elections.
- Establishment of State Finance Commissions.
Select the correct answer using the codes given below:
(a) 1 only
(b) 1 and 2 only
(c) 2 and 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q) What are the foundational principles of Panchayati Raj Institutions?
The foundational principles of local self-government in India are based on the idea of community participation, decentralization of power, Transparency and accountability, Responsiveness to local needs, and Independent and Autonomous, Democratic governance.
Q) Who was the founder of local self-government in India?
Lord Ripon is considered the "Father of Local Self-Government in India." He served as the Governor-General of British India from 1880 to 1884, during which time he introduced a number of reforms aimed at increasing the participation of Indians in the administration of their own affairs.
Q) What are the limitations of the Panchayati Raj Institution in India?
The power distribution is not well established, leaving questions about task allocation, qualifications, and necessary requirements unanswered. Additionally, a lack of financial resources is hindering the ability to achieve the goal of self-governance.