Panchayati Raj in India

Ram Rattan Sharma

The Panchayats in India carry out the functions and responsibilities assigned to them with devolution of power and authority for the purpose. The same was the case before 73rd amendment. The difference is that states have now constitutional obligations to keep them alive and not to relegate, enabling them to abeyance for indefinite period. Yet, it is for the states to create an evading environment in which they can function like self governing units. The constitution of India has clearly demarcated legislative areas between the union and the states. It is with in the province of state list of the schedule7 under article 246, that local governments have to function.
Despite constitutional status being accorded to panchayats, it is the state legislature which empowers panchayats in any real sense. It is under the conformity acts of the states and in turn they govern public affairs in their jurisdiction under the constitution amendment act, the state legislature is supposed to devolve responsibilities , powers and authorities to panchayats to enable them to function as institutions of self government. The legislature of a state may authorize the panchayat to levy, collect and appropriate certain taxes, duties, tolls and fees etc. and also assign to them, the revenues of certain state level taxes subject to such conditions as are imposed by the state government. Further, grants in aid may also be provided to these bodies. The objectives of a Panchayat include organizing common men in the process of developing themselves through their own efforts on a continuing bases,at the same time enhancing their capacity and self reliance. This begins with citizen participation in political processes and service delivery of local public goods, e.g. Potable drinking water ,general sanitation ,primary health, elementary education, maintenance of public properties. Through consensus and compromise panchayats crept into the statute book in 1993 and part IX was inserted by the constitution act, 1991 w.e.f 24 April 1993 for panchayats, making states legislatures responsible for developing power and authority to panchayats in order to enable them to carry out develoved responsibilities. Not with standing, Panchayats are not completely autonomous to the state, like they used to he once upon a time in recorded history-for which they have been praised by the scholars and thinkers. The Present panchayats are part of state governance structure. A fresh lease of life is breathed into them by the respective states, of course under the general direction in the constitution. New fiscal arrangements necessitate every state under Article 243 to constitute , at a regular interval of five years, a State finance commission and assign it the task of reviewing the financial position of Panchayats and making recommendations on the sharing and assignment of various taxes, duties, tolls, fees etc. grants-in-aid to be given to the panchayats from the consolidated fund of the state.
The Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj created in 2004, had introduced the Panchayats empowerment and accountability incentive scheme to motivate states to empower the panchayats and to put in place accountability frame work making their functioning transparent and efficient, incentive funds under this scheme are given to the state in accordance with their performance as measured by a devolution index or index of frame work, functions, finances & functionaries formulated and computed by an independent institution. The nation is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the new generation of Panchayats and Municipalities. When on April 24,1993 Panchayats and on June 1, 1993 the Municipality were endowed “With such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self Govt.” It was the beginning of silent revolution. Moreover, it was historic, the dream of Mahatma Gandhi and all those who advocated “Power to the people came true after 43 years of India becoming the Republic, with the passage of constitution (73rd) amendment) Act 1992 incorporated part as IX of the constitution, constitutional status has been provided to the Panchayati Raj institutions. Consequent on the Amendment Panchayats have been visualized as the third tier of the Governance in the federal polity. The degree of Political empowerment that has resulted through the historic constitutional amendement 1992-93 has been by and large unprecedented. It is seen that the roots of democracy has deepended as a result of Panchayati Raj institutions, making its way through villages across the country and their holistic impact has led to the formation of representational dynamics at the local level, of late, schemes have been envisaged to promote digital financial transactions at the village level to promote the benefits of cashless and paperless processes to benefit villagers in rural parts of the country, other schemes such as financial inclusion projects in tribal areas, working women hostels, block Panchayats etc are all examples of progressive Panchayati Raj institutionalism spread across the length and breadth of the nation.
Given the severe social and political constraints in equality, caste system, patriarchy feudal setting illiteracy, uneven development -with in which it had to function, the new Panchayati Raj has opened a new chapter in local Governance .We have also witnessed a steady progress as far as the inclusion of excluded sections of our populations in the decision making process from village to the district level is concerned women have entered public life in a big way. In 2015, 13,41,773 women got elected to local government and more than three times of this number contested , the elections specially women belonging to schedule castes and schedule tribes have secured their due share.
This is an important achievement in a hierarchical and male dominated society. It is the men folk in the families who control the women elected members may be partly t true, but studies show that the situation is rapidly changing, one third of all the Panchayats and ,municipalities at various levels have women presidents. As years go by, the number of women getting elected from general constituencies is also increasing. This unique experiment in turn has generated a kind of social mobilization and silent revolution on an unprecedented scale. As local self governments have come into existence through out the county, their functioning has come under scrutiny. A congenial climate for taking Governance to the door steps of the people is slowly being created, twenty five years is a good time to assess the achievements, lost opportunities as well as the challenges ahead. The two and a half decadal Journey of the Panchayati Raj is a mixed bag of success & setbacks. This is time for all concerned to take up seriously the study and conduct research to find out whether we have an empowered local Govt. in reality.
The union Govt. and all the state Govts. must launch a national campaign to coscientise the people, the officials , the civil society and political leaders, as to how the institutions of self Govt. could be brought to the centre stage. Ultimately, we have to work for creating a culture of local Govt. in our social and Pol. system and ultimately question is how can our 835 million villagers in India Say, “Our Panchayats ; Our future”.
(The author is former Dy. Librarian University of Jammu)