PHASE II- ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL ISSUES
POLITICAL SYSTEM IN INDIA
LOCAL GOVERNMENT: RURAL
Recommendations of The Balwant Rai Mehta Committee and The Ashok Mehta Committee
The Balwant Rai Mehta Committee ( 1957) suggested ways of democratic decentralisation in a three-tier structure of panchayati raj.
This meant that panchayati raj should be set up at three levels. They should be furnished with sufficient powers and resources. These three tiers of panchayati raj are:
- zila parishad at district level;
- panchayat samiti at intermediate or block level;
- village or gram panchayat at village level.
In this scheme, panchayat samiti was to be the most important.
These three bodies were interlinked as the lower body was represented in the higher body through its chairperson.
Panchayati raj of the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee pattern was first introduced by Rajasthan in 1959.
Later, other States also followed. Initially, both the people and the states were enthusiastic about Panchayati Raj. However panchayati raj institutions began to decline very soon owing to government indifference and political interference.
The Ashok Mehta Committee set up by the government to review panchayati raj submitted its report in 1978.
This Committee felt that panchayati raj had inculcated political awareness among rural masses. However, it had not been successful in carrying out economic development. Unlike the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee, the Asoka Mehta Committee suggested a two tier structure of panchayati raj.
These two-tiers were to be:
- zila parishad at district level;
- mandal panchayat, an administrative unit between village panchayat and
- panchayat samiti.
In the two-tier system, the main emphasis was laid on zila parishad and not on panchayat samiti as in the case of the earlier committee report.
However the recommendations of the Ashok Mehta Committee could not be implemented due to the collapse of the Janata Government in 1980.
Salient Features of 73rd Amendment
The 73rd amendment to the Constitution enacted in 1992 made statutory provisions for the establishment, empowerment and functioning of Panchayati Raj institutions. Some provisions of this amendment are binding on the States while others have been left to be decided by respective State Legislatures at their discretion. The salient features of this amendment are as follows:
Some of the compulsory requirements of the new law are:
- Organisation of Gram Sabhas;
- creation of a three-tier Panchayati Raj Structure at the Zila, Block and Village levels;
- almost all posts, at all levels to be filled by direct elections;
- minimum age for contesting elections to the Panchayati Raj institutions be twenty one years;
- the post of Chairman at the Zila and Block levels should be filled by indirect election;
- there should be reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes in Panchayats, in proportion to their population, and for women in Panchayats up to one-third seats;
- State Election Commission to be set up in each State to conduct elections to Panchayati Raj institutions;
- the tenure of Panchayati Raj institutions is five years, if dissolved earlier, fresh elections to be held within six months; and
- a State Finance Commission is set up in each State every five years.
Some of the provisions which are not binding on the States, but only guidelines are:
- Giving voting rights to members of the Central and State legislatures in these bodies;
- providing reservation for backward classes; and
- the Panchayati Raj institutions should be given financial powers in relation to taxes,
- levy fees etc. and efforts shall be made to make Panchayats autonomous bodies.
Composition of Panchayats
- The Panchayati Raj system, as established in accordance with the 73rd Amendment, is a three-tier structure based on direct elections at all the three tiers : village, intermediate and district.
- Exemption from the intermediate tier is given to the small States having less than 20 lakhs population.
- It means that they have freedom not to have the middle level of panchayat. All members in a panchayat are directly elected.
- However, if a State so decides, members of the State Legislature and Parliament may also be represented in district and middle level panchayats. The middle level panchayats are generally known as Panchayat Samitis.
- Provisions have been made for the inclusion of the chairpersons of the village panchayats in the block and district level panchayats. The provision regarding reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes has already been mentioned earlier. However it should also be noted here that one-third of total seats are reserved for women, and one-third for women out of the Quota fixed for Scheduled Castes/Tribes.
- Reservation is also provided for offices of Chairpersons. The reserved seats are allotted by rotation to different constituencies in a panchayat area. State Legislatures can provide for further reservation for other backward classes (OBC) in panchayats.
The Amendment provides for continuous existence of panchayats.
The normal term of a panchayat is five years. If a panchayat is dissolved earlier, elections are held within six months.
There is a provision for State level Election Commission, for superintendence, direction and control of preparation of electoral rolls and conduct of elections to panchayats.
(ii) Powers and responsibilities of panchayats
State Legislatures may endow panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable the panchayats to become institutions of self-government at grassroots level. Responsibility may be given to them to prepare plans for economic development and social justice.
Schemes of economic development and social justice with regard to 29 important matters such as agriculture, primary and secondary education, health and sanitation, drinking water, rural housing, welfare of weaker sections, social forestry and so forth may be made by them.
Three-tier Structure of Panchayati Raj
(i) Panchayats at Village Level
This is the basic or grasroots level of panchayati raj.
(a) Gram Sabha
Recognition to Gram Sabha, an institution of direct democracy, is an important feature of the 73rd amendment. Gram Sabha consists of all adult residents within a village or group of villages.
Thus it is the only institution of direct democracy in the country.
Generally, two meetings of Gram Sabha are held every year. In these meetings, the Gram Sabha as the general body of the people hear annual statement of accounts, audit or administrative report of panchayats. It also recommends new development projects to be undertaken by panchayats. It also helps in identifying poor people of the village so that they may be given economic assistance.
(b) Gram Panchayat
The lower tier of the panchayati raj system in the country is the village level panchayat.
It is known in most of the States as Gram Panchayat: The members of a Gram Panchayat are directly elected by the people.
The number of members of a Gram Panchayat is fixed on the basis of village population. Hence, it differs from panchayat to panchayat. Election is held on the basis of single-member constituency. As already mentioned, one-third of the total number of seats are reserved for women; and some for Scheduled Castes and Tribes including one-third for women of Scheduled Castes and Tribes. Chairpersons of Gram Panchayats are called by different names in different States as ‘Sarpanch, Pradhan or President.
There is a Vice-Chairperson also. Both are elected by members of the panchayat. Gram Panchayats generally hold their meetings once a month. Panchayats at all levels constitute committees for transaction of their business.
(ii) Panchayat Samiti
The second or middle tier of the panchayati raj is Panchayat Samiti which provides a link between Gram Panchayat and a Zila Parishad.
The strength of a Panchayat Samiti also depends on the population in a samiti area. In Panchayat Samiti, some members are directly elected. Sarpanchs of gram panchayats are ex-officio members of Panchayat Samitis.
However, all the sarpanchs of Gram Panchayats are not members of Panchayat Samitis at the same time. The number varies from State to State and is rotated annually. It means
that only chairpersons of some Gram Panchayats in a Samiti area are members of Panchayat Samiti at a time.
In some panchayats, members of Legislative Assemblies and Legislative Councils as well as members of Parliament who belong to the Samiti area are co-opted as its members. Chairpersons of Panchayat Samitis are, generally elected from among the directly elected members.
(iii) Zila Parishad
Zila Parishad at the district level is the uppermost tier of the panchayati raj system. This institution has some directly elected members whose number differs from State to State as it is also based on population. Chairpersons of Panchayat Samitis are ex-officio members of Zila Parishads. Members of Parliament, Legislative Assemblies and Councils belonging to the districts are also nominated members of Zila Parishads.
The chairperson of a Zila Pazishad, called Adhyaksha or President, is elected from among the directly elected members. The vice-chairperson is also elected similarly. Zila parishad meetings are conducted once a month. Special meetings can also be convened to discuss special matters. Subject committees are also formed.