Panchayati Raj System : Improving the third layer of governance in India

Gandhism and Local Governance

Gandhism, local governance and panchayati raj system form a part of the same thread which endeavors to extend the government to your doorsteps. Gandhian philosophy has played a major role in charting out the role of village panchayats in our democratic setup. Fundamentally a channel of decentralizing the power, it emphasizes on the creation of more people friendly and accessible scheme of governance. India with its historic and quintessential Panchayati Raj System has been a flag bearer of this Gandhian ideology.

In the recent past, local body elections in different states have drawn a lot of attention, mostly because the nation is gearing up for the mega festival of politics – 2019 General Elections. Gandhian philosophy has played a major role in charting out the role of village panchayats in our democratic setup.

Prime Minister Modi during his election campaign in 2014 had repeatedly emphasized on the idea of minimum government and maximum governance. Mahatma Gandhi has also talked about good governance in his own inimitable way. He said, “If any policies help the poorest and weakest man that is good governance.”

The idea of good governance can be very much related to the institution of panchayats and they can also be treated as a medium to achieve the desired essentials of good governance like public participation, rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, equity and inclusiveness, effectiveness and efficiency and accountability. It was with these motives that the institution of panchayats came into existence.

Advent of Panchayati Raj System in India

Historically, India had a Community Development Programme framed in 1952 and to examine its proper functioning, a committee under the chairmanship of Balwant Rai G Mehta was established in January 1957. The committee gave its report in November 1957 and specifically recommended to establish a three-tier Panchayati Raj System which included Gram Panchayat at the village level, Panchayat Samiti at the block level and Zila Parishad at the district level. Though the National Development Council approved this in 1958 but it did not find any place in the constitutional scheme of our nation.

As a result of which, the process of actualization became really tough and slow paced. From 1960 to 1976, thirteen committees were constituted to suggest changes and reforms in the Panchayati raj system. From Ashok Mehta in 1977 to GVK Rao in 1985 and LM Singhvi in 1986 to PK Thungon in 1988 and finally, VN Gadgil in 1988 all submitted their respective reports on panchayati raj system.

It was for the first time in 1989 that Rajiv Gandhi Government proposed for 64th Constitutional Amendment bill but the bill did not saw the light of the day as it was not passed in the upper house of the Parliament, the Rajya Sabha.

In 1990s that a fresh constitutional amendment was brought up by the VP Singh Government after a long discussion with several Chief Ministers, but those were the days of political turmoil, VP Singh government was kicked out of power as a result of which the bill lapsed in the Parliament.

It was finally in 1991 under the leadership of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, the bill was passed and came to be known as 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 which came into force on 24th April 1993. Article 243 to 243-O of the Constitution talks in detail about the establishment and working of panchayats. Article 40 of the Constitution, though as part of the Directive Principles has contained the spirit of village panchayats since the beginning.

Future for Panchayati Raj System in India

After 25 years of constitutionalization of panchayati raj system in India, states like Rajasthan, Maharashtra and few others have taken the task of decentralizing the power to a great extent and many states are in the line of doing so whereas in some states, ensuring even the elections at regular interval remains to be a daunting task.

Also, the system of panchayati raj remains at some places continue to be plagued with same traditional issues like non-transparency related to operational functionality, funds, and functionaries, excessive control by the bureaucracy, dependence on the government funding and lack of proper infrastructure. The government claims that they have made highest ever increase in the budget relating to village development but the independent reports show otherwise.

Villages continue to remain the heart of India. A strong foundation for good governance and constitutional operability must be visible in all the rural initiatives of the government. Policies like rural electrification, clean fuel and MP village development must be planned, executed and monitored minutely at a micro/household level too. Such a policy initiative will not only help in the development of rural socio-economic framework of the village but will strengthen the concept of direct democracy, only then we can expect panchayats to become an indispensable third layer of governance in the country.

Gautam Kumar Author

The writer is a founder & student coordinator of Society for Constitutional Law & Human Rights at School of Law, UPES, Dehradun.

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