Discussion on Panchayati Raj
India still lives in villages. Therefore, the villages have to be properly governed if India is to progress. There are more than 600,000 villages in India with UP having the highest number of around 501 blocks and over 450 districts in the country. Panchayati Raj aims at taking democracy to the village level by delegating substantial power to the people's organisation. This was a major recommendation in the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee with a view to popularising the Community Development Programme and making it more effective. The primary object of Panchayati Raj is to awaken in the people of each area an intensive and continuous interest in the development of the entire populace. The following are the main yardsticks by which the success of Panchayati Raj needs to be measured from time to time:
a) Development of rural industry.
b) Development of facilities for education and adult literacy.
c) Emphasis on increased agricultural production.
d) Progressive dispersal of authority and initiative with special emphasis on the role of voluntary organisations.
The Rajasthan government was the first to embark on this experiment of de centralization in the village of Nagaur and to pass the Zilla Parishad Act in 1959. The government divested itself of certain powers in the sphere of development activities, retaining only regulatory and residuary powers. The idea was to help the village leadership grow. Those selfless people, who worked for the people, would ultimately become accredited leaders of the people.
Panchayati Raj has a three-tier system in each state as follows:
a) The Zilla Parishad at the district level
b) Panchayat Samitis at the block level
c) Gram Panchayat at the village level
The Panchayat Samitis would undertake to look after schemes like elementary education, village roads and public health. In addition to the above three, there are Nyay Panchayats or village courts, which provide a speedy, inexpensive system of justice to villages. Panchayati Raj now covers all the states, except Nagaland and Meghalaya. The Panchayat, the co-operative and the school are basic institutions at the village level for carrying out programmes of rural development. The elected Panchayat is responsible for many developments programmes within the territorial jurisdiction. The village school looks after the recreational, educational and cultural needs of the people and also doubles up as a community centre.
In 1977, the Government of India appointed the Ashok Mehta Committee to go into the various aspects of Panchayati Raj institutions with a view to promoting rural development. In its report, the Committee embodied 100-odd recommendations. In essence, the Committee called for greater attention for the welfare of the weaker sections to protect and provide their interests. It also called for the reservation of seats for Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes on the basis of population and for the participation of political parties in Panchayati Raj affairs as they may "ultimately convert their competitions into constructive co-operation for rural development". The Committee suggested that the district level is the obvious choice for being treated as the first point of decentralisation below state level. The Committee favoured a two-tier system. The passage of the Constitution's 720d and 73rd Amendment Bills in 1992 by Parliament initiated the first phase of local government reforms in India. The Bills received the consent of the President and was implemented in 1993.
The 73rd Amendment leaves it for the concerned State Legislature to choose between direct and indirect election in the villages, while at the district and block levels, it will be indirect. The subject of law and order, however, rests with the Centre; so some critics feel that calling Panchayati Raj a unit of self-government is a misnomer, But in reality Panchayati Raj institutions function as local self-governments with sufficient finances to take care of developmental functions. If they are allowed to function as self- governing local governments, considerable ground can be covered to reduce regional disparities. More focus is needed in granting more powers to Panchayati Raj institutions so that they can effectively work to promote the development of the village because the country can progress quickly if the villages are developed.