Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs)

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Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs)
Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs)

Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) are a cornerstone of India’s democratic structure, representing the country’s commitment to decentralization and local self-governance in rural areas. Evolved over a long period of time, PRIs in India aim to empower rural communities, promote participatory democracy, and ensure socio-economic development at the grassroots level. This article of NEXT IAS aims to study in detail the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), their meaning, evolution, features, significance, and other related aspects.

  • Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) refer to the system of ‘Rural Local Self-Governance’ in India i.e. a system of governance of Rural Areas through the representatives elected by the people.
  • They have been established in all States as the third tier of government, aiming to build democracy at the grassroots level.
  • This system ensures that local populations participate directly in the decision-making process, enhancing the effectiveness and accountability of rural development initiatives.
  • The term “Panchayat” refers to a form of local self-government in rural India.
  • The term is derived from the Sanskrit words “Pancha” (five) and “Ayat” (assembly).
  • Traditionally, it signifies a council of five elders chosen by the community to settle disputes and oversee local affairs.
  • In contemporary India, the Panchayat system has evolved into a structured and institutionalized framework aimed at promoting decentralization and participatory democracy at the grassroots level.

Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) aim to enhance local governance and empower rural communities in India. Their objectives include:

  • To Decentralize Power – Transfer decision-making authority to the grassroots level to promote local self-governance.
  • To Encourage Inclusive Participation – Foster engagement of local populations in governance, ensuring their active involvement in decision-making processes.
  • To Empower Marginalized Groups – Ensure political representation of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and women by reserving seats for them in local governance.
  • To Improve Service Delivery – Enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of public service delivery and development programs by making governance more accessible.
  • To Promote Economic Development – Facilitate local economic growth through community-driven planning and implementation of development initiatives.
  • To Address Social Justice – Tailor welfare schemes and development projects to meet the specific needs of local communities, promoting equity.
  • To Enhance Transparency and Accountability – Increase transparency and accountability in governance by involving local communities in oversight of public works and services.
  • To Nurture Local Leadership – Develop local leaders by empowering them with administrative and managerial roles in governance.
  • To Mobilize Community Resources – Encourage the collective use of community resources for development, fostering self-reliance.
  • To Strengthen Grassroots Democracy – Transform representative democracy into a more participatory form, aligning governance with the aspirations of the local populace.

The original constitution contained a Directive Principle of State Policy (DPSP) in the form of Article 40, which directs the State to ‘organize village panchayats and endow them necessary powers and authorities’. Later, the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992, which gave the constitutional status to the PRIs, added detailed constitutional provisions regarding the PRIs. The same is discussed in detail in the sections that follow:

  • The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992 added a new Part IX to the Constitution of India, entitled ‘The Panchayats’
  • Part IX of the Constitution consists of Articles 243 to 243-0, which provides for various provisions regarding the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs).
  • The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992 has also added a new Eleventh Schedule (11th Schedule) to the Indian Constitution.
  • This Eleventh Schedule (11th Schedule) outlines the powers, authority, and responsibilities of Panchayats.
  • It contains a comprehensive list of 29 functions that have been devolved to Panchayats to enable them to govern and manage a variety of local issues effectively.
  • The history of the genesis and evolution of the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in India goes back to the year 1957.
  • From time to time, various Committees were appointed on the subject, which gave their own recommendations.
  • The first such committee was the Balwantrai Mehta Committee, appointed by the Government of India in 1957.
  • Based on the recommendations of the Balwantrai Mehta Committee, most of the states in India established PRIs by the mid-1960s.
    • Rajasthan was the first state in India to establish PRIs in the year 1959.
    • Andhra Pradesh was the second state in India to establish PRIs in the same year 1959.
  • However, the PRIs so established by different states did not have a uniform structure.
  • Finally, the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 was passed by the Parliament, which gave the PRIs the constitutional status as well as a uniformity of structure throughout the country.
    • This brought the states under constitutional obligation to adopt the new panchayati raj systems in accordance with and as per the structure provided by the provisions of the Act.
  • Based on the recommendations of various committees, the Parliament enacted the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992, which gave the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in India constitutional status.
  • The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992 added various provisions regarding the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in the Constitution.
    • Important provisions regarding the PRIs are discussed in detail in the sections that follow.
  • The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992 provides for a Gram Sabha as the foundation of the Panchayati Raj system.
  • The Gram Sabha is a body consisting of persons registered in the electoral rolls of a village within the area of Panchayat at the village level.
    • Thus, it is a Village Assembly consisting of all the registered voters in the area of a Panchayat.
  • It may exercise such powers and perform such functions at the village level as the Legislature of a State determines.
  • The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992 provides for a three-tier system of Panchayati Raj in every State, consisting of the following:
    • Panchayats at the village level,
    • Panchayats at the intermediate level, and
    • Panchayats at the district levels.
  • However, as per the provisions of the act, a State having a population not exceeding 20 lakh may not constitute Panchayats at the intermediate level.
  • Panchayats at every level consist of a Chairperson and other members.
  • The Chairperson as well as other members of a Panchayat shall have the right to vote in the meetings of the Panchayats.
  • All the members of Panchayats at the village, intermediate and district levels shall be elected directly by the people.
  • The Chairperson of a Panchayat at the village level shall be elected in such manner as determined by the State Legislature.
  • The Chairperson of Panchayats at the intermediate and district levels shall be elected indirectly by and from amongst the elected members thereof.
Note:
– As per Article 243F, the minimum age for contesting Panchayat elections in India is 21 years.
– The State Legislature may make provisions with respect to all matters relating to elections to the Panchayats.
  • The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992 provides for a five-year term of office to the Panchayat at every level from the date of its first meeting.
    • However, it can be dissolved before the completion of its term.
  • Fresh elections to constitute a Panchayat shall be completed:
    • before the expiry of its duration of five years,
    • in case of dissolution, before the expiry of a period of six months from the date of its dissolution.
  • It is to be noted that, where the remainder of the period (for which the dissolved Panchayat would have continued) is less than six months, it shall not be necessary to hold any election for constituting the new Panchayat for such a period.
  • Moreover, a Panchayat constituted upon the dissolution of a Panchayat before the expiration of its duration shall continue only for the remainder of the period for which the dissolved Panchayat would have continued had it not been so dissolved.
    • In other words, a Panchayat reconstituted after premature dissolution does not enjoy the full period of five years but remains in office only for the remainder of the period.
  • The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992 provides for the reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in every Panchayat (i.e. at all village, intermediate, and district levels) in the proportion of their population to the total population in the Panchayat area.
  • The State Legislature shall provide for the reservation of offices of the Chairperson in the Panchayat at the village or any other level for the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs).
  • The reservation of seats as well as the reservation of offices of Chairpersons in the Panchayats for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, will cease to have effect after the expiration of the period specified in Article 334.
    • Presently, this reservation is to last till 2030.
Note: The provision relating to the reservation of seats in Panchayats (both Chairpersons and Members) for the Scheduled Castes is not applicable to the State of Arunachal Pradesh. This provision was added later by the 83rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 2000 on the rationale that the State is inhabited fully by indigenous tribal people and there are no Scheduled Castes (SCs).
  • The Act provides for the reservation of not less than one-third of the total number of seats for women (including the number of seats reserved for women belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes).
  • Further, not less than one-third of the total number of offices of chairpersons in the Panchayats at each level shall be reserved for women.
  • The Act authorizes the State Legislature to make any provision for the reservation of seats in any Panchayat or offices of Chairperson in the Panchayat at any level in favor of Backward Classes.
  • A person shall be disqualified for being chosen as or for being a member of Panchayat if he/she is so disqualified:
    • under any law for the time being in force (or the purpose of elections to the Legislature of the State concerned), or
    • under any law made by the State Legislature.
  • All questions of disqualification shall be referred to such authority as determined by the State Legislature.
  • The State Legislature may endow the Panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government.
  • State’s provisions for the devolution of powers and responsibilities upon Panchayats at the appropriate level may contain:
    • the preparation of plans for economic development and social justice,
    • the implementation of schemes for economic development and social justice as may be entrusted to them, including those in relation to the 29 matters listed in the Eleventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

As per the provisions regarding the finances of Panchayats, the State Legislature may:

  • authorize a Panchayat to levy, collect and appropriate taxes, duties, tolls and fees,
  • assign to a panchayat taxes, duties, tolls and fees levied and collected by the State Government,
  • provide for making grants-in-aid to the Panchayats from the Consolidated Fund of the State, and
  • provide for the constitution of funds for crediting all money of the Panchayats.

As the third tier of the government in India, the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) carry multifarious significance as can be seen as follows:

  • PRIs have given a practical shape to the Directive Principle of State Policy (DPSP) contained in Article 40 of the Indian Constitution, which directs the States to organize and empower Village Panchayats.
  • PRIs have led to effective decentralization of power and authority by devolving some powers and responsibilities to the local level.
  • PRIs are a significant landmark in the evolution of grassroots democracy in India, as they transform representative democracy into a more participatory democracy.
  • PRIs have empowered local communities by directly involving them in the decision-making process for development and governance.
  • The provision of reservations for marginalized sections like Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and women in PRIs has led to their greater political empowerment and representation.
  • PRIs have brought the process of governance closer to the people, making it more responsive to local needs and aspirations.
  • PRIs have improved the efficiency of public service delivery and the implementation of development programs at the grassroots level.
  • PRIs have strengthened local self-governance and promoted a sense of ownership among the people towards developmental activities in their areas.
  • The three-tier structure of PRIs (Gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti, Zilla Parishad) has enabled better coordination between different levels of local governance.
  • PRIs have provided a platform for nurturing emerging rural leadership and enhancing their administrative and managerial capabilities.

The Panchayati Raj Institutions have emerged as the cornerstone of India’s decentralized governance framework, embodying the country’s commitment to empowering local communities and strengthening grassroots democracy. PRIs have transformed the landscape of rural development and political participation, making governance more inclusive, responsive, and aligned with the needs and aspirations of the people. As the building blocks of India’s democratic structure, the continued evolution and strengthening of Panchayati Raj Institutions will be crucial in realizing the vision of true swaraj, where power flows from the people to the people.

The salient features of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992 are as follows:

  • Gram Sabha – The Act provides for a Gram Sabha as the foundation of the Panchayati Raj system.
  • Three-tier System – The Act provides for a three-tier system of Panchayati Raj in every State.
  • Election of Chairperson and Members – The Act provides detailed provisions regarding the election of Chairperson and Members of Panchayats at every level.
  • Reservation of Seats – The Act makes provisions for the reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Women, and OBCs in every Panchayat.
  • Duration of Panchayats – The Act provides for a five-year term of office to the Panchayat at every level from the date of its first meeting.
  • Disqualifications of Members of Panchayats – It details conditions regarding disqualifications of members of panchayats.
  • Powers and Functions – The State Legislature may endow the Panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government.
  • Finances of Panchayats – The State Legislature may authorize a Panchayat to levy, collect, and appropriate taxes, duties, tolls, and fees.
  • Audit of Accounts – The State Legislature may make provisions with respect to the maintenance of accounts by the Panchayats and the auditing of such accounts.
  • Application to Union Territories – The provisions of the Panchayats are applicable to the Union Territories. But, the President may direct that they would apply to a Union Territory subject to such exceptions and modifications as he/she may specify.
  • Exempted States and Areas – The Act does not apply to the States of Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and certain other areas. However, the Parliament may extend the provisions of this Part IX to the Scheduled Areas and Tribal Areas subject to such exceptions and modifications as it may specify.
  • Bar to Interference by Courts in Electoral Matters – The Act bars the interference by courts in the electoral matters of Panchayats.
    • It declares that the validity of any law relating to the delimitation of constituencies or the allotment of seats to such constituencies can not be questioned in any court.
    • It further lays down that no election to any Panchayat is to be questioned except by an election petition presented to such authority and in such manner as provided by the State Legislature.
  • Compulsory and Voluntary Provisions – The provisions of the Act can be grouped into 2 categories:
    • Compulsory Provisions – Compulsory provisions, also called obligatory or mandatory provisions, are those that must be included in State laws necessarily.
      • Key compulsory provisions include the constitution of panchayats at all three levels, direct elections to all seats in panchayats, 21 years to be the minimum age for contesting elections, the organization of Gram Sabha, the reservation of seats for SCs, STs, and women, etc.
  • Voluntary Provisions – Voluntary provisions, also called discretionary or optional provisions, are those that may be adopted by States at their discretion based on their specific needs, local conditions, and administrative feasibility.
    • Key voluntary provisions include the devolution of additional powers and responsibilities upon Panchayats, greater financial autonomy to Panchayats, giving representation to MPs, and MLAs in different levels of Panchayats in their constituencies, etc.
– State Election Commission is a constitutional body, functioning at the state level. 
– It is vested with the functions and responsibilities of superintendence, direction, and control of the preparation of electoral rolls and – – the conduct of all elections to the Panchayats.
The State Election Commission (SEC) consists of a State Election Commissioner to be appointed by the Governor of the State. 
a. His/her conditions of service and tenure of office shall also be determined by the Governor. 
b. He/she shall not be removed from the office except in the manner and on the grounds prescribed for the removal of a judge of the State High Court. 
c. His/her conditions of service shall not be varied to his/her disadvantage after his/her appointment. 
– The Governor of a State shall constitute a State Finance Commission, after every five years, to review the financial position of the Panchayats.
– The State Legislature may provide for the composition of the State Finance Commission, the required qualifications of its members and the manner of their selection. 
– The State Finance Commission shall make the following recommendations to the Governor of the State:
1. The principles that should govern: 
a. The distribution between the State and the Panchayats of the net proceeds of the taxes, duties, tolls, and fees levied by the State and the allocation of shares amongst the Panchayats at all levels. 
b. The determination of taxes, duties, tolls, and fees that may be assigned to the Panchayats. 
c. The grants-in-aid to the Panchayats from the Consolidated Fund of the State. 
2. The measures needed to improve the financial position of the Panchayats.
 3. Any other matter referred to by the Governor in the interests of sound finance of the Panchayats.
– The Governor shall place the recommendations of the commission along with the action taken report before the State Legislature. 
– The Central Finance Commission shall also suggest the measures needed to augment the Consolidated Fund of a State to supplement the resources of the Panchayats in the States (on the basis of the recommendations made by the State Finance Commission). 

Who is the Father of Panchayati Raj System?

Balwant Rai Mehta is known as the father of Panchayati Raj.

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