Public Policy and Decentralised Governance in India

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Public Policy and Decentralized Governance Panchayat Raj Act and its relevance for democratic governance in rural India. Introduction:- In this term paper, I have been discussed the basic concept of Panchayat raj, democratic governance etc. To understanding the idea of panchayat raj, it is necessary to know the historical background of the panchayat system in India. The roots of the panchayat raj system are in the ancient religious text. The Britishers through enacting the various acts in this regard have institutionalized the panchayat raj system. Actual status has got to the panchayat raj system in India by the provisions of constitution. Initially the constitutional provision was obligatory on the states to form a panchayat raj system in the respective states. After 73rd amendment of the constitution it has became mandatory to establishment of the panchayat raj institutions in the respective states. The main aim of the creation of panchayat raj institutions was to participation of the people in the local governance and devolution of power. Basic Concept: – ‘Panchayat’ means assembly of five wise and respected elders chosen and accepted by the village community. Traditionally these assemblies were settling the disputes between individuals and villages. ‘Panchayati Raj’ means the system of governance in which gram panchayat are the basic units of administration. ‘Democratic governance’ means the system of administration, which runs through the elected representative and people’s participation in the process of governance. (A.K. Mishra, Naved Akhtar & Sakshi Tarika, June, 2011) Historical background:- The concept of panchayat raj system is not new for India, its root in ancient Vedic texts. In Ashoka’s regime there were the Greek ambassador Megasthanises who has described about the ‘city council’ in patliputra, which consisted the six committees with 30 members. Similarly participatory structure were also existed in south India in the regime of Chola Kingdom i.e. village council and ward committees. The Britishers have formed the present structure of the panchayat institutions in 1688 through establishment of Municipal Corporation at Madras. The Britishers made changes in this system by time to time; they enact a Bengal Local Self Governance Act in 1885. Then Morley-Minto reform came in 1909 and Montague Chelmsford reform in1919 through these reforms the people’s participation in the process of governance has increased. (INDIA, 2007) Constitutional History:- Indian constitution is the document of the social contract which purposefully mend for the administration and the involvement of the people in the process of governance. Directive principles of state policy under article 40 part IV of the constitution of India provides the provision for establishment of the panchayat raj institutions but this provision was obligatory on the states before 73rd amendment in the constitution of India. Implementing the provision of article 40 of the constitution, Government of India had launched the program of community development in 1952. In 1956 second, five-year plan has recommended that interlinking the panchayat raj with higher-level institutions. For this purpose, Government had appointed a committee under the headship of Balvantrai Mehta in 1957. Based on recommendation of the Mehta Committee various state legislatures had enacted the panchayat raj system in the territory of the state. (Alok, 2012-13) Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh took the first initiations towards the establishment of panchayat raj system in 1959. Thereafter other states and union territories had started to take a step in that regard. In 1969, the first Administrative Reforms Commission had recommended that the main executive body of the panchayat raj system should be in the place of district i.e. “Zila Parishad” and not in the place of Block i.e. “Panchayat Samiti”. Government has formed a committee under the headship of Asoka Mehta in 1977, whose view on the concept of panchayat raj was like the democracy at national and state level. However, the numbers of various committees were established in the period of 1978 to 1986 for studying the different aspects of Panchayati raj institutions for strengthening them, but only minor suggestions came forward. Thereafter 64th and 65th constitutional amendment bill came in July 1989 by the government of Rajiv Gandhi. The basic purpose of this bill was to set up the panchayat raj system in every state. At last in 1992 after combining the above all committee’s recommendations, Government drafted and produce the 73rd and 74th amendment bill in the parliament. This bill was passed in 1993 by adding new part IXA in the Constitution of India consisting with the article 243A to 243O. (INDIA, 2007) 73rd Amendment in the Constitution: The 73rd Amendment Act 1992 came into effect from the 24 April 1993. All states enacted legislation by 23 April 1994. The Panchayat previously were a mere suggestion in the Directive Principles of State Policy whereas the 73rd Amendment resulted in the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) being conferred constitutional sanction. Through this amendment, government has inserted a part IX A with article 243A to 243O in the Constitution of India. By the provision of this amendment made mandatory to the every state for establishment of the panchayat at village level. This amendment made a provision for reservation of Scheduled Castes, tribes, and women representation in the Panchayat raj institutions. It made structural changes in local self-governance system by this amendment. (Alok, 2012-13) Although the political empowerment was not the main purpose of this amendment, but the devolution of powers and responsibilities upon panchayats at appropriate level. It means that the legislations empowered panchayats with powers and responsibility have a special and predominant status. The major focus was to ‘empower them with certain functional mandates, give them a significant degree of autonomy and impart to them an element of self-reliance and self-sufficiency through fiscal transfer’s taxation powers and tax assignments’. Resultantly Panchayati Raj Act has been passed by the parliament in 1994.This Act proposes the three tire form of government. (i.e. District Panchayat, Mandal Panchayat and village Panchayat.) (Alok, 2012-13) After first decade, the 73rd Amendment saw very little change in the way that central and state departments dealt with Panchayat. In June 2004, the Government of India created a Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MOPR), to primarily overseen the implementation of Part IX of the Constitution. The gram sabha can be a powerful instrument of downward accountability, if it would be properly empowered and convened regularly. Gram sabha will have powers to approve plans, program, and projects before the Panchayat at the village level takes them up for implementation. (Alok, 2012-13) Provisions under Panchayati Raj Act 1994: (Zakir, March 2011)

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  • Gram Sabha shall consider the following matters and make recommendations and suggestions to the gram panchayat.
  • The report in respect of the development program’s of the Gram Panchayat relating to the preceding year and development program propose to be undertaken during the current year.
  • Promotion of unity and harmony among all sections of the community in the village. Such other matter may be prescribed (sec. 4)
  • President of Gram Panchayat. In absence of the President, the Vice President or any person selected by the majority of the Gram Panchayat Members.
  • Convening of the gram Sabha –

-By the secretary of the gram panchayat with approval of the president and in consultation of the BDO. -The gram Sabha shall meet regularly but the period of three months shall not intervene between any two meetings.

  • Publicity: – wide publicity should have to give 15 day before the gram Sabha.
  • Quorum:-One tenth of the total members or 100 numbers of voters of the village/villages whichever is less should be present.

The Gram Sabha has formed to enable all individuals voter of the village to participate in decision making at local level. Though the Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution gives a list of 29 activities, or functions, intended to be transferred to the local bodies, covers a broad spectrum of development activities ranging from activities in the social and economic sectors i.e. education, health, women and child development, social security, agriculture and non agricultural activities etc. Despite that, the important role play by local bodies in the democratic process and in meeting the basic requirements of the people, the financial resources generated by these bodies fall far short of their requirements. Because financial resources were insufficient with them, they were depend for the financial aid on the state government or centrally sponsored schemes. PESA Act, 1996:The 73rd Constitutional Amendment had excluded to the adivasi, tribal people; except for reservations and Scheduled Areas from the Act. However, through Article 243 M (4) it had kept open the possibility that Parliament may enact the provisions to these areas. Therefore the Rao Government set up the Bhuria Committee in 1994 to formulate a law for extending the provisions of Part IX of the Constitution to the Scheduled Areas and to suggest modifications in other Acts relevant to the Fifth Schedule in order to strengthen institutions of local self- government in the Fifth Schedule Areas. The recommendations of ‘Provision of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 came into effect from 24 December 1996. This act has given the special power to the gram sabha for protecting the socio economic culture of the tribal community and their participation in the process of governance. Democratic governance in rural India:- India’s 70% population are living in the rural area. Since ancient period, there were the panchayat raj systems for local governance of villages. After Independence India have a Constitution for the administration of the whole nation. In that, there is a provision for the Local governance under article 40, which was obligatory to the state to make panchayat raj system in their territory. Moreover, some states had made an effort in that regard but that was only name shake, the actual powers were envisage on the state assembly. When 73rd amendment came, the enormous change has happened in respect of democratic nature of the panchayat raj system in India. The main aim of this act was to involve the people in the process of governance. To hold Panchayat elections regularly every 5 years, to provide reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Women, to appoint State Finance Commission to make recommendations as regards the financial powers of the Panchayats and to constitute District Planning Committee, to prepare draft development plan for the district. Therefore, there is a notion that India has a largest democracy in the world. However, the rural development is broad and inclusive concept, which covers the socio, economic and political development of the rural areas. This strengthens the democratic structure of the panchayat raj institutions as well as improves the rural infrastructure, income of village households, education, health etc. (Zakir, March 2011) To removing the corruption at Gram Panchayat level, there is a law of investigation against Pradhans, Deputy Pradhans and the members. a) The complaint along with affidavit and relevant proofs can file to the district magistrate. b) The investigation of the complaint will have done by the district level officers only. c) A Charted Accountant will have to appoint for the completion of the accounts of Gram Panchayat. d) The audit of Gram Panchayats will do by the Chief Accountant. e) Gram Sabha can resituate the Pradhan by passing a no confidence resolution if there is any grave charge against the Pradhan. (A.K. Mishra, Naved Akhtar & Sakshi Tarika, June, 2011) Responsibilities of the people:- (a) Coordinating the meetings Public should get the information regard the works and planning of Gram Panchayat and the usage of received funds. Public should elect the deserving candidate for different schemes. (b) Checking Cleanliness All the families should have to built and use the toilets. Toilets should have to build keeping in view the convenience of women and elders. The cleanliness of drains and surroundings should have to take care of (c) Security of Gram Panchayat Assets Public should check the illegal cutting of trees, illegal possession of land of Gram Sabha and maintenance of community buildings. (d) Increase Public Coordination Public should share hand in development and construction works, periodic cultural activities should promote. In the democracy, people are more responsible for governance of the panchayat. They have power to elect their representative as well as to keep watch on the functions and the process of governance of panchayat. They can directly involve in the process of governance through gram sabha and ask the question to the members regarding the progress of the work of development of the village. Critics view on the Panchayat Raj system:- (Board, June 2013) Dogra (2009) commented the gram panchayat that pradhan assembles a few people whom he knows and passes that off, as a gram sabha meeting. This is not rare in the Indian village scenario dominated by discriminations and caste politics. In many villages, Gram Sabha members did not even know that they were present in any meeting and if so in what committee meetings those were anyway rarely held. Even today, Khap Panchayats are prevalent in Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Parts of Rajasthan. The Khap Penchant imposes its writ through social boycotts and fines and in most cases end up either killing or forcing the victims to commit suicide. This is the big failure of the Panchayat Raj Act in India. (Ahluwalia, Srividya Kaimal & Manik) Panchayati Raj was indeed one of the most remarkable social and political reforms since independence. However, PRIs today face a number of daunting challenges. Across all states, there is a lack of genuine devolution of funds, functions and functionaries in Panchayati Raj. Added to that are social challenges that work against the emergence of leadership from marginalized sections of society, such as women, Dalit’s and tribal’s. Further, there is a lack of role clarity among Gram Panchayats, Block Panchayats and District Panchayats. The grass root democracy in India still suffers from three limitations- federal constraints, a resistant bureaucracy and local elite capture. (Menon) Vyasulu (2000) finds that State governments have devolved little finances and fiscal powers to the Panchayats. Instead, many have established ‘parallel bodies’ as a channel for development funding. Self-help groups (SHGs) connected to the Janmabhoomi programme in Andhra Pradesh and the Rajiv Gandhi Watershed ‘Missions’ in Madhya Pradesh are two illustrations of this trend (Section 4). (Johnson) Panchayat Raj Act as a tool of the devolution of power:- This act provides the provision for Fund, function and functionaries, it means the devolution of power to the panchayat raj institutions. However, there are some criticisms on the implementation of this act but it has achieved a great success in the Indian democratic system. It provides an idea about democracy, which is at national level. This act enables people for the active participation in the democratic institutions. This act as a tool for the marginalized group of people, they got protection by this act. Similarly, this act provides a means/ tool for the central or state government to implement the policies through panchayat raj institutions. E.g. MGNREGA, IAY etc CSS has implemented through Panchayat Raj Institutions. Apart from this, Panchayat raj institutions have all power to decide their own agenda of village development programme. People are more willing to participate in panchayat election rather than lok sabha or vidhan sabha election. (Banerjee, july 27, 2013) Conclusion:- On the above discussion, the conclusion can be drawn as the panchayat raj system is not new in India. It was rooted in ancient Indian text Vedas and puranas as well as it can be looked into the history of Ashoka. In the realm of British, there were systematic changes in this system. They made various Acts in this regard. The main problem with the panchayat raj system was Indian village panchayat became arbitrary, due to prevalence of caste system in India, in medieval period of Indian history. The father of constitution knew these facts; therefore, they did not given much importance on the establishment of the panchayat raj institution in India Primarily. They made provision regarding this under part IV of article 40, which was not enforceable by law. When 73rd amendment came, through which it became mandatory to establishment of panchayat raj institutions. Important point of this act was it has given representation to SC, ST and women in the panchayat raj system. It was the major effect on the caste system, who were denied by the social ladder, they got chance to raise their voice and involve in the process of village governance. The main purpose of this act is to devolution of powers to local body. This act has given administrative power to the gram panchayat. The idea behind that to strengthening the democracy, because it involves people in the administration of village directly through the gram sabha. It increases the responsibility of the people towards the local governance. This act has penal sanction, if any one violets the provision of this act who will be liable for punishment. Finally, I would like to say that, though there is no proper implementation of this act in each state because of rigid tradition and caste system but it has brought enormous changes in the Indian democracy. People became aware about their rights and they are becoming more conscious about constitution and constitutional institutions on which the whole democracy is dependent. Thus, I can say that through panchayat raj acts rural India becoming the democratic governance structure, which was absence in the medieval period even in the rule of Britishers.


A.K. Mishra, Naved Akhtar & Sakshi Tarika. (June, 2011). ROLE OF THE PANCHAYATI RAJ INSTITUTIONS IN RURAL. Ahluwalia, Srividya Kaimal & Manik. (n.d.). Alok, V. N. (2012-13). Strengthening of Panchayats in India:. New Delhi: The Indian Institute of Public Administration. Banerjee, R. (july 27, 2013). What Ails Panchayati Raj? Economic & Political Weekly, 173-176. Board, E. A. (June 2013). Journal of Politics & Governance. Journal of Politics & Governance, 203-376. INDIA, G. O. (2007). SECOND ADMINISTRATIVE REFORMS COMMISSION. Johnson, C. (n.d.). Decentralisation in India:. Menon, S. V. (n.d.). Zakir, A. M. (March 2011). Strengthening Panchayati Raj. Guwahati: State Institute of Rural Development(SIRD).

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Public Policy and Decentralised Governance in India. (2017, Jun 26). Retrieved February 7, 2023 , from

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