Here is an essay on ‘Village Panchayats’ for class 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12. Find paragraphs, long and short essays on ‘Village Panchayats’ especially written for school and college students.
Essay on Village Panchayats
- Essay on the Historical Development of Village Panchayat
- Essay on the Causes of Decay of the Ancient Institution
- Essay on the Objectives of Panchayati Raj Institutions
- Essay on the Pattern of Panchayat Organisation
- Essay on the System of Elections in Village Panchayats
- Essay on the Functions of Village Panchayats
- Essay on the Administration of Village Panchayats
- Essay on Critical Appraisal of the Working of the Panchayati Raj
Essay # 1. Historical Development of Village Panchayat:
We can be proud of the fact that the institution of village panchayat was “developed earliest and preserved longest in India among all the countries of the earth.” It is believed that the system was first introduced by King Prithu while colonizing the Doab between the Ganga and Jamuna. In fact, the village in India had been looked upon as the basic unit of administration as early as the Vedic Age. Gramini or the leader of the village is mentioned in the Rigveda. There are definite references to the existence of Gram Sanghas in the Shantiparva of the Mahabharat and Manu Smriti.
References to the Gram Sabhas or local village assemblies are found in the Jatakas also. Shreni was a well-known term for the merchant guilds. Kautilya who lived in 400 B. C. had also described these village communities in his Arthashastra. In his Valmiki Ramayana we hear of Janpada, which was a kind of federation of the numerous existence in this country at the time of Greek invasion; and Megasthenes has left vivid impression of these Pentads, as he termed the Panchayats.
Chinese travellers Hieuen Tsang and Fa Hien tell us how India at the time of their visits was very productive and the people were “flourishing and happy beyond compare.” An account of these panchayat during the 7th century is provided in Shukracharya’s Nitisara. According to him, “Village was a composite whole and provided a composite leadership of management of village affairs.
The Dharmsutras and the Shastras contain references to Gana and Puga, both of which denote some kind of village or town corporations. Archaeological findings also confirm the view that the system of village panchayats was prevalent in India through the centuries. These institutions continued to flourish during the Hindu, Muslim and Maratha Governments till the advent of the East India Company. They survived the wreck of dynasties and downfall of empires.”
“The independent development of local Government provided like the shell of the tortoise a heaven of peace where the national culture could draw in for its own safety when political storms burst over the land.” So said Mahatma Gandhi, “Long ago, how long history does not record, the Indian genius worked out the village and local panchayat. It remained our fort through many a turbulent period.
Kings and dynasties fought and failed, empires rose, ruled, misruled and disappeared, but the village’s life maintained its even tenor, away from the din of battle and the rush of rising and falling empires. We had a village state which protected the life and property and made civilized life possible.”
Even the Committee of the Secretary of E.I. Co. reported in 1812. “Under this simple form of municipal government, the inhabitants of the country have lived from time immemorial…. The inhabitants give themselves no trouble about the breaking up and division of kingdom; while the village remains entre, they care not to what power it is transferred or to what sovereign it devolves, its internal economy remains unchanged.”
Observed Sir Charles Trevellyn, “One foreign conqueror after another has swept over India but the village municipalities have stuck to the soil like their own kusha grass. Scythian, Greek, Saracen, Afghan, Mongol and others have come down from the mountains; and Portuguese, Dutch, French, English and Dane out of its seas and set up their successive dominations is the land but the religious trade union villages have remained as little affected by their coming going as a rock by the rising and falling of the tide.”
The village community has remained the basic unit of stability and strength. An ancient village has been described as a little republic, for each village was within its own limits autonomous and self-sufficient, governed by its own elected officers satisfying its own needs, providing for its own education, police, tribunals, all its economic necessities and functions, managing itself its own life as an independent; and self- governing unit.”
Sri Aurobindo observed, “The free organic life of the village was founded in the system of self-governing community and it was done with such sufficiency and solidity that it lasted down almost to our own days resisting all the wear and tear of time and the in road, of other systems and was only recently steamrolled out of existence by the ruthless and lifeless machinery of the British bureaucratic system.”
The attention of Karl Marx was also drawn to these Indian village republics. He writes in his Das Capital, “The small and extremely ancient Indian communities which still exist to some extent, are based upon the communal ownership of the land, upon a direct linking up of manual agricultural and handicraft and upon a fixed form of the division of labour which is adopted as cut and dried scheme whenever new communities are founded. They constitute self-sufficient productive entities, the area of land upon which production is carried on ranging from a hundred to several thousand acres. The greater part of the product is produced for the satisfaction of the immediate needs of the community, not as commodities; and production itself is, therefore, independent of the division of labour which the exchange of commodities has brought about in Indian society as well…………. In different regions of India we find different forms of such communities. In the simplest form the land is commonly tilled and its produce is divided among the members of the community, while every family carries on spinning, weaving as an accessory occupation. The simplicity of the productive organism in these self-sufficient communities…….. unlocks for us the mystery of the unchangeableness of Asiatic society, which contrasts so strongly with the perpetual dissolutions and reconstruction of Asiatic states, and with unceasing changes of dynasties. The structure of the economic elements of the society remains unaffected by the storms in the political weather.”
Sir Henry Maine pointed out, “Indian village community was a living and not dead institution and the Indian and the ancient European systems of village communities were, in all essential particulars, identical.” Dr. Altekar has opined. “From ancient most times, village in India have been the axle of administration. The position of towns in ancient Indian life was negligible.”
The village communities in India grew out of the unsettled and inchoate conditions of early tribes and their forms of social organisation. These bodies came into existence the earliest, and even at this early stage developed a high degree of organised functioning, and came to be the real base upon which great ancient culture grew and prospered.
The Indian villages had evolved a well-balanced social, economic and political system by eschewing the two extremes of Iaissez faire and totalitarian control. They had developed an ideal form of co-operative agriculture and industry in which there was hardly any scope for spoliation of the poor by the rich. As Gandhiji has put it. The production was almost simultaneous with consumption and distribution, and the vicious circle of money-lender economy was conspicuous by its absence.
Production was for the immediate cause and not for distant markets. The whole social structure was founded on non-violence and fellow-feeling. The gram panchayats administered the village affairs either on its own responsibility or as an adjunct to the village headman or Patel.
It also administered justice and peace, maintained law and order by watch and ward, provided facilities for education, and public works such as election and maintenance of public buildings, roads, tanks, wells and the keeping of village tracts in order and providing all other common amenities, social and economic of the village life and collected and distributed charity to the needy and the poor.
It derived its finances from the rich and wealthy inhabitants of the village and from other donations. The labour for the works of public utility the village community could get from the village people. In this way it was self-sufficient and self-supporting having little to do with the outside world. In the past, indeed these panchayats played a very useful role in developing the village corporate life but unfortunately the advent of the British rule in India led to their decay and disappearance.
Essay # 2. Causes of Decay of the Ancient Institution:
An extreme anxiety to enhance the land revenue to its utmost limits induced the East India Company to make direct arrangements with every individual cultivator, instead of village community as a whole. An equally unreasonable anxiety to centralise all judicial and executive powers in their own hands led the British administrators to virtually set aside the village functionaries and thus deprive them of their age-long powers. These republics, therefore, fell into decay. This decay was further helped by a number of other factors.
The administration of the village by the agencies of the Central Government, the extension of the jurisdiction of the modern, civil and criminal courts of the towns, new land revenue system, increase in the means of communications, progress of education, police administration, migration of the best and ablest persons from the villages to the towns, the growing spirit of individualism and the break-up of the joint family system led to the decay and disintegration of so important an institution like the panchayats.
Thus, the self-sufficient nature of the old quasi-democratic rural policy was broken and consequently the village panchayats as a rural institution sank into insignificance. As R. C. Dutta remarked. “One of the saddest results of British rule in India is the effacement of that system of village self-government which was developed earliest and preserved longest in India amongst all the countries of the earth.”
“The old panchayats were informal affairs, not statutorily created but working on the basis of free will of the villagers. It met freely where and when it liked, was ignorant of the blessedness of odd numbers and decisions by majority, and was not accustomed to seeing its decision annulled by a petition sent over the heads of its members. Apparently oblivious of these failures and in their enthusiasm to lead on natives to self-rule, the British rulers passed orders and Acts for the development of self-governing institutions in the village.”
In 1896 and 1897, the Government of India adopted resolutions on local self-government, but these completely ignored the villages. However, in 1907-8 the entire subject of the local self-government was considered by a Royal Commission on Decentralisation appointed by Edward VII. The Commission recognised that “throughout the greater part of India the village constitutes the primary territorial unit of Government organisation and from the villages are built up larger administrative entities.”
The report said, “These village formerly possessed a large degree of autonomy but this autonomy has now disappeared owing to the establishment of local, civil, criminal courts, the present revenue and police organisation, the increase of communication, the growth of individualism, the progress of education, and the operation of the individual raiyatwari system which is extending even in the north of India. Nevertheless the village remains the first unit of administration, the principal village functionaries—the headman, the accountant and the village watchman are largely utilised and paid by the Government and there is still a certain amount of common village feeling and interests.”
The Commission recommended that it would be desirable to constitute village panchayats for the administration of local village affairs. It further added that “the foundation may stable edifice, which shall associate the people with the administration must be the village, in which people are known to one another and have interest which converge on definite and well-recognised objects like water supply and sanitation.”
It visualised certain difficulties in the success of such an effort, like caste and religious disputes and factions so common in village life, or, in large estates the influence of the landlord which may prevent free action by the tenantry. It agreed that these difficulties are not insurmountable, and advise a gradual and cautious approach beginning from those villages in which circumstances are most favourable by reason of homogeneity.
The Commission recommended that:
(1) The panchayats should be entrusted with these functions:
(i) Civil and criminal jurisdiction of petty cases;
(ii) Village sanitation and expenditure on certain minor works;
(iii) Construction and maintenance of schools and some local control in respect of school management;
(iv) Selected panchayats to be given the management of small fuel and fodder reserves;
(v) Management of village cattle pounds and of markets of purely local importance.
(2) The work of panchayat should be free from interference by the lower government subordinates.
(3) The panchayats should not be placed under District or sub-district Boards. All matters relating to the appointment and removal of village officers should be dealt with by the S.D.O. and there should be no appeal from his orders beyond the collector.
(4) The panchayats should not involve fresh taxation.
Its revenue should be derived from these sources;
(i) Special grants,
(ii) The land cess;
(iii) The receipts from village cattle pounds or markets which may be entrusted to its management, and
(iv) Small fees on civil suits filed before it.
The recommendations were implemented in a half-hearted manner. However, the Government issued a resolution on the local self-government in May, 1915, indicating the general principles about local self-government.
With the transference of power to the local self-governments following the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms in 1919—legislations on village panchayats were passed. Thus, there were passed the Madras Panchayat Act, XV of 1920; the Bombay Village Panchayat Act. IX of 1920 ; the Bengal Self-Government Act, V of 1919 ; the U.P. Panchayat Act, VI of 1920, the Punjab Panchayat Act, III of 1922 ; the Bihar Self-Government Act, V of 1920 ; the M.P. Panchayat Act, V of 1920 ; and the Assam Self-Government Act of 1925.
Some princely States also enacted legislation in this direction in subsequent years, Mysore (1926), Baroda (1926), Indore (1920), Cochin (1919), and Bikaner (1928).
One of the Directive Principles (Article 40) of the Indian Constitution says that “the State shall take steps to organise village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to work as units of Self-government.” Panchayati Raj comprehend both the democratic institutions and the extension services through which the development Programmes are executed.
With the dawn of freedom, the method of involving people in their own welfare in a democratic state was developed. This involvement manifested itself in the participation of the people in the selection of their representatives in the legislature of the states and the Parliament. But this step was rather insufficient.
Hence, states started through legislation to renew the old concept of gram Panchayats and Gram Sabhas so that peoples’ involvement in their affairs at the grass roots can be started. This approach was reflected in the first Plan document which referred to the need of “establishing over a period of years panchayats for villages or groups of villages.”
The Plan said “we believe that the panchayats will be able to perform its civic functions satisfactorily only if these are associated with an active process of development in which the village panchayat is itself given an effective part. Unless a village agency can assume responsibility and initiative for developing the resources of the village, it will be difficult to make a marked impression on rural life, for only a village organisation representing the community as a whole can provide the necessary leadership. As the agencies of the State Government cannot easily approach each individual villager separately progress depends largely on the existence of an active organisation in the village which can bring the people into common programmes to be carried out with the assistance of the administration.”
The concept of village Panchayats was added on by the Community Development Programmes started in 1952. Alongwith this concept it was felt necessary to build up an administrative system which can tackle the welfare problems of growth at the local level. Hence N.E.S. followed the C.D.P.
But it was soon realised that the public involvement was not representative enough and as such not effective. This was reflected in the Second Plan document which emphasised on the necessity for speeding up the development of democratic institutions within a district in which Panchayats would be organically linked with popular organisations at higher levels.
The Second Five Year-Plan observed. “The development of village panchayats on the right lines has significance for several reasons, under the impact of new developments, including the growth of population, land reform, urbanisation, spread of education, increase in production and improvements in communications. Village society is in a state of rapid transition. In emphasising the interest of the community as a whole and in particular the needs of those section which are at present handicapped in various ways, village Panchayats alongwith co-operatives, can play a considerable part in bringing about a more just and integrated social structure in rural areas and in developing a new pattern of rural leadership.”
The Third Five Year Plan, laid down that Panchayati Raj Institutions should promote the development of co-operatives and should endeavour to create a climate of community effort and social responsibility such as are vital for the successful working of co-operatives at all levels.
In the Conference of State Minister, of Panchayats held at Hyderabad in 1961, it was decided that promotion of co-operation will be one of the ten point tests of Panchayati Raj.
The Conference suggested the following criteria for measurement of success in this direction; “Panchayati Raj institutions should take steps for promoting and strengthening service co-operatives within their areas as agricultural production plans can be implemented only if credit and supplies are provided by co-operatives. Revitalisation of service co-operatives should be an important task………. It should be the primary responsibility of the Panchayati Raj institutions to promote the fulfilment of the following in a progressively increasing measure so that ultimately every family is enabled to become a member, in its own right, of the village co-operative- (i) coverage of village co-operatives ; (ii) coverage of rural families by co-operatives ; (iii) total volume of credit given by co-operatives ; (iv) improvement in recoveries and overdues ; (v) supplies and services made available by co-operatives ; (vi) volume of produce market through co-operatives ; (vii) volume of product processed through co-operatives ; (viii) organisation of artisans into co-operatives ; (ix) increase in share capital and deposits of co-operatives and small savings : (x) progress in giving loans against production plans.”
During the Fourth Five Year Plan, significant developments took place with respect to enactment and implementation of Panchayati Raj Acts in different States. For instance, Zila Parishads were abolished in Orissa, Karnataka and Haryana states. Similarly, the Zila Parishads in U.P. were suspended in 1970 for two years. In Assam, a new Act was enacted.
The Government of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, M.P., and Gujarat got the working of Panchayati Raj examined…………….. From the experience of the functioning of these agencies in various states it could be said that by and large status quo had been maintained with regard to their functioning in states like Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Karnataka, Rajasthan, and Haryana, the powers concerning control over the junior staff of the Panchayat samitis, ceiling an expenditure and execution of minor programmes have been withdrawn. In several states, the elections to these institutions are not being regularly held.
In the Fifth Five Year Plan, it has been recognised that rural development should include agricultural development in its widest sense so as to embrace, besides crop production, all its allied activities. Such integrated type of development would be possible only through co-operation and participation of the people. It could be secured by strengthening the Panchayati Raj Institutions at various levels.
It would be necessary to review the size and viability of gram panchayats, and panchayat samiti and zila parishad. It would be desirable that, the panchayats are entrusted with the implementations of specific programmes. Efforts will have to be made to attract institutional finance for augmenting the resources of panchayati raj bodies. It is also essential to lay down norms and criteria for viable panchayats.
Implementation of the Scheme:
In January 1957 a Study Team, under the Chairmanship of Shri Balwantrai Mehta, was appointed to examine the C.D. Programme. It realised the necessity of democratic decentralization of administration so as to create institutions of democratic administration at the village block and the district level. According to this Committee, “It is very necessary that there should be devaluation of power and decentralisation of machinery and that such power should be exercised and such machinery controlled and directed by popular representatives of the local area.”
The Mehta Team reported, Development cannot progress without responsibility and power. C.D. can be real only when the community understands its problems, realises its responsibilities, exercises the necessary powers through its chosen representatives and maintains a constant and intelligent vigilance in local administration.
With this objective, we recommend an early establishment of statutory electric local bodies and devolution to them of the necessary resources, power and authority. It further said that “the basic unit of democratic decentralization should be located at the block samiti level.” It contemplated just an advisory role for the district tier.
Panchayati Raj, has been conceived as the process of democratic decentralization embodying all institutions of local self-government. The Committee felt that the poor record of the existing local self-governing institutions was due to the inadequate power given to them and woeful lack of funds at their disposal.
It, therefore, recommended a three-tier system of decentralisation. At the grass roots in the villages were to be formed village Panchayats, in the middle were to be Panchayat samitis at the block level and at the apex, zila parishads, were to be at the district level. These new bodies were to have wide powers and adequate finance.
The inter-linked three-tier structure—Gram Sabhas and Panchayats at the village level, Panchayat Samities at the block level and Zila Parishads as the district level—was brought into existence, after the Balwantray Committee Scheme was approved by the National Development Council in January 1958. The N.D.C. affirmed “the objectives in introducing democratic institutions at the district and block levels and suggested that each State should work out the structure which suited its conditions best.”
With this a beginning was made with Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh in 1959. Followed by Assam, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in 1960, Maharashtra in 1962, and Gujarat and West Bengal in 1963 and 1964 respectively. Bihar and M.P. enacted the relevant legislation in 1962.
No rigid institutional pattern was laid down for the Panchayati Raj set-up.
Every State was free to work out the details of its own pattern, in the light of the local conditions and requirements subject to certain fundamentals which are:
(i) A three-tier structure of local self-governing bodies from the village to the district, the bodies being organically linked up;
(ii) Genuine transfer of power and responsibility to them;
(iii) Adequate resources should be transferred to these bodies to discharge the responsibilities devolving on them; and
(iv) The system evolved should be such as will facilitate further devaluation and dispersal of power and responsibility in the future.
The village panchayats are the elected bodies of the people. All adults from Gram Sabhas vote to elect panchayats. The village Panchayats send their elected representatives to Block Panchayat Samitis which functions as a link between the village panchayats and the Zila Parishads. The Samiti elects its President and Vice-President. At the district level, Zila Parishads are constituted by the President of Panchayat Samitis alongwith the M.Ps. and M.L.As. in the district.
Each district is divided into blocks, each of which covers certain Panchayat areas. In the Zila Parishad, the Collector and the technical departments of the Government offer guidance and assistance to the Block Panchayat Samitis, These Samitis are autonomous. In short, peoples’ representatives at all levels—centre, states, district, block and village—are associated with the Panchayati Raj.
Essay # 3. Objectives of Panchayati Raj Institutions:
The basic objective of P.R.I, is to grant recognition of the organic inter-connection between rural development effort and popular support.
The principal objectives as given in the Third Year Plan are:
(i) Increasing agricultural production;
(ii) Development of rural industries;
(iii) Fostering co-operative institutions;
(iv) Full utilisation of local man-power and other resources—physical and financial—available to the panchayats;
(v) Assisting the economically weaker sections of the village community.
(vi) Progressive dispersal of authority and initiative, with special emphasis on the role of voluntary organisation; and
(vii) Fostering cohesion and encouraging the spirit of self-help within the community.
The Panchayati Raj now covers practically the entire country. Except for Pondicherry, Lakshadweep the village panchayats extend to all parts of India. The higher tiers of Panchayati Raj bodies have been established in all states except M.P., Jammu and Kashmir and Kerala.
As on March 31, 1977, there were 222,055 gram panchayats as against 219,892 in 1973-74 ; and 117,593 in 1955-56. These covered 585,438 villages in 1976-77 as against 544,355 in 1973-74, covering 98.9% of the rural population (294131 lakhs) as against 97% (4068 lakhs in 1973-74). The average number of villages per gram panchayat was 2.84 and the average population per gram panchayat was 1995. For 1973-74, the respective number was 2.5 and 1,850.
Besides there were 4028 Panchayat Samities and 262 Zila Parishad as against 3863 and 201 in 1973-74.
Essay # 4. Pattern of Panchayat Organisation:
The pattern of village Panchayats varies from State to State. In a number of States, Gaon Sabhas or (Gram Sabhas) have been established in every village serving a population of 1,000 or more. In areas where there are no villages with 3 miles radius of a particular village, a separate Gaon Sabha is established for such a village even though the population of that village is less than 1,000.
If the villages are close by, they are combined to form only one Panchayat, even if the population is above 5,000 e.g., there is a Gaon Sabha in every village or group of villages with a population of 1,000 in U.P., of which all the adult members residing in the area are life-time members. There are about 36,000 Gaon Sabhas in U.P., while in Tamil Nadu Panchayats are to be formed for every revenue village or group of villages with a population of 1,000.
Here two kinds of Panchayats are formed—Class I in villages with a population of 5,000 and an estimated revenue of Rs. 10,000. In M.P. formation of Panchayats is split up into three stages. First for every village with a population of 1,000- second for villages with a population between 500 and 1,000 and third, for villages with a population below 500. The principle adopted is one panchayat for one village. In Maharashtra it is obligatory on the Government to establish village Panchayats with a population of 2,000 and above.
For this purpose two or three villages may be combined. There is no Panchayat for village with a population of less than 1,000. In Punjab Panchayats are formed for a village or group of villages with a population of 500. In Bihar, Panchayats are formed of a village or groups of villages with a population of 4,000 in the northern and southern districts and 2,500 in the Chota Nagpur region.
In Bengal, Panchayats are formed in villages with a population between 500 and 10,000, whereas in Orissa they are established in compact, selected areas with a population ranging from 5,000 to 10,000. In Mysore panchayats are established in a village with a population between 2,000 and 5,000; in Rajasthan the limit is a population of 5,000. But now they have been reconstituted so that each Panchayat will have a population of 1,500 to 2,000.
In certain other states, the panchayat raj is administered in two or three tiers, viz., Gram Panchayat, Kendra Panchayat and Mandal Panchayat. At the lowest level, the primary Panchayats or gram Panchayats are given certain municipal function- Kendra Panchayats or the combination of a certain number of gram Panchayats besides these are also given certain administrative functions as well; and the marital Panchayats at the district levels (which combine a few Kendra Panchayats) are given such functions as management of schools, dispensaries and hospitals.
In still certain other states, nyaya or Adalti (Judicial) Panchayats are established by combining a few gram panchayats and establishing one court for all of them. In some other states, the State Government specifies the local limits and jurisdiction of each grain Sabha or the panchayat, which in other Panchayats which cater for a population of more than thousand are divided into wards. Panchayats have as many as five or six wards and cater for a population of 5 to 6 thousand persons.
Nyaya Panchayats are functioning in all the States except Assam, Andhra, Tamil Nadu, parts of Karnataka, Kerala, West Bengal and Nagaland.
Essay # 5. The System of Elections in Village Panchayats:
Election to the village bodies is direct and based on adult franchise by show of hands. The executive bodies of the Gaon Sabha constitutes the gaon panchayat. The number of members ranges from 30 to 51. Seats are reserved for the minority community and scheduled castes. Seats are allotted to each constituency in proportion to its population.
In Tamil Nadu elections to Class I Panchayats are held by secret ballot based on adult franchise, while to Class II are held by show of hands. In Maharashtra the Panches are elected through secret ballot based on adult franchise. The area of the village panchayats is divided into wards each of which elects one or more members. If the required number is not returned within 8 weeks, the Standing Committee of the District Board will appoint the required number of persons.
The Sarpanch is elected by members from among their own number. In Punjab, too, the election is held by secret ballot and the number of Panches varies from 5 to 9. Sarpanch is elected by the panches. While in Bihar the Mukhiya is elected without contest, and panches are elected by secret ballot. The Executive Committee is nominated by the Mukhiya. Their number varies between 7 and 15.
In West Bengal the panches are elected at a general meeting of voters by show of hands. In Orissa all panchayats are formed on the basis of adult franchise and members are elected by secret ballot. The Sarpanch is elected by the Panches. In Karnataka the members are elected on the basis of adult franchise either by secret ballot or by show of hands. Members below 25 years of age cannot contest.
The number of members of a Panchayat varies from 10 and 20 in proportion to the population of the unit. In Rajasthan elections are held on the basis of adult suffrage by show of hands. Panchayat circle is divided into wards and each ward returns one member. The Sarpanch is elected by the entire electorate of the village.
It will thus be seen that panchayats are elected by Gram Sabhas consisting of entire adult population of the village.
The size of the village panchayat in terms of average number of villages and rural population per panchayat varies from one state to another, the number of villages in a panchayat being as high as 29.7 in Assam, 8.3 in Himachal Pradesh and 13.3 in Orissa. The average in Kerala, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and U.P. is between 2 and 5 villages.
In terms of population Assam tops the list, with nearly 19,474 people per panchayat, followed by Kerala with (19,403); Orissa with 5,242, In Bihar (4.706) Jammu and Kashmir. (2.463) and W. Bengal (1,678) Rajasthan (2.905). M.P. (2.262), in Andhra (2,299) and Tamil Nadu (2.542) Gujarat (1,632) Maharashtra (1.503), In U.P. it is (1043).
There are variations also amongst panchayats in each state. In Tamil Nadu and Karnataka Panchayats with a population of 5,000 and with an annual income of over Rs 10,000 have been classified as town panchayats and in Andhra Pradesh as notified panchayats. In Gujarat village panchayats with a population of over 10,000 and not exceeding 30,000 are known as nagar panchayats. Such classification is useful as these panchayats are in the nature of semi-municipalities and can afford adequate administrative staff.
Essay # 6. Functions of Village Panchayats:
The functions of panchayats in different states have a similarity though their enumeration and classification varies considerably. They are both obligatory and discretionary. For example, in Tamil Nadu they have been divided into 8 obligatory and 10 discretionary heads and in Andhra Pradesh 12 obligatory and 27 discretionary. In Punjab, 27 functions have been made obligatory and 7 discretionary. In Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan and U.P. a large number of functions under each head, like agriculture, animal husbandly, education, health etc., have been listed.
(i) Obligatory Functions:
Opening and maintenance of burial grounds ; maintenance and improvement of public streets ; drains, lighting, medical relief ; taking curative and preventive measures in epidemic; maintenance and construction of public latrines, registration of births and deaths, sanitation and conservancy; organisation of melas and fairs and management and care of common grazing grounds ; provisions of primary education ; water supply, etc.
(ii) Discretionary Functions:
Plantation of trees; improving the breed of cattle; organisation of village volunteer force for watch and ward of the village and the crops; development of co-operation and land reforms; promotion and improvement of cottage industries; relief against famine; construction of new bridges, dharamshalas and culverts, wells and ponds; improvement in sanitation, veterinary and medical facilities; maintaining libraries and reading rooms ; establishment and maintenance of child welfare centres; control and management of village forests; organisation, supervision and control of rural development or multipurpose co-operative societies; filling in of insanitary pits; establishment of improved seed and implement stores; maintenance of standard schools and hospitals, crop experiments etc.
(iii) They also collect taxes, cesses, fees and other dues for the government; regulate dangerous trades and practices; organise recreational and social functions and take-up any other work of public utility.
(iv) Economic Functions:
In addition to the useful functions enumerated above, some of the panchayats have also been allotted functions of an economic nature like land reforms, promotion of co-operation, consolidation of holdings, collection of vital statistics and maintenance of land records.
(v) Other Functions:
They have been very useful in certain other spheres of services, too, e.g. they have been of special service for maintaining, dispensaries in villages as in West Bengal; for supplying electricity and for enforcing a Town Planning Act in rural areas of Tamil Nadu; for spreading adult education in Rajasthan, U.P., M.P. and Assam; for introducing agricultural improvements in the Punjab and Karnataka for giving effect to social legislation such as the Marriage Registration Act, the Marriage Expenses Controlling Act in M.P. for developing village libraries, provisions of rural water supply and planting of trees in Rajasthan.
(vi) Judicial Functions and Nyaya Panchayats:
Besides, these functions, some of the village panchayats have also been entrusted with judicial powers. These relate to the trial of civil suits for money due on contracts, recovery of movable property or its value. Their powers of punishment are limited to the imposition of moderate fines and they employ simple and summary procedure for the disposal of cases. They have also been given limited powers under the Civil Procedure Code.
In all States, adequate provision is made in the Act for the control of panchayats. In judicial matters its functions are controlled by a competent authority with power to quash its proceedings to sense its decisions, to withdraw or transfer cases to the higher courts and in the last resort to cancel the jurisdiction or to supersede it.
The administrative control of the panchayat is in some cases entrusted to the Government agency from a Tahsildar to the Collector or Commissioner. While in others to superior local bodies like the local or district boards e.g., in U.P. the District Magistrate, the District or Planning Officer and Assistant District Panchayat Officer exercise powers of supervision and control over the working of Panchayats.
The District magistrate has the power to suspend any member of a gaon on Nyaya Panchayat if he has failed to discharge his duties properly; while in Tamil Nadu there is a separate department of the government, viz., the Inspector of municipal councils and local boards and regional inspector to supervise and co-ordinate the administration of all the panchayats, district boards and municipalities in the State.
In M.P. janapada sabhas have been established and they are responsible for the efficient and proper working of the panchayats. Supervision and control over them also vests in the janapada sabhas. The directorate of social welfare is responsible for the proper working of panchayats who can recommend to government for suppression of panchayats for their negligence and inefficiency.
In Maharashtra there is no separate department exclusively for village panchayats but there is a separate local self-government department for all local bodies. The district collector checks and supervises the activities of the panchayats. He has powers to dissolve or supersede a panchayat and appoint an administrator. In the Punjab there is a separate panchayat department. There are also district boards in rural areas and there is every co-operation with panchayats.
In Bihar the district magistrate, the district judge and the sub-divisional magistrate have powers to inspect the judicial records of the kutchery; while a gazetted officer or chairman of the district board can inspect the office of the gram panchayats. In each district there is a panchayat officer. In West Bengal, as panchayats are not statutory, government do not exercise the control over sanction of expenditure from revenue on account of welfare schemes.
The local self-government Department of the government looks after the existing panchayats and the district magistrate ensures that election of panchayat members is held according to executive orders of the government. In Rajasthan, there is a separate panchayat department.
The chief panchayat officer works under the direct supervision and control of the Government, the supervision and control of the activities of the panchayats vest in the local self-government department. The panchayat department possesses powers of superseding a panchayat. It is superseded only in case of incompetency, default of abuse of power.
A bird’s eye view of how Panchayati Raj Institution have fared in some states would provide valuable insight into the structural and operational aspect of Panchayati Raj it may be stated as a general provision that in a country of India’s size and diversity, certain awareness in performance is inevitable. Historical vicissitudes further complicate the picture. Structure and functions have been changing over the years.
In Assam, there have been shifts in the ties and functions assigned, the prevalent ones are Mokhuma Parishad at the sub-divisional level and the panchayat with a population of well over 15,000. In Andhra Pradesh, the Zila Parishads, endowed with limited executive functions, have shown encouraging results in areas like education; the performance of Panchayat Samitis too has been noticeable. In Bihar, the Zila Parishads were introduced only in 8 districts, but were soon given up.
In Rajasthan which, with Andhra Pradesh, was the first to introduce Panchayati Raj the samiti ties worked with enthusiasm in the initial phase. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka do not have the Zila Parishad, in the sense of a body endowed with executive functions, but the Samitis/Taluka Board there, have done well, the performance of the Samitis in Tamil Nadu in regard to education, water supply, roads and nutrition has received wide appreciation.
In Kerala, where there were only village Panchyats but of a size which could amount to half a block, the working has been extremely satisfactory in the field of many municipal and civic functions, it worth noting that, in spite of different political parties being represented on the elected body, there was the needed harmony in implementing the programmes assigned to them as also in monitoring certain development projects.
In Uttar Pradesh, a large number of small Panchayats were set up together with Zila Parishads with very limited powers. They could not achieve much owing to extreme paucity of powers and resources. In Madhya Pradesh, the Act embodying the scheme of democratic decentralizations, was sought to be implemented in a piecemeal manner; an approach that proved counter productive.
As far as West Bengal is concerned, it has weaned away from what seemingly was a four tiered structure to a three tiered one with large Gram Panchayats. Deviating from the Balvantray Mehta report, three tier structure with the first point of decentralization at the district level, was organized in Maharashtra and Gujarat and it has functioned effectively particularly in the field of decentralized planning and development. The District councils in North Eastern India have featured which are worth studying.
Panchayati Raj Institutions have involved in programme planning, in supply and distribution of agricultural inputs, farm equipments (such as tractors, sprayers, pump sets) constructed tanks bandharas, small embankments and other minor irrigation works established school and primary health centres ; constructed roads, and provided drinking water supplies ; provided subsidies on seeds and pesticides where new varieties are being introduced ; encouraged the use of improved agricultural practices through demonstrations ; organised crop competitions and collected taxes to the tune of Rs. 40.00 crores in 1976-77.
The Survey entitled “Awareness of C.D. in Village India,” (1966) carried out by the National Institute of C.D., Hyderabad, has stated that “the system of decentralised democracy had fostered the emergence of new leadership in the rural areas and that the elected representatives were generally better than old; traditional leaders. Social welfare and increased agricultural production were the most important purposes served by Panchayati Raj.”
The Survey further added that “the most heartening finding has been that it has found a niche in the minds of rural people. The leadership of Panchayati Raj bodies at the block and district levels has thrown up new challenges to the political elite operating at the State and Central levels.”
Under favourable conditions Panchayati Raj Institutions have encouraged the intelligence, self-reliance, initiative and social sense of free men by placing the ultimate responsibility for government on the citizen themselves. It makes authority a trust, ensures equal consideration for all and thus makes for a just social order. Panchayati Raj has done this to a considerable extent and can do much more.
Asoka Mehta Committee has observed “It will be wrong to think that Panchayati Raj should be viewed as a god that has failed. It has many achievements to its credit, the more important of these are- Politically speaking, it becomes a process of democratic seed drilling in the Indian soil making an average citizen more conscious of his rights than before. Administratively speaking, it bridged the gulf between the bureaucratic elite and the people. Socio-culturally speaking, it generated a new leadership which was not merely relatively young in age but also modernistic and pro-social change in outlook. Finally, looked at from the developmental angle, it helped rural people cultivate a development psyche.”
However, the common theme of the reviews and studies undertaken has been not that the Panchayati Raj system has failed but that it could be made more effective.
Certain deficiencies do exist in the working of the system.
Among these may be mentioned the following as the most important:
(1) There is to be found factions among the villagers which make the common acceptance of the decision of the panchayat impossible. Faction also makes it impossible for a common mind to develop within the panchayat and decisions are coloured by the faction’s interests of the members.
(2) Lack of proper leadership in the village so that the panchayat becomes a tool in the hands of irresponsible elements in the village population. No respect is possible to develop among the villagers for an institution which is so abused.
(3) Too much political interference in the work of the development functionaries has distributed the development work and prevented qualified and competent persons from coming forward to work in these institutions. The emerging semi-enlightened local leadership considers positions in the panchayats as more a matter of prestige, patronage and power than of service to the community.
There has been interference in every party matter of administration by the elected leaders converting every development scheme into an opportunity to distribute favours among the members of their own casts, class and group. Political interference has been felt in the matters of location of service agencies. It has been expected that panchayati raj would primarily be a development mechanism and make up for the shortfalls of the community development programme…… In practice it has emerged as a power mechanism.
(4) The fruits of developments, whatever achieved so far have not been equitably distributed among the rural people. They have all been pocketed by a few well-off, landed and normally high caste inter-related families in each village. The weakest and the loneliest and the last has remained in the same conditions as even before. Instead of preparing the ground for social equality and justice, these institutions have institutionalized injustice, favouritism and factionalism in life.
(5) The objective of the promoters of PRI to transfer effective authority to elected local institutions and to use them as effective instruments for rural developments, seems to have been frustrated. In fact one finds that “the old myth of collectors responsibility for any and every function of government in the district has not only been retained but also further reinforced”. This has reduced the role of PRI to the minimum, in developing rural areas, convening them into mere agents of State Government.
(6) Panchayats are often under the overpowering influence of the big landlords or moneylenders in the village and, therefore, fail to inspire confidence among the majority of peasants in the village. Further, the powers that are parted with by the state governments in favour of the village panchayats with a view to training the villagers in the art of self-government are always usurped by this small group. The interests of the small minority are served at the cost of the needy majority.
Thus, the main ideal of democratic training and exercise of local power for the benefit of the people gets frustrated. Instances have been common where the subsidies given for the village roads or sanitation were spent on the roads in front of the houses of this small group or in the sanitary and ugly sports only near them were attended to while the rest of the village was neglected.
Sometimes the funds disappear altogether but the villager cannot dare to ask the explanation of the small group. The villager is loath to court trouble on account of the very scant protection given to him by the distant Central Government and also because he is lost in toil and care for his daily bread.
(7) The financial resources of the panchayats are very merger so that they can never hope to look after even the elementary functions assigned to them. Government subsidies go only a little way towards removing this want. Some local works have to be left out on account of their heavy cost inspite of their urgent necessity.
Shortage of financial resources has adversely affected their performance in the field of development. “Slowly members of these bodies have come to realise that they have very little scope for decision making or administrative innovation and this has resulted in progressive loss of interest in planning and development and greater concentration upon petty administration matters such as posting and transfers or grant of licences or contracts.”
(8) Village production plans are nothing but paper plans casually prepared by the V.L. Ws. in consultation with a couple of village elders and the Sarpanch of the village panchayat. No serious attempt has been made to prepare an authentic village production plan incorporating production targets for each crop and for every family in the village.
The Fourth National Convention of the All-India Panchayati Raj (Bangalore, 1964) observed that, “the progress of the movement of democratic decentralisation is painfully slow and there has been a lack of promptitude in the implementation of plans. Lukewarm interest shown by the people, casteism and communalism, poor leadership, unwillingness of panchayats to impose taxes, lack of self-reliance and increasing dependence on state governments, bickering and factionalism, corruption and manipulation of accounts, continuation of the old district board attitude, emphasis on desk at the cost of the real field work, bureaucratic approach and lack of guidance from superior authorities, and the habit of the Panches to ignore people are some of the causes explaining the unsatisfactory state of affairs.”