The Panchayat is a South Asian political system mainly in India, Pakistan, and Nepal. "Panchayat" literally means assembly (yat) of five (panch) wise and respected elders chosen and accepted by thevillage community. Traditionally, these assemblies settled disputes between individuals and villages. Modern Indian government has decentralised several administrative functions to the village level, empowering elected gram panchayats. Gram panchayats are not to be confused with the unelected khappanchayats (or caste panchayats) found in some parts of India.
The term ‘panchayat raj’ is relatively new, having originated during the British administration. 'Raj' literally means governance or government. Mahatma Gandhi advocated Panchayati Raj, a decentralized form of Government where each village is responsible for its own affairs, as the foundation of India's political system. His term for such a vision was "Gram Swaraj" (Village Self-governance).
It was adopted by state governments during the 1950s and 60s as laws were passed to establish Panchayats in various states. It also found backing in the Indian Constitution, with the 73rd amendment in 1992 to accommodate the idea. The Amendment Act of 1992 contains provision for devolution of powers and responsibilities to the panchayats to both for preparation of plans for economic development and social justice and for implementation in relation to twenty-nine subjects listed in the eleventh schedule of the constitution.
The panchayats receive funds from three sources – (i) local body grants, as recommended by the Central Finance Commission, (ii) funds for implementation of centrally-sponsored schemes, and (iii) funds released by the state governments on the recommendations of the State Finance Commissions.
In the history of Panchayati Raj in India, on 24 April 1993, the Constitutional (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 came into force to provide constitutional status to the Panchayati Raj institutions. This Act was extended to Panchayats in the tribal areas of eight States, namely Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan from 24 December 1996.
The Act aims to provide 3-tier system of Panchayati Raj for all States having population of over 2 million, 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.
Powers and responsibilities are delegated to Panchayats at the appropriate level :-
- Preparation of plan for economic development and social justice.
- Implementation of schemes for economic development and social justice in relation to 29 subjects given in Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution.
- To levy, collect and appropriate taxes, duties, tolls and fees.
Village level (panchayat)
Panchayati Raj is a system of governance in which gram panchayats are the basic units of administration. It has 3 levels: village, block and district. At the village level, it is called a Panchayat. It is a local body working for the good of the village. The number of members usually ranges from 7 to 31; occasionally, groups are larger, but they never have fewer than 7 members.
Gram sabha is constituted by all members of a village over the age of 18 years.The Gram Sabha elects the Gram Panchayat a council of elected members taking decisions on issues key to a village's social, cultural and economic life: thus, a Gram Panchayat is also a village's body of elected representatives. The council leader is named Sarpanch in Hindi, and each member is a Gram Panchayat Sadasya or Panch. The panchayat acts as a conduit between the local government and the people. Decisions are taken by a majority vote (Bahumat). It is said that in such a system, each villager can voice his opinion in the governance of his village. Decisions are taken without lengthy legal procedures and the process remains for the most part transparent. Panchayat is an ancient Indian word that means means Five Persons ( Headman ). Since its inception, Panchayat has come a long way, it is currently included in the constitution of the Government of India.
Intermediate level panchayat
Also known as Block Panchayat, this is the panchayat set at the block or tehsil level for a group of grama panchayats in States where the total population exceeds 20 lakh. Block level panchayat is not advisable for many States like Kerala.
District level panchayat
This is the panchayats at the district level. Every district in the States where panchayat raj is implemented will have a District or Zilla Panchayats.