Panchayati Raj System: Evolution, Features, Institutions, Panchayati Raj in India

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

The Panchayati Raj System is a decentralized form of governance that aims to empower local communities and bring governance closer to the grassroots level. It serves as an essential pillar of India’s democratic framework, providing citizens with the opportunity to actively participate in decision-making processes that directly affect their lives. The Panchayati Raj System in India enables democracy at a grassroots level through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992.

Panchayati Raj has become a relevant topic in the UPSC Syllabus for Prelims and Mains as over the years, many questions about it are asked in exams. This article shall guide you to study this level of governance that is novel and necessary for a country as vibrant as India.

What is Panchayati Raj?

Panchayati Raj refers to the system of local self-government in rural areas of India. The term “Panchayati Raj” translates to “rule by the village council” and signifies democratic governance at the grassroots level. It is based on the principles of decentralization, participatory democracy, and empowerment of local communities.

The Panchayati Raj System was formally recognized and institutionalized in India through the 73rd Amendment Act of 1992, which amended the Constitution of India. The amendment added provisions for establishing Panchayats as democratic institutions for local self-government.

Panchayati Raj System in India

The Panchayati Raj System operates through elected local self-government bodies called Panchayats at the village, block, and district levels. These Panchayats are entrusted with the responsibility of governance, planning, and implementation of various development schemes and programs.

The Panchayati Raj System in India is guided by the principles of decentralization, participatory democracy, and empowerment of local communities. It provides opportunities for citizens, including marginalized sections of society, to actively participate in decision-making processes, fostering inclusive growth and social justice.

To ensure the effective functioning of the Panchayati Raj System, the central and state governments provide financial resources, capacity-building support, and technical assistance. Regular elections are held to elect representatives to the Panchayats, and reservation quotas are in place to promote the participation of women, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and other disadvantaged groups.

History and Evolution of Panchayati Raj in India

The history of Panchayati Raj in India can be traced back to ancient times, where local self-governing bodies existed in the form of village assemblies and councils. These assemblies, known as “sabhas” or “panchayats,” played a crucial role in resolving disputes, maintaining social order, and making collective decisions for the welfare of the community.

However, the formal recognition and institutionalization of Panchayati Raj as a system of local self-government in modern India began with the adoption of the Constitution in 1950. The idea of decentralized governance and empowering local communities found expression in Article 40 of the Constitution, which stated: “The State shall take steps to organize village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.”

Following the constitutional mandate, several states in India took steps to establish Panchayati Raj institutions, although the nature and extent of their functioning varied. The Balwant Rai Mehta Committee Report of 1957 was a significant milestone in shaping the Panchayati Raj system.

Balwant Rai Mehta Committee

The Balwant Rai Mehta Committee was appointed in 1957 to examine the National Extension Service and CDP (Community Development Programme) and suggest measures to make its functioning more effective. This committee submitted its report with the suggestion to establish a system of local government that shall decentralize democratic power; this system was the Panchayati Raj.

The suggestions made by this Committee were as follows:

  • Panchayati Raj is the third level of local governance which shall have three tiers to itself, namely the Gram Panchayat, the Panchayat Samiti, and the Zila Parishad.
  • Like the elective representation system followed by our country’s lower and upper houses, the Panchayati Raj in India shall have the same system. There will be direct elections for the Gram Panchayat, and the Panchayat Samiti and Zila Parishad will have indirectly elected representatives.
  • This system shall focus the most on the development and planning of the area and its population.
  • Panchayat Samiti shall be the executive, while the Zila Parishad shall be there in the capacity of an advisory and supervisory body.
  • The chairman of the Zila Parishad shall be the District Collector.

Ashok Mehta Committee Report for Panchayati Raj

The Ashok Mehta Committee was set up in 1977 after the alarming decline of the Panchayati Raj System in India. Their objective was to help in its revival. Their key recommendations are as follows:

  • The most significant recommendation was to transform the three-tier system into a two-tier one, with the Zila Parishad on the district level and the Mandal Panchayat representing a group of villages.
  • The Zila Parishad shall serve as the primary level of supervision after the state government. It will also be responsible for the executive function and the planning at the district level.
  • These two institutions, the Zila Parishad and the Mandal Panchayat shall be responsible for their finances and have taxation powers.

G V K Rao Committee on Panchayati Raj

In 1985, the G.V.K. Rao Committee was appointed by the Planning Commission of India. The development envisaged from the local level of bureaucratization was not at par with the result. Some key recommendations by this Panchayati Raj committee are as follows:

  • The Zila Parishad was deemed the most significant body of the system, essential to the decentralization that was originally planned.
  • Zila Parishad was to head the management of all programs related to the development of the district.
  • The lower levels of the Panchayati Raj were responsible for very particular aspects of the said development programs’ planning and implementation.
  • This committee also suggested the creation of a post, namely District Development Commissioner, who shall also serve as the Chief Executive Offer of the Zila Parishad.

Panchayati Raj L M Singhvi Committee

The LM Singhvi Committee was set up in 1986 to have insight into the revitalization of the Panchayati Raj System for its growth. The committee made the following proposals:

  • The most key recommendation made by this committee was to grant the Panchayati Ray System constitutional status. It also suggested that there should be constitutional provisions for free and fair elections.
  • It suggested that the villages need to be reorganized to make the Gram panchayats more functional and effective.
  • The committee also saw the need to increase the financial budget of the bodies to support their activities.
  • Another noteworthy recommendation was setting up judicial tribunals in every state to adjudicate issues related to the elections to these bodies.

In subsequent years, several states implemented Panchayati Raj Acts to formalize the functioning of Panchayats. However, it was not until the 73rd Amendment Act of 1992 that Panchayati Raj gained constitutional status. This amendment introduced Part IX in the Constitution, which specifically deals with Panchayats.

Panchayati Raj Institutions

Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) are the democratic bodies established under the Panchayati Raj System in India. They are the local self-government institutions that empower communities at the grassroots level and facilitate participatory governance. The PRIs operate through three tiers: Gram Panchayat (village level), Panchayat Samiti or Block Panchayat (intermediate level), and Zilla Parishad (district level).

Gram Panchayat: The Gram Panchayat is the primary and smallest unit of the Panchayati Raj System. It represents a single village or a cluster of villages. The key features of Gram Panchayats are:

  • Elected Representatives: The Gram Panchayat consists of elected representatives called Panchayat members, including a Sarpanch (Village Head) who leads the Panchayat.
  • Functions: Gram Panchayats perform various functions, including providing essential services like water supply, sanitation, primary education, healthcare facilities, infrastructure development, and poverty alleviation programs at the village level. They also play a role in maintaining law and order, resolving disputes, and promoting social welfare.

Panchayat Samiti or Block Panchayat: The Panchayat Samiti or Block Panchayat is the intermediate level of the Panchayati Raj System. It represents a block or tehsil comprising multiple Gram Panchayats. The key features of Panchayat Samitis are:

  • Elected Representatives: Panchayat Samitis are composed of elected representatives from the Gram Panchayats within the block. The members of Panchayat Samiti are called Panchayat Samiti members.
  • Functions: Panchayat Samitis coordinate and plan development activities at the block level. They focus on issues and programs that affect multiple villages, including agriculture, rural development, education, healthcare, and infrastructure. Panchayat Samitis play a crucial role in resource allocation and ensure the effective utilization of funds.

Zilla Parishad: The Zilla Parishad represents the district level in the Panchayati Raj System. It is the highest tier of the PRIs. The key features of Zilla Parishads are:

  • Elected Representatives: Zilla Parishads consist of elected representatives from the Panchayat Samitis within the district. The members of Zilla Parishad are called Zilla Parishad members.
  • Functions: Zilla Parishads oversee and supervise the functioning of the entire district. They play a pivotal role in district-level planning, resource allocation, and coordination between various Panchayat levels. Zilla Parishads focus on rural development, infrastructure, education, healthcare, and other key aspects of district-level governance.

The Panchayati Raj Institutions are responsible for promoting grassroots democracy, ensuring participatory decision-making, and addressing local issues effectively. They provide a platform for citizens to actively participate in governance, voice their concerns, and contribute to the development of their communities.

Features of Panchayati Raj

The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act 1992 brought important changes to the country’s political system. Some of the salient features of Panchayati Raj have been listed below;

  1. Decentralization: It is based on the principle of decentralization, where power and decision-making authority are transferred from higher levels of government to the local self-government institutions at the village, block, and district levels.
  2. Democratic Representation: Panchayati Raj Institutions are democratically elected bodies, with members representing the interests and aspirations of the local communities. Regular elections are held to ensure the participation of citizens in choosing their representatives.
  3. Three-Tier Structure: It operates through a three-tier structure consisting of Gram Panchayat (village level), Panchayat Samiti or Block Panchayat (intermediate level), and Zilla Parishad (district level). This multi-tier system ensures governance at different levels and facilitates effective planning and implementation of development programs.
  4. Devolution of Powers and Functions: The Panchayati Raj System aims to devolve powers and functions to the Panchayats, enabling them to make decisions on local issues, plan and implement development projects, and provide essential services such as water supply, sanitation, education, healthcare, and infrastructure development.
  5. Reservation of Seats: It promotes social inclusion by reserving seats for marginalized sections of society, including women, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and other backward classes. This ensures their representation and participation in the decision-making process.
  6. Financial Autonomy: Panchayati Raj Institutions are provided with financial resources from the central and state governments. The system emphasizes financial autonomy, allowing the Panchayats to generate revenue through local taxes and fees and utilize funds for local development initiatives.
  7. Participatory Decision-making: It encourages participatory decision-making, involving citizens in the planning and implementation of development programs. It provides platforms for public discussions, consultations, and social audits, ensuring transparency and accountability.
  8. Social Justice and Empowerment: The Panchayati Raj System aims to address social inequalities and empower marginalized communities. It provides opportunities for women, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and other disadvantaged groups to actively participate in governance, promoting social justice and inclusive development.

Importance of Panchayati Raj System in India

The Panchayati Raj System in India holds great significance as a decentralized form of governance that empowers local communities and promotes grassroots democracy. It holds immense importance in India for several reasons:

  1. Enhances grassroots democracy and citizen participation.
  2. Facilitates decentralized governance and decision-making.
  3. Promotes targeted and efficient local development.
  4. Ensures inclusive representation of marginalized communities.
  5. Empowers and uplifts marginalized sections of society.
  6. Fosters transparency and accountability in governance.
  7. Bridges rural-urban divide and promotes balanced development.
  8. Facilitates conflict resolution and social cohesion at the grassroots level.

Challenges faced by Panchayati Raj in India

As discussed above, the Panchayati Raj system does not come without its drawback, as the Indian society is structured in a way that creates multiple challenges for a grassroots self-governing body, especially regarding discrimination against the subjugated. (women, people from lower castes, etc.)

These local Panchayati Raj institutions face multiple problems, which are listed below:

  • Financial funding is a very big hurdle in the path of these institutions. Change is slow as there is a requirement to widen the area of panchayats to increase their funds.
  • Local interference from the Members of Parliament and Members of the Legislative Assembly also crowd over the autonomy of the Panchayats and hinder the delivery of justice.
  • The 73rd amendment act was incomplete and inadequate in providing autonomy to the local governing bodies. The right to delegate functions, powers, and finances was left to the state government.
  • Transferring several government roles like the services of education, sanitation, health, and water was not mandated to the panchayats. It was left to state legislations to devolve these roles/ responsibilities.
  • The terrible conditions of the state water boards are a prime example of the state’s lack of capability to head these responsibilities.
  • The lack of finances can be narrowed down as the main failure of the amendment. Panchayati Raj institutions can either receive governmental transfers or raise their funds.
  • The authority of taxation given to the PRIs is authorized by the state governments- something that most states have not done yet.
  • Regarding the second method of fund generation, intergovernmental transfers are the option. This is when a state government assigns a certain amount of revenue to these bodies. The amendment provided recommendations for the state’s finance Commissions to provide a revenue divide between them and the panchayats, but since these are only recommendations, they are not acted upon.
  • Panchayats are cautious of taking up projects requiring greater funding, causing them to lack in solving even the most rudimentary governance requirements.
  • These structural weaknesses are not just limited to the state governments but also corrode the PRIs. There is no secretarial substructure, and a general lack of technical knowledge limits their growth.
  • There is a lack of clarity when setting up agendas for meetings as there is no structure.
  • The problems of Proxy representation and Panch-Pati are evident when it comes to the seats reserved for women and the ST/SC classes.
  • There is limited accountability within these institutions.
  • The funding and division of functions are two important issues shrouded in ambiguity. It holds back more meaningful participation from the informed representatives.

Panchayati Raj UPSC

Panchayati Raj System is a very important rung in our democracy and hence, a very important topic in Indian Polity and current affairs that has been repeatedly inquired about in the UPSC Prelims and Mains exams. Candidates can refer to appropriate Polity books for UPSC preparation to brush up on their basics about this topic. They can also solve questions on Panchayati Raj listed below to examine their understanding.

Panchayati Raj UPSC Questions

Question 1: Which amendment to the Constitution of India made the provision for the establishment of Panchayati Raj Institutions? – (a) 42nd Amendment, (b) 73rd Amendment, (c) 86th Amendment, (d) 91st Amendment

Answer: b) 73rd Amendment

Question 2: Which tier of the Panchayati Raj System is responsible for district-level planning and coordination? – (a) Gram Panchayat, (b) Panchayat Samiti, (c) Zilla Parishad, (d) State Panchayat

Answer: c) Zilla Parishad

Question 3: What is the term duration for Panchayati Raj Institutions in India? – (a) 2 years, (b) 3 years, (c) 4 years, (d) 5 years

Answer: d) 5 years

Question 4: How many seats are reserved for women in Panchayati Raj Institutions? – (a) 25%, (b) 33%, (c) 40%, (d) 50%

Answer: b) 33%

Question 5: Which state in India became the first to implement the Panchayati Raj System? – (a) Rajasthan, (b) Maharashtra, (c) Gujarat, (d) Madhya Pradesh

Answer: a) Rajasthan

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Quit India Movement Right to Equality
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