Panchayati Raj system in India

Panchayati Raj is a democratic system in India at the local or village level. It is a system of governance in which Gram Panchayats are the basic units of administration. It has three levels :Village, Block and District. In this article we shall discuss the development of Panchayati Raj Institution in India and its recent development initiated by Bihar government.

‘Panchayat’ literally means assembly (ayat) of five (panch) wise and respected elders chosen and accepted by the village community. Panchayati Raj is a system of governance in which Gram panchayats acts as a major units of administration. It has three levels namely-Village, Block and District. Mahatma Gandhi promoted Panchayati Raj Institution as a decentralized form of government where each village is responsible for its own affairs and establishes it as the foundation of India’s political system. This term was further propagated as “Gram Swaraj” (village self governance). The Constitution of India promulgated in January 1950 includes a provision relating to Panchayats system. By 1951-52 there were over 70,000 Village Panchayat functioning in country. Part IX of the constitution includes three-tier system of Panchayats which constitutes-The Village Level, Block level and District Panchayat. The Intermediate Panchayats exists in the states where the population is above 20 lakhs. Directive Principles of State Policy which is deals in Article 40, Section 4th of Indian Constitution says that-The states should take steps to organize Village Panchayats and endow them with such power and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government. The Panchayati Raj bodies were expected to awaken political consciousness on the countryside and to improve a democratic process in rural India. Hence, Panchayati Raj confers on the rural people the power of decision making regarding developmental objectives. This is democracy at gross level.

Genesis of Panchayati Raj Institution

Panchayati Raj genesis can be seen in ancient period in texts of Panini, Buddhist text and Rig Veda in respect to administration autonomy. There we get a reference of Gram Sanghs or rural communities. In Manusmiriti and Mahabharat we get even in Kautilya’s “Arthshastra” talk about officials which constitute a group of Village Republics. During Mauryan period, Gupta period and Sultanate period Panchayats were organized and had performed function of sanitation, education and judiciary etc. The Britishers had created local self government, as early as 1687 the Municipal corporation of Madras was formed. Then in 1870 a resolution for decentralization of power was passed by Bengal Chowkidari Act 1870. It was the first step towards local self government. In 1909 “Royal Commission of Decentralization” submitted report to constitute and develop Village Panchayat for the administration of local village affair. The government of India Act of 1935 also had provision for provincial autonomy and had strengthen panchayats in the country. The provisions remained till the passing of the Act of 1947 and India attaining independence. In 1952, Government of India made first systematic effort to bring rural development through Community Development Program with the first Five Year Plan. After this many committees were formed to strengthen and review the functioning of Panchayati Raj Institutions at gross roots level of democracy. These are as follows-
  1. Balwant Rai Committee-recommended three tier system i.e. Zila Parishad, Panchayat Samiti and Gram Panchayat.
  2. Ashok Mehta Committee, 1977 -recommended that the three-tier system of Panchayati Raj should be replaced by the two-tier system. Zila Parishad at the district level and below it the Mandal Panchayat consisting of a group of Villages covering a population of 15000 to 20,000.
  3. G.V.K Rao Committee,1985–This Committee was appointed to once again to look at various aspects of PRI’s. It recommended the following:
    PRI’s have to be activated and provided with all the requirement support to become effective organizations. PRI’s at the district level and below should assigned the work of planning, implementation and monitoring.
  4. L.M Singhvi Committee, 1986–This Committee studied Panchayati Raj and recommended that local self government should be constitutionally recognized protected and preserved by the inclusion of new chapter in the constitution. secondly it restricted involvement of political parties in panchayat elections.

Phases of Panchayati Raj Institution in India

The story of Panchayati Raj has been a story of ups and downs. It seems to has passed through four distinct phases in its short span of life. The structure of Pachayati Raj Institutions in India varied from state to state. India’s experiment with democratic decentralization started in Rajasthan on Oct2, 1959 at Nagpur District. Now, Panchayati Raj system exists in all states except Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Delhi. The Government Act of 1935, Malaviya Committee(1956), Balwant Rai Mehta Committee (1957), Ashok Mehta Committee(1978), Hanu(1985), Singhvi Committee(1986) etc have dealt with development, functioning autonomy and freedom, weakness and remedial measures for strengthening of Panchayati Raj system. It also found its backing in the Indian Constitution with 73rd Amendment Act,1992.This act aims to provide three-tier system of Panchayati Raj for all states having population of over 2 millions, to hold Panchayat elections regularly every 5 years, to provide reservations of seats to 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 district. The various phases of panchayati Raj institution in India are as follows-
  • The phase of ascendancy (1959-1964)
  • The phase of Stagnation (1965-1969)
  • The phase of decline (1969-1983)
  • The phase of revival (1983-onward)

Performance and problems

The basic idea behind establishment of Panchayati raj institutions was to ensure the participation of the villagers in local government and to promote the various developmental plans. Though these institutions have been set since British time in India but due to one or the another reason they cannot flourish as it was expected and cannot achieve much. The major success can been seen in the field of agriculture. These institution came to be associated with few major problems. These problems are as follows-
  • They lack adequate financial resources and hence could not achieve much in their plans of development. Further The central and the State government have not provided them with much power.
  • The membership of these institutions is confined to the landlords, the upper caste people and some affluent members of the villages. The poor and other needy groups cannot be represented in this institution and hence fail to achieve representation of poor and needy as compared to rich landlords.
  • The bureaucracy attitude towards the Panchayati raj institution at different level of management and co-ordination is not very useful.
  • One of the major obstacle in the path of success of Panchayati raj institution is that it constitutes mainly of illiterate villagers who lack political consciousness among them.

73rd and 74th Constitutional bills

In order to remove the above defects, parliament unanimously passed the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendment bills. These are the landmark in the development of panchayati Raj institution which was implemented in year 1992. The various provision of 73rd and 74th constitutional bills are as follows
  • Constitution of Gram sabhas in villages.
  • Constitution of three-tier Panchayat at village or other levels.
  • Direct election to all seats in panchayats
  • Reservation of seats for schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes
  • Reservation of one-third of the total seats at every level of panchayati Raj institution for women.
  • Fixing of tenure of five years for Panchayats
  • Giving representation to the members of Parliaments, MLA’s and MLC’s at the intermediate and district level with full voting rights.

Panchayati Raj Institution in Bihar

Bihar is one of the oldest location of Panchayati Raj institutions. The land of Bihar has shown the first seed of democracy in Vaishali district. With the Act of 1935 elected Panchayats operated and dealt with civil and criminal matters. With the abolition of Zamindari saystem a new phase of self government came into being. The series of amendment made in 1961, 64 and 70 to establish three-tier structures all over the state. Two bills, sixty fourth and sixty fifth Amendment bills made the institution of Panchayati Raj mandatory and provided for 30% reservation for women seats. Further 73rdConstitutional Amendment Act in September 1991 gave 33% reservation of seats to women rural local government bodies. Bihar panchayati Raj Act was passed on 6th August, 1993 in accordance with the Amendment. The whole Act was revised and repealed extensively in the year 2006. Bihar has three-tier Panchayati institution with Gram Panchayat at the lowest, Panchayat Samiti at the intermediate level and Zila Parisad at the top level. The chairperson of Zila Parisad as Adhayaksha. Resevation for chairperson has been made under section 15(7), section 38(2) and section 35(2)of the Act respectively. It is interesting to note that regular elections were held till 1964.After that only two election took place i.e. in 1971 and 1978. Since then there were no election even after passing the Bihar Panchayati Raj Act in 1993. It was after a period of eight years in 2001 Panchayati Raj Elections were held which gave 33%reservation of seats to women and single posts like that of Mukhiya or pramukh were not reserved. However in 2006 Amendment took a historic decision to give 50% reservation to women in PRI’S under Nitish Government. Bihar is the first state to do so. The most significant gain produced by election to the Panchayats is the emergence of women power in rural Bihar.


Hence Panchayati Raj Institution is not a new term in politics structure, it existed since long time in all phases wherever the culture of administration developed. But with passage of development many new reforms and development slowly take place in context of management and its functions of Panchayati Raj Institution as political structure.The Panchayati Raj bodies were expected to awaken political consciousness on the countryside and to endanger a democratic process in rural India. Panchayti Raj Institution is democracy at local level, it enhances the rural people participation in politics. Panchayati Raj Institution provides closest democratic experience to people in rural areas. So, it cannot achieve their goal without meaningful participation of rural people in functioning of these institution. Many steps have been taken to make panchayti Raj Institution active at local level and among them the recent development by Nitish government is outstanding, it introduced 50% reservation for females candidates in PRI's. So for country's overall political development, the role and existence of Panchayati Raj Institution is most desirable.


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