Gandhiji believed that democratic freedoms have to be founded in institutions of selfgovernment in every village in India. He drew his inspiration from the traditional Panchayats; ‘village republics’, which he called Panchayati Raj. He based his vision of contemporary democracy in independent India on genuine peoples’ participation in the development and welfare of their own habitats through elected Panchayats. Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, the father of our Constitution, provided for Village Panchayats in the State List of the Seventh Schedule, but consistently stressed the need to incorporate reservations for the depressed segments of our society in the structure of Panchayati Raj. Rajiv Gandhi ensured this and added reservations for women of all said categories in Panchayats. His declared objective was ‘Power to the People’ through the Panchayats, thus making India not only the world’s biggest democracy, but also the world’s most representative democracy.
The philosophy of Panchayat Raj is deeply steeped in tradition and culture of rural India and is by no means a new concept. Panchayati Raj Provided a system of self-governance at the village level, however, it did not have a constitutional status. The Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) Act, 1992 provides a framework on which to build the third level of governance panchayats.
April 23, 1993 is a landmark day in the history of Panchayati Raj in India as on this day, the institution of Panchyayati Raj was accorded constitutional status through the Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) Act, 1992, thereby seeking to transform Mahatma Gandhi's dream of Gram Swaraj into reality.
The Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 mandates provisions for :
Establishment of a three-tier structure (Village Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti or intermediate level Panchayat and Zilla Parishad or district level Panchayat).
- Establishment of Gram Sabhas at the village level.
- Regular elections to Panchayats every five years.
- Proportionate seat reservation for SCs/STs.
- Reservation of not less than 1/3 seats for women.
- Constitution of State Finance Commissions to recommended measures to improve the finances of Panchayats.
- Constitution of State Election Commission.
The Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 vests power in the State Government to endow Panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government such as :
- Preparation of plants and their execution for economic development and social justice in relation to 29 subjects listed in the XI schedule of the Constitution.
- Authority to Panchayat to levy, collect and appropriate taxes, duties, tolls and fees.
- Transfer of taxes, duties, tolls and fees collected by the States to Panchayats.
Gram Sabha is a body consisting of persons registered in the electoral rolls of a village or a group of villages which elect a Panchayat.
A vibrant and enlightened Gram Sabha is central to the success of the Panchayati Raj system. The year 1999-2000 has thus been declared as the "Year of the Gram Sabha". State Governments have been urged :
To vest in the Gram Sabha, powers on the lines envisaged in the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996.
To make a mandatory provision in the Panchayati Raj Act for holding Gram Sabha meetings throughout the country on the occasion of the Republic Day, Labour Day, Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti.
To make a mandatory provision in the Panchayati Raj Act specifying separately, the quorum for Gram Sabha meetings, for ordinary meetings, meetings convened for special purposes and re-convened meetings due to cancellation of and earlier meeting for want of quorum.
To make members of the Gram Sabhas aware of their powers and responsibilities with a view to ensuring mass participation, particularly of the hitherto marginalised, groups, such as women and SCs/STs.
To lay down procedures for the Gram Sabha to effectively carry out social audit of beneficiary oriented development programmes of the Ministry or Rural Development, particularly the legal powers of the Gram Sabha to order recovery or punishment for financial mismanagement.
To evolve a plan of action for generating wide publicity for Gram Sabha meetings.
To evolve guidelines/procedures for holding Gram Sabha meetings and a model list of business for such meetings.
To generate awareness as to the rights of the Gram Sabha with respect to control over natural resources, land records and conflict resolution.
The Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) Act, 1992 envisages empowered Panchayats as institutions of self-government at the village level capable of :
- Planning and executing village level public works and their maintenance.
- Ensuring welfare of the people at the village level including health, education, communal harmony, social justice particularly gender and caste based discrimination, dispute resolution, welfare of children, especially the girl child.
- The Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) Act, 1992 also envisages empowered Gram Sabhas as the Parliament of the People at the grassroots level to whom the Gram Panchayats are solely accountable.