In the modern era, the local government marked their beginning in the Rippon’s Resolutions of 1881 and 1882. In Independent India several efforts were made in the direction of revival of the institutional set up of the local self government. In this direction community Development Programme (CDP) was started on 2nd October, 1952. The second experiment was the National Extension Scheme (NES) which was launched in 1953.
In 1957, the Government of India appointed a Committee under Balwantrai Mehta to examine the working of these two programmes and to suggest measures for
their better working. The Committee recommended the creation of a three-tier Panchayati Raj System to be constituted with direct and indirect elections. It also recommended for entrustment of planning and development activities to these bodies. In the initial years, after the recommendations of this Committee many States took steps for constituting such bodies.
With the initial enthusiasm fizzling out, in December 1977, the Government of India appointed a Committee on Panchayati Raj institutions under Ashok Mehta. The Committee recommended for the creation a two-tier system at the district level and the Mandal Panchayat consisting of a group of villages. The Committee in addition talked about direct elections, participation of political parties, planning at the district level, separate judicial organ in the form of Nyaya Panchayats, separate Ejection Commission for conduct of elections in every State, reservation for SCs and STs, etc.
Going through different stages, finally the Panchayati Raj was given a constitutional status by the 73rd Constitution Amendment Act, 1992. This Act has added Part IX to the Constitution and consists of provisions from articles 243-2430. In addition it has added Eleventh Schedule consisting of 29 items. Thus, the Act has given a practical shape to Art. 40 i. e. Directive Principles of State Policy, of the Constitution which lays down that the State shall take steps to organise village panchayats and endow them with such powers so as to enable them to function as units of self- government.
The provisions of the Act can be grouped into two categories – compulsory and voluntary. The compulsory provisions of the Act have to be included in the state laws creating the new Panchayati Raj System. The voluntary provisions, on the other hand, may be included at the discretion of the States. Thus, the Act does not disturb the constitutional balance between the Centre and the States in the federal set up. Though it is a central law on a state subject, the Act does not encroach upon the jurisdiction of the States which are given adequate discretionary powers with regard to the Panchayats.
- Organisation of gram sabhas;
- Creation of a three-tier panchayati raj structure at the district, block and village levels;
- All posts at all levels (with 2 exceptions) to be filled by direct elections;
- The minimum age for contesting elections to panchayats to be 21 years;
- Reservation of seats for SC/ST, in panchayats, in proportion to their population; . 6. Reservation for women in panchayats upto 33%.
- Creation of a State Election Commission to conduct elections.
- Fixed 5 years tenure of panchayats.
- Each State is to constitute a State Finance Commission every five years to review the financial position of the panchayat.
- Giving voting rights to members of the Union and State Legislatures in these bodies;
- Providing reservation for backward classes.
- Giving the panchayats financial autonomy and thereunder the power to levy taxes, fees, etc.
- Devolution of powers to the panchayat bodies to perform functions as provided in the XI Schedule.
The salient features of the Act are:
Gram Sabha – The Gram Sabha is the body consisting of persons registered in the electoral rolls relating to a village comprised within the area of a panchayat. This meets twice a year and it shall exercise such powers and perform such functions as the legislature of a State determines.
Three Tier System – The Act envisages a three tier structure of the panchayat government. But in States with a population not exceeding 20 lacs it is not mandatory to have the intermediate level. The structure envisaged is panchayats at the village, intermediate and district levels.
Laws made by the States provide for the representation of –
- Gram Panchayat Chairman in the panchayat at the intermediate and District level.
- Members of Lok Sabha and members of Legislative Assembly of the State in the District and as the case may be at the Intermediate Panchayat in their constituencies.
- Members of Rajya Sabha and Legislative Council of the State in the District may also be included in Intermediate Panchayat in which they are registered as an elector.