Panchayati Raj

Panchayati Raj is an important feature of the Indian political system which ensures direct participation of people at the grass root level. Though Panchayats have been in existence in India since ancient times, those were ignored and suffered set-back during the period of British rule. After independence, the framers of the Constitution decided to give them importance and directed the States to ‘organize village panchayats as units of self-government’ (Article 40). Following this directive, the various state governments took steps to organize village panchayats as units of rural self-government. Greater importance was given to the panchayat system after adopting five-year plan and launching the Community Development Program.

In 1956, the National Development council appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Balwant Rai G. Mehta to suggest measures for better working of the Community Development Program and the National Extension Service. The Committee recommended in its report in 1957, a three-tier structure consisting of the village at the bottom, district at the top and an intermediary structure in between.

It also recommended genuine transfer of power and responsibility to these institutions and that all social and economic development programs be channelized through these. It did not insist on rigidity regarding the form and pattern; the states were free to evolve their own patterns suitable to local conditions.

The three-tier system of the Panchayati Raj was first adopted by the state of Rajasthan on 2nd October, 1959, followed by Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, UP and West Bengal. Gradually, the system was adopted by most of the states, even though it differed in matters of detail.

The three-tier system of local self-government envisages Panchayat at the Village level, Panchayat Samitis at the Block leveland Zilla Parishad at the District level. Each tier is organically linked to the next tier through the system of indirect elections. However, elections to Panchayats at the village level are direct.