WHY IN NEWS?
April 24 is celebrated as Panchayat Raj day. Famous quote of Mahatma Gandhi “The voice of the people is the voice of god; The voice of the Panchayat is the voice of the people,” shows the importance of Panchayati raj institutions.
Panchayati raj ensures that the voices of the people are heard loud and clear. Strong local bodies are needed so that even the last man sitting in the remote corner of the last row should have access to the beneﬁts of the plan. As there is neglect of Panchayati raj by state governments, Political acts depriving people of their rights must stop and there is need to strengthen Panchayati raj.
JOURNEY OF PANCHAYATI RAJ IN INDIA
- In India, Cholas are considered pioneers in the formation of local bodies as part of a well-organised hierarchy to oversee the implementation of progressive plans.
- In modern times, local bodies can be found during British colonial rule. The Madras Local Boards Act passed by British in 1884, formed unions in both small towns and big cities. Members were appointed to ensure better administration of these towns and cities. To a certain extent, introduction of local bodies brought about positive changes in basic parameters such as health and hygiene.
- Gram panchayat laws passed in 1920 gave voting rights to people over 25 years and the right to choose their panchayat members.
- However, the idea of local bodies received constitutional recognition only in 1992. It was only after the 73rd Amendment in the 1990s, that the Panchayati raj law came into force.
- This amendment brought massive changes such as the initiation of grama sabha, a three-tier Panchayati raj methodology of governance, reservation for the downtrodden and women, consistency in economic development, local body elections once in five years, the formation of the State Election Commission, Finance Commission, and the power to draft the rules and responsibilities of the Panchayat.
- With subsequent amendments (74th amendment act) regions better equipped with basic facilities and more developed than the villages were brought under one coordinated body, namely, the municipality. The district capitals were further slotted into a combined parameter, namely, the corporation.
BENEFITS OF AN IDEAL PANCHAYATI RAJ
- Institution of Panchayati raj ensures that for seemingly trivial and easily resolvable issues, the villages did not have to seek the assistance of the State or the Central governments.
- Mandatory grama sabha meeting ensures that everyone is given equal rights to highlight the issues that disrupt life. Reading out of ﬁnancial statements and balance sheets ensures transparency.
REALITY OF PANCHAYATI RAJ IN INDIA
- State governments do not make an attempt to seek the opinions and the consensus of the people on significant issues such as an eight-lane highway project and major hydrocarbon project as evident in the state of Tamil Naidu. State government of Tamil Naidu went ahead and conducted meetings, which were marked by poor attendance and poor representation from the people. Even then, the government went ahead with the approval of projects which are impediments to normal life.
- Women in Panchayati raj institutions are not finding major administrative roles in the local bodies, though, on paper, women are shown to be a considerable force.
- Taking learning from Kerala model of Panchayati raj system where state government have worked diligently toward ensuring the proper use of allotted funds, and ensuring the efﬁciency of administration and eligible member appointments, other state governments should take steps to enable the power of administration to Panchayats as mandated by Constitution.
- To ensure efﬁciency tools like holding online Panchayat meetings, decent remuneration to Panchayat chiefs and councillors and bestowing the grama sabha with the power to revoke appointed members and representatives can be considered.
- Steps should be taken to remove the conflict between State-appointed corporation commissioners of ruling parties and Mayor from the opposition party.
- Constitutional mandate of holding elections for local bodies once in ﬁve years should be followed in letter and spirit.
- Gandhi’s belief was that the voices of people will resolve what violence can never be successful in resolving. It will come true only when we let the peoples’ voices be heard.