The concept of Panchayati Raj is not alien to the people of India. Mentions of the Panchayati Raj or a system of self-governance can be found in the ancient texts of this country. It is important to note that though India was ruled by different foreign powers like the Mughals, the system still managed to sustain itself. Even when the majority of the population lived in villages and was uneducated, almost all villages had a Panchayat. The Panchayat acted as a court and resolved disputes and when the need arose, also provided humanitarian assistance.
Before India became an independent country, the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi was a firm believer in the benefits of Panchayat Raj. Panchayat Raj went by the name of Gram Swaraj back then and was a unique concept. It involved a decentralized style of governing each village separately, thus allowing the administrators of each village to use tailor made policies for development. The practice allowed each village to be sufficient in itself and have a sense of autonomy which went a great way in its development as communities didn’t have to depend on outside resources for basic needs. Everything that a villager needed was provided to him by the Panchayat, right in the village itself.
Since India gained its independence from the British government, numerous committees have been formed to make the Panchayati Raj system better and more efficient. The current Panchayati system is based on the amendments done to the Constitution in 1993 which made the Panchayat a constitutional body and granted it some additional powers. Even the British government had realized the importance of the Panchayat as a commission recommended a decentralised form of governance way back in 1907. A Panchayat had many benefits, it promoted democracy on the grass roots level and also eased up pressure on the states as some administrative functions became the responsibility of the Panchayat making the workload of the state government a bit lighter.
The Panchayat system may vary from state to state according to the policies of the government. But almost all of them follow a basic sense of hierarchy and order of functioning. A Panchayat consists of the following sublevels, administration, public work, law and order, education and health. One of the major advantages of this system is that it creates a form of co-operation between the residents of a locality. The primary function of the Panchayat is to provide basic services in the following departments to the people living inside its jurisdiction.
Modern Panchayat System
The modern Panchayat system consists of three distinct levels, the village level called Gaon Panchayat, block level called Anchalik panchayat and district levels called Zilla Parisad. The different levels have different kinds of powers and duties. These levels carry out the directives of the government and help implement its policies. Recently panchayats in some states have reservations for women. Examples are Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan which offer 50% reservation for women. It is a good move as a patriarchal environment exists in most of the Indian villages. Adequate representation of women helps promote gender equality and promotion of women rights.
India celebrates the National Panchayati Raj Day, which was started on 24th April 2010, and since than this day is celebrated on 24th April every year, because on this day the panchayati raj system got constitutional acknowledgement. This day got the constitutional recognition during the tenure of P.V. Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister of India. At present, the future of the Indian Panchayati Raj Ministry looks miserable, as it faced a huge budget cut in 2015. Also, the BJP government has closed two of the key programmes of the Panchayati Raj Ministry including the Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Sashaktikaran Abhiyan (RGPSA) and the Backward Regions Grants Fund (BRGF).