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Academic Paper, 2012
PANCHAYATI RAJ IN INDIA
I. HISTORICAL EVOLUTION OF PRI IN INDIA PRE- INDEPENDENCE PERIOD
Ripon Resolution (1882)
Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms of
Government of India Act (1935)
II. HISTORICAL EVOLUTION OF PRI IN INDIA POST- INDEPENDENCE PERIOD
Balwantray Mehta Committee
Transfer of subjects
Conformity Legislation to be passed by every State
Decentralization is popularly known as Panchayati raj in India. Panchayati raj institutions have been considered as instruments of socio economic transformation in rural India. Decentralization of power to the Panchayats is seen as a means of empowering people and involving them in decision making process. Local governments being closer to the people can be more responsive to local needs and can make better use of resources. The democratic system in a country can be ensured only if there is mass participation in the governance. Therefore, the system of democratic decentralization popularly known as Panchayati Raj is considered as an instrument to ensure democracy and socio-economic transformation. From ancient to Mughal period village bodies were the pivot of administration. In the British period our villages remained backward and they lacked all the essentials of civilized existence. They did not have adequate communications, sanitations, public health, medical aid, good education facilities and all other things that a modern man needs as essentials of life. In the independent India, The role of the local self government acquired a new significance.
KEY WORDS: Decentralization, Empowering, Panchayati Raj, Sanitations.
In the Indian context, decentralization is popularly known as Panchayati Raj. The Panchayati Raj system has long roots in India. Its history can be traced from times immemorial. Decentralization has kept its promise as far as the strengthening of democracy at the national level is concerned, as well as the central government’s promise in favor of rural development. It has therefore contributed towards moving away from the bias towards urban areas in matters of development to better management of the coordination of integrated rural development projects and ensuring their sustainability. Decentralization has also reduced poverty which results from regional disparities in paying more interest to the attendant socio-economic factors, in facilitating the gradual increase in development efforts1.
The decentralization is contemporary phenomenon belonging to the period of globalization. Panchayati Raj Institutions, the grass units of local self-government have been considered as instruments of socio economic transformation in rural India. Involvement of people at grass root level is the most important means of brining the socio economic development. Panchayati Raj is identified as institutional expression of democratic decentralization in India. Decentralization of power to the Panchayats is seen as a means of empowering people and involving them in decision making process. Local governments being closer to the people can be more responsive to local needs and can make better use of resources. The democratic system in a country can be ensured only if there is mass participation in the governance. Therefore, the system of democratic decentralization popularly known as Panchayati Raj is considered as an instrument to ensure democracy and socio-economic transformation.
Gandhaji maintained that “the blood of the village is the cement with which the edifice of the cities is built. I want this blood that is today inflating the arteries of the cities to run once again in the blood vessels of the villages” 2. His plea was for radical decentralization and liberalization of the villages from exploitation. The village is a fundamental unit for the development of our country and the state, because the root has to be strong for the growth of the tree3. Gandhi advocated that India lives in her villages. Indian independence must begin at the bottom, thus making every village a republic or Panchayat, enjoying full powers. He remarked that true democracy cannot be worked by twenty men sitting at the center. It has to be worked from below by the people of every village. These dreams lead to the inclusion to the Article 40 in the Directive Principals of the state policy of constitution of India. Almost after the five decades of the independence4.
In the year 1993, the government of India took a revolutionary step by making Panchayati Raj Institutions a part of the constitution. India has a long tradition of local governments, going back to more than 4000 years. This institution has survived numerous political changes and upheavals in the ancient and medieval periods till the advert of the British Raj. With the coming of the colonial administration, the patterns of the working of the local bodies underwent marked changes.
The word Panchayat has been derived from the Sanskrit word Panchasvanusthitah, that refers to an institution of the five persons who look decision on collective affairs of the village. The institution of Panchayati Raj is as old as Indian civilization itself. It was present since ancient periods, having control over civil and judicial matters in the village community. The Regvada Manusamhita, Dharmashastras, Upanishads, Jatakas and others, refer extensively to local administration. In the Manusmriti and Shantiparva of Mahabharata, there are several references to the existence of village councils. The initial reference to Panchayat is derived from the word Pancha, that refers to an institution of the five persons. Pancha panchavanustitsh finds mention in the Shantiparva of Mahabharata, Pancha and Panchavanustitsh are semantically close to Panchayat5.
A description of these village councils are also found in Arthashastr a of Kautilya who lived in 400 B.C Arthashastra gives a broad description of the system of village administration prevailing in his time. During this period, the village administration was carried under the control and supervision of Adyaksha or headman. There were other officials such as Chikitsaka (physician) Anikitsaka veterinary doctor, Samkhyaka (accountant) Jamgh Karmika (village couriers). The village headman was accountable for ensuring the collection of state taxes and controlling the activities of the offenders. In Ramayana of valmiki, there are references to the Ganapada (village federation) which was a kind of federation of village republics6. Self-governing of village communities characterized by agrarian economies existed in India from the earliest times. It is mentioned in Regveda that dates from approximately 200 B.C. The village was the basic unit of administration in the vedic era. The most notable feature of the early vedic policy consisted in the institution of popular assemblies of which two namely ‘ Sabha ’, and the ‘ Samiti ’ deserve special mention. A Samiti was a vedic folk assembly that in some cases enjoyed the right of electing a king while in Sabha exercised some judicial functions. Both the Samiti and Sabha enjoyed the rights to discuss, a benefit unidentified to the popular assemblies of other ancient people. The office of the village head man (Gramani) indicates the emergence of the village as a unit of administration. The village government was usually carried under his supervision and direction. Normally speaking there was only one headman for each village. Later, his post became hereditary the Gramini had a very status during Vedic times and was a linchpin of administration. In the later Vedic period, the Samiti disappeared as a popular assembly while the Sabha sank into a narrow body equivalent to the king’s privacy council10.
During that time, village bodies took the shape of Panchayats that looked into the affairs of the village. They had the power to enforce law and order. Customs and religion elevated them to the sacred position of authority. Besides this there was also the continuation of caste Panchayats. This was the pattern existed in Indo Gangetic plains. In the south, the village Panchayats normally had a village assembly whose decision-making body consisted of representatives of different groups and castes. These village bodies, both in the north and in the south India, had been the pivot of the administration, the center of social life and above all the focus of social solidarity8.
In the Mouryan period, the village was the basic unit of the administration. Villagers used to organize works of public utility recreation, settle disputes, and act as trustees for the property of minors. The local administration was very much developed throughout the reign of Chandragupta Maurya. His local administration was divided into two parts i.e., municipal administration and rural administration. As a great politician, Chandragupta Maurya knew that appropriate administration of a large empire is impossible without the help of an efficient grass-root administrative system. That is why he favored the establishment of Panchayats in the villages. The references in Kautilya’s Arthashastra suggest that the villages were the fundamental units of administration and were looked after by the village elders known as ‘Gram Vriddhas. Men who by their age, character and attainments acquired the confidence of the villagers were called Gram Vriddhas and their opinion was supposed to represent the wisdom of the village. Those village elders were also known as ‘Gramik’ who were the experienced persons performing the administrative and judicial functions. A ‘Gram Sabha’ was also constituted for the assistance of ‘Gramik’. There was an officer named ‘Gopa’ who used to check the work of the ‘Gramik’. The work of the ‘Gopa’ was checked by the ‘Sthanik’, that of ‘Sthanik’ by the Governor and that of the ‘Governor’ by the King himself. Villagers used to organize works of public utility and recreation, settle disputes, and act as trustees for the property of minors. But, they had not yet evolved regular councils. It shows that there was a well-linked chain of administration from the central to the very local level and was monitored and controlled by each other in a systematic way. In the Rashtrakuta kingdom the directly administered areas were divided into Rashtra, Visaya and Bhukti. The Visaya was like a modern district under the ‘Rashtra’ or the state and the ‘Bhukti’ was a smaller unit to it like the modern village. During the time of Rashtrakutas, village was the lowest territorial division and was the basic unit of administration. The village administration was carried out by the village headman and the village accountant whose posts were generally hereditary. The headman was often helped in his duties by the village elders called Grama Mahajana or Grama Mahattara. In the Rashtrakuta kingdom, there were village committees to manage local schools, tanks, temples and roads. Simple disputes were also decided by these committees. In the Pala and Pratihara empires, the unit below the Visaya was called Pattala. It was like village and served as major sources of revenue to the state. Information regarding village government in the Chola Empire can be revealed from a number of inscriptions. There were two assemblies, called Ur and the Sabha or Mahasabha. The Ur was general assembly of the village. The villages were endowed with autonomy. The affairs of the villages were managed by an executive committee constituted of persons owning property and who are elected for a period of three years9.
The Chola tradition of village self-government was significantly weakened during the rule of Vijayanagara. The growth of hereditary Nayakships tended to restrain their freedom and initiative. The Governors of the Provinces were noble princes at first. There was no regular term for Provincial Governor rather it depended on the capacity and strength of the person concerned. The Governor had the right to impose new taxes or remit old ones. When the Turks established their rule in India, they separated the local administration into a number of tracts called ‘iqtas’ which were parceled out among the chief Turkish nobles. The holders of these offices were called ‘Muqtis’ or ‘Walis’. The ‘Muqtis’ were expected to maintain law and order in their tracts, and collect land revenue from that. ‘Pargana’ was regarded as the lowest unit of administration. The head of the ‘Pargana’ was the ‘Amil’. However, there is no clear reference about how exactly the village was administered during that time. The village council appeared to have evolved into regular bodies in the Gupta era. They were known as Panchamandalas in central India and Gramajanapadas in Bihar. During the Gupta period, the rich dominant castes acquired power at the village level. Though each caste usually had its own Panchayat with the purpose to enforce caste rules and social customs upon its members, the village Panchayat gradually became the Panchayat of the dominant castes in which lower caste people could merely plead a case but could not participate in the process of decision making. There was no participation of females in such Panchayats. These Panchayats where neither democratic nor egalitarian10.
During the medieval and Moghal periods, village bodies were the pivot of administration. In the Moghal period, mainly in the regime of Sher-Shah, the villages were governed by their own Panchayats. Each Panchayat comprised of village elders who looked after the interest of the people and administered justice and imposed punishment on defaulters. The head man of the village, a semi government official, acted as a coordinator between the village Panchayat and the higher administrative hierarchy. Akbar acknowledged this system and made it an essential part of civil administration. In this period, each village had its own Panchayat of elders. It was autonomous in its own sphere and exercised power of local taxation, administrative justice, control and punishment11.
In the British period our villages remained backward and they lacked all the essentials of civilized existence. They did not have adequate communications, sanitations, public health, medical aid, good education facilities and all other things that a modern man needs as essentials of life. The British came to India as traders, and before long established an inroad into the cultural nexuses of the land. The primary focus of the British Raj was much to do with trade and little to do with governance and development. The local governments were hardly their first priority. During the British rule the Panchayati system was disrupted. For their exploitative interests the British replaced the village as a basic unit of administration, disrupted its old age socio-economic completion and changed the land settlement patterns. In place of village Panchayats the British rule erected its own administrative structure in which the district was the basic unit of the administration12.
In the early days the British did not show any interest to establish the village Panchayats, since they were concentrated mainly in and around the trading centers in towns, their interest was limited to the creation of local bodies of nominated members in the major towns, thus in 1687 a municipal corporation was established in madras now (Chennai) on the British modal of town council. The corporation was empowered to levy taxes for building guild hall and schools13. The madras was followed by the other two presidency towns of Bombey now (Mumbai) and Calcutta now (Kolkata) where municipal corporations where introduced in 1720 up to 1870 there were about 200 municipalities throughout British India. The logic of events and out of necessary two types of institutions, the district boards and the village Panchayats took shape in rural areas in the early stage of the British rule14.
In 1870, Lord Mayo (Governor General in council) Secured the passage of a resolution by his council for decentralization of power aimed at bringing about greater efficiency in administration in order to meet the demands of the people. However, the resolution was primarily passed to augment the impartial finances that where under considerable pressure because of the 1857 revolt15. In around the same time a significant step to revive the traditional Panchayats in Bangal was taken through Bangal Chowkidari Act of 1870, which authorized the district Magistrates to set up Panchayats of nominated members in the village. The Panchayats where empowered to levy and collect the taxes to pay for the chowkidars engaged by them16.
The year 1882, marks a watershed in the structural evolution of the local government in India, it was in 1882, that the government of Viceroy Lord Rippon passed a resolution providing for the establishment of local boards throughout the country, charged with definite funds composed of elected, non official members and presided over by a non official chairperson. Lord Rippon made incredible role to the development of local government. In 1982, he abandoned the existing system of local government by the officially elected people. According to his local self government plan, the local boards were split into smaller units to attain greater efficiency. In order to ensure popular participation, he introduced an election system for the local boards. The government resolution of 18th May, 1882, stands as the land mark in the structural evolution of local governments. The appearance on the scene of a ‘liberal’ like Lord Rippon as the Viceroy proved to be a watershed in the structural evolution of the local government in the country. It provided for local boards consisting of a large majority of elected non-official members and presided over by a non-official chairperson. This is considered to be a Megna Carta of local democracy in India. This resolution planned the establishment of rural local boards where 2/3rd of whose membership was composed of elected representatives. He brought in the concept of self-government in urban municipalities. He is treated as founding father of urban local government17.
During India’s freedom movement village Panchayats were central to its ideological framework. In 1906, the Indian national congress under the chairmanship of Dadabhai Naoroji affirmed self government as the political goal for the country. In 1907 the government constituted a six member Royal commission on decentralization, with R.C. Datt as its only Indian member. The report of the commission which was realized in 1909 elaborated the principles which were enunciated in the Rippon Resolution. The commission recommended that “it is most desirable, alike in the interested of decentralization and in order to associate the people with the local tasks of administration that an attempt should be made to constitute and develop village Panchayats for the administration of the village and Panchayats for the administration of the village affaires”18. In the same year the Indian national congress in its twenty forth session held at Lahore adapted a resolution urging the government to take early steps ‘to make all local bodies from village Panchayats upwards elective with electrical non-official chairman and to support them with adequate financial aid’19.
However the recommendations of the Royal commission on decentralization remained largely on paper, a fact that congress emphasized upon in a resolution adopted in its 28 session held at Karachi in December 1913. In her presidential address at the congress session in Calcutta in 1917. Dr. Annie Besant took strong exception to government’s non-seriousness over decentralization and blamed the ‘inefficient bureaucracy’ for not doing even the little that was recommended by the report of the royal commission on decentralization20.
Following this the government passed a resolution and endorsed the recommendation of the decentralization commission. With the emergence of Gandhi on the national political scene village Panchayats became integral part of his ideology he strongly pleaded for the decentralization of economic and political power and for him establishing and strengthening village Panchayats was a means of effective decentralization of power. He unequivocally stated his vision of village Panchayats in the following words.
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