National Panchayati Raj Day Special
By: Priyanka Saurabh
The 73rd Constitution Amendment Act 1992 is an important milestone in the development of democratic institutions at the grassroots level in the country. It transformed representative democracy into participatory democracy. Building democracy at the grassroots level in the country is a revolutionary concept. However, even after decades of this historic amendment, Panchayati Raj Institutions are lagging in the development process.
Gandhiji’s dream of Gram Swaraj was realized through the Panchayati Raj system. These are local self-governing bodies that ensure the opportunity for people participation and participation in the formulation and implementation of rural development programs. The main objective of the Panchayat system in India is to strengthen the base of democracy at the grassroots level. It was presented as a genuinely democratic political system that brought the masses under active political control from below the vast majority of the weaker, poorer sections of rural India. Panchayats play a catalytic role in integrating the development of tribal people in rural areas.
The planning documents of both the Central and State Governments and various committees have emphasized the importance of these bodies in the state system. Special emphasis has also been laid on the role of Panchayats in rural development in the five-year plans. Rural development includes measures to strengthen the democratic structure of society through Panchayati Raj Institutions. Panchayati Raj Institutions have been used to improve the distribution system related to rural infrastructure, the income of rural households, and education, health, and security systems. These institutions have to be motivated to be effective means of social and economic change at the local level. Reservations for women (33%) have increased their presence in public life.
Given the failure of democratic decentralization, especially in panchayats, its over-reliance on government financing has weakened it; the Panchayat has its resource base for raising funds and financial resources are tied to certain schemes and initiatives. When panchayats do not mobilize resources and instead rely on external funding, people are less likely to implement social audits and the effectiveness of schemes. In the case of urban local bodies, for example, most municipalities have not raised property taxes for many years and have not benefited from the improvement of the city’s infrastructure.
Parallel bodies have occupied the legitimate position of local bodies. For example, the smart city scheme is being implemented in major cities through special purpose vehicles, squeezing the limited space of urban local government in municipalities. The States have not developed functions, funds, and functionaries to enable local bodies to discharge their constitutionally prescribed functions. In many gram panchayats, sarpanches have to spend extra time approaching block officers for funds and technical approval. This interaction with the Block Staff Office distorts the role of Sarpanches as elected representatives.
It has been found that about 25% of Gram Panchayats do not have basic office buildings. Capacity building of elected representatives is another hurdle in grassroots democracy. In the case of urban local bodies, the position of mayor is only formal. Given all these, measures are needed to strengthen the Panchayats; the Central Government has started the National Gram Swaraj Abhiyan. This campaign is being run under the name of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Gaon, Sabka Vikas”. Its purpose is to prepare Gram Panchayat Vikas Yojanas (GPDPs) in the country and place them on a website where one can see the status of various major schemes of the government.
Gram Panchayats have been made obligated to prepare GPDP for economic development and social justice using the resources available to them. The Government of India has prepared e-Panchayat Mission Mode Project to make the functioning of all Panchayats more efficient and transparent. Transparent, third-party social audits can enable people to hold delegates accountable. In the case of Gram Sabhas, their functions and roles should be clearly defined in PESA Act, so that they can function effectively.
Time demands that overall change in people’s lives be brought about by raising the socioeconomic and health status of the people through effective engagement through community, government, and other development agencies. The demands of the people for sustainable decentralization and advocacy should be focused on the agenda of decentralization. The framework needs to be developed to accommodate the demands of decentralization. We see state governments manipulating the election and tenure of panchayats for their political gain; that shouldn’t happen. Timely elections of Panchayats can enhance its dignity. (The author is a Research Scholar in Political Science, Poet, independent journalist, and a columnist.)