Panchayat literally means “group of five persons“.
- Panchayati Raj provides a system of local self-government.
- It was included in the constitution through 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992.
- It was introduced to bring democracy at the grass root level.
- Panchayati Raj works at three levels: Village, Block and District.
Panchayat at Village level:
It comprises of Gram Sabha, Gram Panchayat and Nyaya Panchayat.
- It is a meeting of residents living in the area covered by Panchayat.
- It may include one or more villages.
- Anyone who is 18 years or above and has the right to vote can become the member of Gram Sabha.
- All the plans for the work of Panchayat are placed before the people.
- It is a place where people can directly ask questions to their elected representatives.
- In some states, Gram Sabha forms committees like development committee, construction committee, etc.
- The village Panchayat is divided into “wards“.
- Each ward elects a “Panch“.
- The members (Panchs) of Gram Sabha elect the head of the Gram Sabha who is known as “Panchayat President” or “Sarpanch“.
- It also has a Secretary who is also the secretary of Gram Sabha.
- The Secretary is appointed by government and is responsible for calling meetings of Gram Sabha and Gram Panchayat.
- The Panchayat meets regularly.
- The work of Gram Panchayat has to be approved by Gram Sabha.
- One of the main tasks of Panchayat is to implement developmental programmes.
- The other works of Gram Panchayat include levying and collecting taxes, executing government schemes, organising health camps, maintenance of construction of roads, drainage, schools, buildings and common properties.
- Panchayat gets its income from taxes, government funds, donations, etc.
- It is a village court.
- It settles minor disputes and provides speedy judgements.
- Generally, there is one Nyaya Panchayat for 4-5 villages.
- It can impose fines but can’t send anyone to jail.
Panchayat at Block Level:
- At the block level, Panchayati Raj institution is known as Janpad Panchayat / Block Samiti / Panchayat Samiti.
- It acts as a link between Gram Panchayat and Zila Parishad.
- It is elected for five years.
- The head of Samiti is known as “Pramukh” (Chairperson).
- It also includes Sarpanchs of all Gram Panchayats, members of State Legislature and members of Parliament elected from that area.
- The Block Developmental Officer (BDO) is responsible for implementing all policies related to the development of the block.
- BDO is appointed by government.
- The functions of Block Samiti include giving advice in the field of agriculture, animal husbandry, setting up rural industries, arranging primary education, shelters for homeless, arranging night schools for adults, developing sewage system, etc.
- The Samiti gets its income from government grants, cattle revenue, taxes on electricity, water, etc.
Panchayat at District Level:
- Zila Parishad is the apex institution of Panchayati Raj.
- It comprises of President and Vice-President chosen by the members.
- Block Samiti, members of State Legislature and members of Parliament are ex-officio members of Zila Parishad.
- It looks after the developmental activities of the whole district.
- A government official of District Magistrate rank looks after the proper working of the Parishad.
- The functions of Parishad include supervising the works of Gram Panchayats and Block Samitis, examining the accounts of Block Samiti and allocating funds for various programmes, supervising Community Development Programmes and updating state government about it, etc.
- The Parishad gets its income mainly from government aids, taxes on electricity, water, markets, and revenue generated from leasing out shops and houses.
The Panchayati Raj system encourages democratic decentralisation.