Review of 30 years of Panchayati Raj Institutions

OCT 19

Mains   > Constitution   >   Local self governance   >   Panchayati Raj

IN NEWS:

  • 2022 marked the 30th anniversary of the Panchayati Raj Institutions.

PANCHAYATI RAJ INSTITUTION:

  • The Panchayati Raj is a system of local self-government in India.
  • It is a three-tiered Indian administrative organisation for the development of rural areas.
  • Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) aims to establish local self-government in villages, zones and districts.
  • PRI was established by the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992.
  • It aims to promote democracy at grassroots level and to oversee the country's regional development.

SALIENT FEATURES OF 73RD AMENDMENT ACT OF 1992:

  • This act has added a new Part-IX to the Constitution of India.
  • This part is entitled as ‘The Panchayats’ and consists of provisions from Articles 243 to 243 O.
  • In addition, the act has also added a new Eleventh Schedule to the Constitution. This schedule contains 29 functional items of the panchayats. It deals with Article 243-G.
  • The act has given a practical shape to Article 40 of the Constitution
  • Justiciable part of the Constitution:
    • The act gives a constitutional status to the panchayati raj institutions. It has brought them under the purview of the justiciable part of the Constitution.
    • In other words, the state governments are under constitutional obligation to adopt the new panchayati raj system in accordance with the provisions of the act.
  • The provisions of the act can be grouped into two categories—compulsory and voluntary
  • Compulsory provisions:
    • Organisation of Gram Sabha in a village or group of villages.
    • Establishment of panchayats at the village, intermediate and district levels.
    • Direct elections to all seats in panchayats at the village, intermediate and district levels.
    • Indirect elections to the post of chairperson of panchayats at the intermediate and district levels.
    • 21 years to be the minimum age for contesting elections to panchayats
    • Reservation of seats (both members and chairpersons) for SCs and STs in panchayats at all the three levels.
    • Reservation of one-third seats (both members and chairpersons) for women in panchayats at all the three levels.
    • Fixing tenure of five years for panchayats at all levels and holding fresh elections within six months in the event of supersession of any panchayat.
    • Establishment of a State Election Commission for conducting elections to the panchayats.
    • Constitution of a State Finance Commission after every five years to review the financial position of the panchayats.
  • The following areas have been exempted from the operation of the Act because of the socio-cultural and administrative considerations:
    • Scheduled areas listed under the Schedule V of the Constitution.
    • The states of Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram.
    • The hill areas of district of Darjeeling in the state of West Bengal for which Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council exists

PANCHAYAT RAJ INSTITUTIONS' SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENTS:

  • Women’s representation increased:
    • The most noteworthy development is significant women’s representation in Panchayats. The proportion of elected women representatives has been steadily rising since the enactment of the 73rd amendment Act.
    • Currently, India has 260,512 Panchayats with 3.1 million elected representatives, of which a record 1.3 million are women.
    • Thus far, this is India’s most transformative affirmative action policy for women as far as grassroots politics goes.  
    • While there is merely 7–8 percent representation in Parliament and State Assemblies for women, an astounding 49 percent of elected local representatives (in states like Odisha it has crossed 50 percent) are women.
  • Healthy competition among states and improved democratic decentralization:
    • 73rd amendment act has also created healthy competition among various states regarding devolution (the 3Fs: funds, functions, and functionaries).
    • For example, while Kerala has devolved all 29 functions to Panchayats, Rajasthan took the inspiration from Kerala to devolve many key departments such as health, education, women, and agriculture to PRIs.
    • Similarly, Bihar came out with the idea of “Panchayat Sarkar” and states such as Odisha have increased 50 percent seats for women
    • In other words, democratic decentralisation has taken a deep root and looks very much ‘irreversible’.
  • Positive impacts due to political representation of women and SC/STs:
    • Various research using PRIs has shown that having female political representation in local governments makes women more likely to come forward and report crimes.
    • Also, female PRI leaders are more likely to focus on issues pertinent to women.
    • For instance, Esther Duflo and Raghavendra Chattopadhyay, in a major field study involving the working of PRIs in West Bengal and Rajasthan observed that women’s representation in the local bodies has had a net positive impact on the delivery of local public goods (eg. greater investments are made in drinking water) to marginalised communities.
    • They also show that SC sarpanch/pradhans are more likely to invest in public goods in SC hamlets—an important change in the severely segregated villages of India.
    • In a country where access is determined by gender and caste, even more than economic status, these changes are remarkable.

ISSUES FACED BY PRIs:

  • Lack of devolution of power by State government:
    • While some States like Kerala, West Bengal, Karnataka have devolved as many as 26 departments to Panchayats, several States have devolved only as low as three functions.
    • In large number of cases, states that have devolved these departments to PRIs do so on paper. It is respective line departments and bureaucrats who call the shots.
  • Parallel bodies to take over the functions assigned for Panchayat:
    • Many states have created parallel bodies to take over the functions assigned for panchayats.
    • For instance, recently the Haryana government created a Rural Development Agency under the chairmanship of the chief minister to oversee the works of local bodies.
  • Little effort to build capacity:
    • Despite 30 years of their existence, there have been little efforts to strengthen the capacities of these institutions.
    • Not only very few States have done some work on internalising the planning process (mapping core activities) of panchayats, several States have not even paid any attention to build the capacities of the newly elected representatives, many of whom are first-timers and belongs to the most vulnerable sections particularly the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes and women.
  • Inadequate financial powers:
    • Inadequate financial powers have kept these self-governing institutions at the mercy of state and central governments.
    • Financial resources generated by PRIs fall far short of their requirements >> more than 93 per cent of the total revenues of rural bodies were derived from external sources.
    • Further, their power of taxation has been very restricted. The major sources of income for local governments like property tax etc. are woefully inadequate to meet their obligations both due to their inherent nature and inefficiency in collecting them.
  • Issues with State Finance Commissions:
    • Recommendatory in nature
      • The recommendations of the Central Finance Commissions are not mandatory but from the beginning, successive Union Governments have established a healthy tradition of accepting the devolution package suggested by the Finance Commission without any deviation.
      • However, this tradition has not been established in the States, as a result even if recommended by the SFCs, State Governments often do not commit adequate resources for the local governments.
    • No adequate emphasis on outcome of devolutions.
      • Although SFCs, while making their recommendations about devolution of funds also give their recommendations on other matters affecting the resources of the local bodies, there has not been adequate emphasis on the outcomes of such devolutions.
  • Politicization of PRIs:
    • It is being increasingly noticed that the Panchayati Raj Institutions are viewed only as organisational arms of political parties, especially of the ruling party in the state.
  • Interference of MPs and MLAs:
    • The interference of area MPs and MLAs in the functioning of panchayats also adversely affected their performance.
  • Proxy representation:
    • Though women and SC/STs has got representation in PRIs through reservation >> there is a presence of Sarpanch-Pati and proxy representation in case of women and SC/STs representatives respectively.
  • Issues with State Election Commission:
    • The tenure and conditions, qualifications and conditions of service of State Election Commissions vary greatly across States
  • Unscientific distribution of functions:
    • Distribution of functions between the structures at different levels has not been made along scientific lines.
    • The blending of development and local self-government functions has significantly curtailed the autonomy of the local self-government institutions >> again it has converted them into governmental agencies.
  • Incompatible relation between the three-tiers:
    • The three-tiers do not operate as functional authorities. The tendency on the part of the higher structure to treat the lower structure as its subordinate is markedly visible.
  • Lack of accountability:
    • In many cases, local governments face the problems of corruption, patronage, arbitrary exercise of power and inefficiency which have bedevilled governance. This failure is part of a larger process of democratic evolution.

STEPS TAKEN TO STRENGTHEN PRIs:

  • Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Abhiyan (RGSA):
    • It is a centrally sponsored scheme.
    • It aims for developing and strengthening the capacities of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) for rural local governance to become more responsive towards local development needs.
  • e-GramSwaraj:
    • To strengthen e-Governance in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) across the country, Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MoPR) has launched eGramSwaraj, a user friendly web-based portal.
    • It unifies the planning, accounting and monitoring functions of Gram Panchayats.
  • AuditOnline:
    • As a critical institutional reform, Ministry of Panchayati Raj has launched the AuditOnline application in 2020 for carrying out online Audits of Panchayat accounts.
  • People’s Plan Campaign (PPC)- Sabki Yojana Sabka Vikas
    • The central government launched People's Plan Campaign, also known as “Sabki Yojana Sabka Vikas” from September 2019.
    • It aims to draw up Gram Panchayat Development Plans (GPDPs) in the country and place them on a website where anyone can see the status of the various government’s flagship schemes.
  • National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj
    • It is an autonomous organisation under the Union Ministry of Rural Development and is a premier national centre of excellence in rural development and Panchayati Raj.
    • It builds capacities of rural development functionaries, elected representatives of PRIs, bankers, NGOs and other stakeholders through inter-related activities of training, research and consultancy
  • National Panchayat Awards:
    • Under this programme best performing Panchayats were selected based on various criteria and indicators.
  • SWAMITVA Scheme
    • SWAMITVA stands for Survey of Villages and Mapping with Improvised Technology in Village Areas
    • The scheme aims to provide the ‘record of rights’ to village household owners possessing houses in inhabited rural areas in villages and issuance of property cards to the property owners >> This empowers PRIs with better data on land ownership.

WAY FORWARD:

  • Capacity building:
    • Training of elected representatives and personnel should be regarded as a continuing activity.
    • State Governments should encourage local bodies to outsource specific functions to public or private agencies, as may be appropriate, through enabling guidelines and support.
    • A pool of experts and specialists (e.g. engineers, planners etc.) could be maintained by a federation/consortium of local bodies. This common pool could be then accessed by the local bodies whenever required for specific tasks.
  • More devolution of financial powers to the PRIs
    • This is the need of the hour to make them as viable institutions to effect change in the socio-economic development of the rural India.
  • Role of Union Government in ensuring devolution of power to PRIs:
    • The Union Government also needs to financially incentivize states to encourage effective devolution to the panchayats in functions, finances, and functionaries.

Recommendations of 2nd ARC:

    • Devolution of Powers and Responsibilities
      • There should be clear delineation of functions for each level of local government in the case of each subject matter law.
    • Electoral process:
      • The task of delimitation and reservation of constituencies should be entrusted to the State Election Commissions
      • Local government laws in all States should provide for adoption of the Assembly electoral rolls for local governments without any revision of names by SECs.
    • Reforms in SECs
      • State Election Commission should be brought under the control of the Election Commission of India. Such a measure would give the State Election Commission the required independence from State Governments and they would be able to discharge their duties in an objective manner.
    • Constitution of Legislative Council
      • Parliament should provide for constitution of a Legislative Council in each State, consisting of members elected by the local governments.
    • Accountability and Transparency
      • Evaluation of Performance of Local Bodies:
        • Local bodies have to be evaluated in terms of efficiency, effectiveness and resource mobilisation, apart from the efforts to promote participation and transparency as indicated above.One way of achieving this would be to benchmark the performance of local bodies.
      • Legislative Oversight:
        • Howsoever independent the third tier of governance may become, it should still be responsible to the State Legislature.The Commission is of the considered view that legislative supervision can be ensured by institutionalising a separate Committee on Local Bodies in the State Legislature.
      • Independent Grievance Redressal Mechanism (Local Body Ombudsman):
        • This would provide a platform to the citizens for voicing their complaints and also bring out the deficiencies in the system for suitable remedial action.
      • Social Audit
        • Institutionalising a system of social audit is essential for improving local service delivery and for ensuring compliance with laws and regulations.
        • An effective system of social audit will have to be based on two precepts; first, that service standards are made public through citizens’ charters and second, that periodic suo motu disclosure is made on attainment of service delivery standards by the local bodies.
        • Social audit processes are also important to ensure effectiveness.

For extra reading: https://ilearncana.com/details/Role-of-Panchayati-Raj-Institutions/2489

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. “PRI has been in existence for 30 years in its current shape and organisation. However, there is still more work to be done in terms of decentralisation and strengthening democracy at the grassroots level.” Discuss.