Panchayats – Rural Local Self Government
The concept of Panchayati Raj is continuing from many centuries. But it got constitutional nod after enactment of 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992. After constitutional amendment, every state shall constitute Panchayats at all three levels. The democracy at grass root level is essential for sustainable and development of rural area. Article 243 (A to O) deals with composition, election and powers of Panchayat at all 3 levels.
Gram Sabha and Panchayats
- The Gram Sabha means a body consisting of all persons registered in electoral rolls (i.e. all registered voters) within area of Panchayat at Village level.
- The Gram Sabha shall exercise such powers and functions as may be decided by Legislature of State.
- 3 Tier System – Every state shall constitute Panchayats at the village, intermediate and district levels. The Panchayat at intermediate level may not be constituted if population of state is less than 20 lakhs. Generally called Gram Panchayat at village, Panchayat Samiti at intermediate level and Zila Parishad at district level.
- All the seats in Panchayat shall be filled by direct election from territorial constituency in each panchayat area. Each Panchayat shall be divided into territorial constituencies such that ratio of population of each constituency and number of seats shall be same throughout the state.
- The validity of any law relating to the delimitation of constituencies or the allotment of seats to such constituencies shall not be called in question in any court;
- The Chairperson of Panchayat at village level shall be elected in such manner as decided by state legislature. At intermediate and district level, the Chairpersons shall be elected by and amongst the elected members thereof.
- The Legislature may by law provide representation of MLAs and MPs of their constituency in Panchayats of their area.
- SC and STs – The Seats shall be reserved for SC and ST in every Panchayat as per their population in Panchayat area and such seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies. At least one third of total seats, reserved for SC/STs, shall be reserved for women belonging to SC or ST as case may be.
- Women – At least one third of total number of seats (including seats reserved for women belongs to SC and STs) to be filled by direct election in every Panchayat shall be reserved for women and such seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies.
- Chairperson Office – The reservation of SC, ST or Women in office of Chairpersons shall be decided by State Legislature. Provided that number of office of Chairpersons reserved for SC/ST shall be in same proportion of their population in the Panchayats at each level. Also at least one third of total offices of Chairpersons shall be reserved for Women in Panchayats at each level.
Election Commission and Duration of Panchayats
- Every Panchayat shall continue for 5yrs from date appointed its first meeting unless dissolved earlier under any law for time being in force.
- The election of each Panchayat shall be held after every 5yrs before expiry of term or within 6months after dissolution of Panchayat.
- State Election Commission – Every State shall constitute a State Election Commission consisting of a State Election Commissioner (SEC) to be appointed by Governor. The superintendence, direction and control of preparation of electoral rolls and conduct of all elections shall be vested in commission.
- The State Legislature is empowered to make laws regarding conditions of service of SEC provided that conditions of service of SEC shall not be varied to his disadvantage. The SEC can’t be removed from his office except in like manner and on like grounds as a judge of HC.
Powers and Functions
- Every State Legislature by law may endow the Panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government. Such a law may contain provisions of devolution of powers and responsibilities upon Panchayat in relation to a) preparation of plans for economic development and social justice and b) implementation of schemes for economic development and social justice in matters as decided including matters in Eleventh Schedule.
- Eleventh Schedule – It contains 29 items placed within purview of panchayat such as Agriculture, Roads, horticulture, fisheries, cottage & small scale industries, Land consolidation & improvement, drinking water, Health & Sanitation, education (primary & secondary schools), Women & Child development, PDS, culture activities, Rural Electrification, rural housing, water management, family and community welfare (includes weaker sections and handicapped).
- Finances – The State legislature may by law authorizes Panchayat to levy, collect and appropriate such taxes, tolls and fees as may be determined. Also provide grants in aid to Panchayats as required for development or social justice.
State Finance Commission
- The Governor of State shall constitute a Finance Commission after every 5th year to review financial position of Panchayats and to make recommendations in relation to
- The distribution b/w State and Panchayats of net proceeds of taxes, duties or fees leviable by state and allocation of funds b/w Panchayats at all levels.
- determination of taxes, duties, fees or tolls may be assigned to Panchayats;
- grants in aid to Panchayats;
- measures need to improve the financial position of Panchayats.
- Any other matter referred to commission by governor in interests of sound finance.
- Disqualifications – A person can be disqualified from being chosen as a Member of Panchayat if he is so disqualified under any law made by Legislature of the State either generally or for purpose of elections. But he can’t be disqualified on grounds that he is < 25yrs of age if he has attained age of 21yrs.
- Accounts & Audit – The Legislature may by law make provisions related with respect to maintenance of accounts of Panchayats and auditing of such accounts.
- Union Territory – The President may direct that provisions of this part shall apply to UT subject to such exceptions or modifications.
- Exempted Area – No Provision of this part applies to a) J&K, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram; b) scheduled and tribal area in the states, c) hill area of Manipur and d) Dist of Darjeeling of West Bengal where Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council exists.
- However Parliament may by law extend the provisions of this part to scheduled and tribal areas with modifications. So Parliament enacted Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA).