Historically, panchayats have been an integral part of rural India. Although the framework for panchayati raj was laid on 2 October 1959 in Nagaur district, Rajasthan by Jawaharlal Nehru, it received constitutional status (with the passing of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act) only in 1993.
The three-tier panchayati raj system will complete 20 years of existence on 24 April 2012. In these 20 years, panchayats have given a new direction to rural development, and women, scheduled castes and tribes, and other marginalized sections of society have become actors in the socio-economic development of their communities through representation in these local bodies. Today, via the gram sabha, citizens have the space to get involved in the development of their village. People are more aware of their rights. Yet, despite these changes, how successful have panchayati raj institutions truly been in letter and spirit as envisaged in the constitution? On the occasion of completing 20 years as constitutionally mandated institutions of local self-governance, this is a pertinent question to ask.
More than a decade after PRIA published Panchayati Raj Institutions: A Balance Sheet in which it raised critical issues for the effective functioning of panchayati raj institutions, the balance sheet is still unfavourable. The issues remain:
- - Inadequacy of the gram sabha
- - Lack of participation of women and other marginalized sections in the gram sabha
- - Delimitation of panchayats
- - Puppet candidates in panchayat elections
- - Poor representation of women and other marginalized sections in panchayats
- - Lack of plan preparation at the gram sabha and panchayat levels
- - Economic non-viability of panchayati raj institutions
Nearly two-thirds of the country’s population resides in its 640,867 villages. There are 247,000 panchayats and 30 lakh directly elected representatives to panchayati raj institutions. These institutions and representatives are responsible for the economic development with social justice of this large section of the population. Looking at the condition of panchayats today, what should be done to strengthen panchayati raj institutions so that they can fulfill this role? How can they become more effective players in bringing about equitable socio-economic development? In this context, it is also crucial to look at the formation and functioning of state election commissions, state finance commissions and district planning committees.
PRIA is facilitating half-day workshops with civil society organizations and networks of panchayati raj institutions in Bihar, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh to debate these and other issues. Join us and participate in these discussions to find the best way to take forward the mandate for local governance in letter and spirit.
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