The interesting facts about Panchayati Raj System in India are listed below:
1. Panchayati Raj represents a powerful example of Local-Self Government at the village, block and the district levels.
2. There are 234,078 Panchayati Raj institutions in the country.
(i) Gram Panchayats
(ii) Panchayat Samitis
(iii) Zila Parishads Total
3. Mahatma Gandhi had forewarned that if the village perished, India would perish. So he pleaded for strong and vibrant villages which should be self-contained.
He also talked of gram swaraj and advocated Panchayats which should have all the authority and jurisdiction required the Panchayat should be the legislature, the judiciary and the executive combined to operate in office. There should be perfect democracy based upon the individual freedom.
This dream of Gandhiji is now being realised through the devolution of powers and the coming up of the Panchayati Raj institutions in the country. The 73rd Constitution Amendment Act, 1992 came into force from 24th April, 1993 and it lays down the foundations of strong and vibrant Panchayati Raj institutions in the country.
The Act has the objectives of placing more powers in the hands of the people enhancing their capabilities to involve themselves in the process of planning at the village level, decentralising execution of all developmental activities and orienting developmental administration towards people’s participation through the process of participatory democracy.
4. The Constitution empowers Panchayati Raj institutions to function as institutions of Self-Government. They are also endowed with devolution of powers and responsibilities at appropriate levels regarding preparation and implementation of schemes related to economic development and social justice.
5. Panchayati Raj institutions are now constitutional entities. The main features are:
(i) Regular elections every five years: Direct elections at village and block levels and district level.
(ii) Reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population in the area concerned to a maximum of 1/3rd. Similar reservation for the offices of the chairpersons at all levels.
(iii) Reservation of not less than l/3rd of the seats for women. Similar reservation for the office of chairpersons at all levels.
(iv) Powers and financial resources for development plans.
(v) States may make reservation for backward classes.
(vi) Constitution of State Election Commissions.
The elections to the Panchayats will not be managed by the Election Commission of India but by the State Election Commissions.
6. To extend the benefits of the Panchayati Raj institutions to the large tribal population living in the areas covered under the 5th Schedule, the Government of India enacted the provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (24.12.1996).
Under this Act, the State Governments are required to make certain exceptions and modifications as per the provisions of the Act in the Panchayat Raj legislation while extending it to scheduled areas keeping in view the customary law, social and religious practices and traditional management practices of the tribal population and to protect their interests.
The State Governments having scheduled areas under the 5th Schedule have to initiate necessary action to extend Panchayat Raj system to the scheduled areas within the stipulated period of one year from 24.12.1997. This Act extends the Panchayats to the tribal areas of eight States viz., Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh. Orissa and Rajasthan.
7. In order to make Panchayati Raj institutions effective there is need for providing functional and financial autonomy. It is also essential to ensure transparency in their functioning. Here, Gram Sabha can play a vital role. It can ensure social audit and villagers can fix responsibility on Panchayat functionaries. If Gram Sabha is empowered, people will realise its importance and make it more effective.
8. The Ministry of Rural Development organised a conference of the Chief Ministers in August, 1997, to review the functioning of the Panchayati Raj institutions. Among the items discussed were:
(i) Devolution of powers, functioning and responsibilities of the Panchayati Raj institutions.
(ii) Role and powers of Gram Sabha,
(iii) Training and capacity building of Panchayati Raj institutions,
(iv) Empowerment and capacity building of the village community,
(v) Constitution of District Planning Committee,
(vi) Election to Panchayati Raj institutions after the 73rd Amendment Act, and
(vii) Follow-up action in respect of the provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996.
9. As a result of the elections of the Panchayats in the States there are about 3.4 million elected representatives at all levels of the Panchayat. A large number of them are new entrants, particularly from weaker sections and women.
It is necessary to build their capabilities to formulate and execute various programmes of economic development and social justice. Thus, a time-bound training programme is needed to make the Panchayati Raj institutions more effective.
10. In order to make the Panchayati Raj institutions financially independent, all State Governments have been advised to set up their own Finance Commissions which would recommend to the State Governments as to the revenues out of the State List which may be specifically assigned to the Panchayats instead of grants to the Panchayats made by the State Governments. The State Finance Commissions will only select items out of the State List of items and are not entitled to touch the Central List.