since times immemorial india has been committed to democratic decentralisation . Self-governing village communities characterised by agricultural economies had existed in India since the Vedic times. Gram Samitis are mentioned in the Rig Veda. These village bodies were the lines of contact with higher authorities on matters affecting village welfare .
In the course of time these village bodies took the form of panchayats that looked after the affairs of villages. These village panchayats were endowed with judicial and police powers as well . They enjoyed sacred position of authority .
Evan during the medieval and Mughal Times panchayat enjoyed privileged position in village affairs. Though under the Mughals the judicial powers of panchayat were drastically reduced and cut down, local affairs still remained under their jurisdiction. A change came with the arrival of the British.
They did not believe in decentralisation of power -they centralised all judicial and police powers in their own hands. As result in the pre independence period panchayat lost much of their clout.
Despite India’s traditional commitment to decentralisation of power and despite the commitment of our freedom fighters , including Mahatma Gandhi to this ideal , the Framers of the Indian Constitution did practically nothing to re-establish panchayat in independent India .
The idea that village panchayat could play an important role in social transformation and implementation of development programmes could not , however , be so easily ignored .
Gandhi’s ideal of gram swaraj was there to help visionaries in Indian police to implement the system of community development. Under this system each state was divided into a number of blocks. The panchayat raj institutions were conceived as local bodies meant to ensure people’s participation in development programmes . This system, however, did not produce the desired results .
In 1977 the Government of India appointed the Ashok Mehta Committee to review the working of the Community Development Programmes in the whole country.
The Committee’s report suggested measures to strengthen the panchayat raj institutions so that the decentralised system of planning and development could become effective .
The Commitee suggested that the whole system be so organised that village folk participate in their own affairs and develop a capacity to take decision. The Committee also recommended that there should be elected bodies at village , block and district levels . However , because of the lack of constitutional support state governments did not take up the task of the creation of panchayat seriously and in a big way .
It was in the last decade of the previous century that serious efforts were made to implement the idea of Democratic decentralisation in right earnest . The 73rd third and 74th Constitution Amendment acts were introduced in the parliament in 1992 . These amendments brought about a fundamental change not only in the realm of local self-government but also in India’s Federal character.
These constitution amendments widened the base of indian polity . Before these amendments india’s democratic structure through elected representative was restricted to Parliament and the assemblies.
The new amendments provided for election to panchayat as well . Now there are hundreds of district panchayats , thousand of block panchayat , and more than 2 lakh Gram panchayats. Secondly these amendments have brought about a significant change in the federal structure . India has now become a multilevel federalism with elected local bodies at the district level and below.
After the constitutional amendments became effective in 1993 , the panchayat raj movement moved at a fast pace in Madhya Pradesh . The new Panchayat Raj act came into force in 1994 . The act includes provision for the gram sabha and its powers and function . The function of gram panchayats in the Act are basically of a Municipal natural .
The function of Janpad Panchayat relate to the management of public markets , mela , emergency relief and work relating to rural development , agriculture , the Welfare of weaker section . The district panchayats have the function of control , coordination of Janpad , and Gram panchayats and securing execution of inter-janpad plans and works.
On 26 January 2001 the state government introduced Gram Swaraj . This new system aims at making each village a social and economics unit with the gram sabha empowered to prepare , approve and implement development schemes of their respective village.
One of the most positive results of these constitutional amendments has been women’s participation in the democratic institutions in a massive way at the district , block and village levels . 10s of thousands of women are performing leadership roles to transform the country into an egalitarian society .
The experiences of women members of panchayats from various parts of the country show that they have to face a strong opposition from men folk .
These representatives of local bodies have not been treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. Field experience show that elected women numbers face indifference from their male counterparts in the meeting; the Bureaucracy also shows a scant respect towards them.
They are , many a time , used as proxy members by their male family numbers who wield the real power. In many cases elected women members face violence if thay dare to show dissent .
Working conditions in the panchayats are far from congenial from women’s points of view . Besides these handicaps , the general atmosphere of Indian politics has been visited by violence , petty-mindeness and corruption. Elections have become a show of money and muscle power .
All these factors affect the choice of deserving candidates among women and also their effectiveness once they are elected.
Astrocities against women representatives have taken place and continue to take place in serving parts of the country. These are cases of numerous no-confidence motion being brought against female sarpanches so that male Deputy chairpersons in Panchayat Raj Institutions could oust unwanted women office until fresh election are held.
Then , Panchayat Raj Institutions are facing opposition from another quarter as well . The forces against the devolution of power to the panchayat as well as strengthening democracy at the grass roots are still very potent . Deliberate attempts on the part of wasted interests supporting the status quo are creating scepticism about the working of the panchayat raj Institutions. Rumours and criticism vitiate the atmosphere further .
However, a strong campaign to make panchayats an integral part of people’s live is imperative. Now we have three tiers of governments – the union, the state and the panchayats . A more radical change is difficult to visualise.
Its implications are far- reaching . Moreover, it is hoped that the new system would bring about transparency in public affairs. The process of change is irreversible and panchayats are expected to play their destined role in making India a great and prosperous country.