Essay: The institution of the village Panchayat has a long history in India

(ii) The collection of taxes from the procedure of the land.

(iii) Inquiry into offences and punishment of offenders.

Where matters pertaining to any village were concerned, the rules had to take the opinion of the village Panchyat as far as possible.

The duties and powers of Panchyat were prescribed in the smritis and in treatises such as Chanakya’s Arthasastra and shukracharya’s Nitisatra. The institution of the panchayat continued to enjoy autonomy until it was destroyed during the time of the Turkish and Afghan invasions.

By the time British rule came to be established in India, panchayats had more or less lost their importance and identity. They first attempt by the British to establish local self-government was in 1869 when a District Local Fund committed was established by the government of Bombay. This was a nominated body.

In 1882, Lord Ripon established local self- government in India with the seating up of district local boards. The district boards and district councils were established in Maratheada and vidarbh.

The local self Government Act was enacted in 1889, under which the rule local administration was determined by a group of circles, each consisting a certain number of villages.

The next important piece of legislation was the Bombay village panchyat Act 1920. Under this Act, the Panchayats was constituted into an elected body. Members were elected by adult male villagers and the Panchayat was entrusted with local functions, mainly of a civil nature. Panchayat were empowered to collect compulsory house taxes.

The Bombay Village Panchayat Act 1920 empowered village Panchayats to take up various activities, including some social-economic functions, and gave the power to heavy taxes and duties in order to increase their income.

Although Panchayats were revived by Lord Ripon in 1882, they did not, any real sense, represent the will of the people and a panchayat could hardly be said to be the equivalent of local self government.

After independence, the process of decentralization continued to be in operation. In Bihar, the Panchayat Raj Act was enacted in 1948 and in Rajasthan; the Panchayat Act was introduced in the year 1953.

After the reorganisation of states in 1956, laws to introduce the Panchayat system in different stator were gradually enacted. This process was almost complete in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Madras, Mysore, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Utter Pradesh and Bombay.

The Bombay Village Panchyats Act was enacted in Producers for seeking legal redress through judicial courts are both long and enormously complicated, and also involve considerable expenses. It is because of this that several different and newer ways of setting disputes both quickly and inexpensively have come up.

One such method is the Lok Adalat 1958. Under the Act, a district village for the supervision and control of village Panchayats. These Mandals were, however, abolished in 1962.

Apart from this enactment in various states, a direction is contained in the Constitution of India in Article 40 which says that “The State shall take steps to organize village Panchyats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.

Under the new enactment, a Gram Sabha of adult residents in the village was constituted, and it was made obligatory on the Panchayats to hold meetings of the Gram Sabha within two months from the commencement of every financial year and to prepare an annual statement of accounts to be placed before such a meeting.

The administrative report, the proposed development programmes, adult report, compliance of adult objections and other such matters were also required to be placed before this meeting. In some states, the work of collection of land revenue was entrusted to Panchayats, as was the work of maintaining village records. Group Nyaya Panchyats were established, but later they were abolished.

Obligatory duties of the Panchayats were mainly of a civil nature that is, making provisions for sanitation, street lights and drinking water. The discretionary functions covered the fields of agriculture, cooperation, animal husbandry, forests, social welfare, education, medical and public health, buildings and communication, irrigation, cottage industry, self-defence and other such administrative and development works.

Village Panchayats are controlled and supervised by Zilla Parishads, Panchayat Samitis and their officers. The state government also has direct control over Panchayats through the Collector of the district. District Village Panchayat officers work under Zilla Parishads to supervise and control the village Panchayats, and are appointed by the state governments.

There is however, no proper machinery for the public to air their grievances and control malpractice in Zilla Parishads. Vested interests in the government have always been found to be sheltering corrupt elements in the system and they are now well entrenched.

Government control over this institution has seldom proved to be effective and the poor masses at the grassroots level are yet to b benefit from the existing system of Panchyati Raj.

In view of these shortcomings, part IX, consisting of Article 243 to 243 was inserted by the Constitution (73 Amendment) Act, 1992. This pertains to Panchayats and inter-alia provides that:

(i) In every there shall be a Panchayat which will be a constitutional body. Elections to the Panchayat will be held by the State Election Commission.

(ii) Reservation of seats for the weaker sections and women has been made mandatory.

(iii) The term of Panchayats if fixed t five years. If any Panchayat is dissolved before the expire of this period, elections must be held within six months.

(iv) The state governments may enact a law making provision for vesting Panchyats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government and such law may contain provisions for the devolution of powers and responsibility upon the Panchayats with respect to the preparation and plants for economic development and social justice as may be entrusted to them including those in matters listed in the Eleventh Schedule.

(v) The state governments, by law, may authorize Panchayats to levy, collect and appropriate taxes, duties tolls and fees. They may provide for grants and constitute funds for Panchayats.

(vi) The legislature of a state may , by law, make provisions with respect to the maintance of accounts by Panchayats and the auditing of such accounts.

(vii) A new body called the State Finance Commission, appointed by the Governor, has been created. Its responsibility is to review the financial position of Panchayats and to make recommendations to the Governor about the distribution of the net proceeds of taxes between the states and Panchayats as also about the grants-in-aid to Panchayats from the Consolidated Fund of the state and also about the measures needed to improve the financial position of Panchayats.

(viii) The provisions of the amendment will not apply, at present, to the scheduled areas and certain tribal areas such as states of Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram, hill areas in the state of Manipur for which a district council exists, and hill areas of the district of Darjeeling in the state of West Bengal for which Darjeling Gorkha Hill Council exists. However, provision has been made to include these areas under the provision of the Act, if and when these states so desire.