The Gist of Kurukshetra: January 2016
Panchyati Raj in India: Eepending Grassroot Democracy
Two decades have elapsed since the enactment of the 73rd
Amendment to the Constitution (hereafter referred to Central Act) and more than
15 years have passed since the enactment of the (Provisions of Panchayats
(Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 (hereafter referred to Extension Act).
The main purpose of these Acts was to strengthen the Panchayati Raj System (PRS)
in the country. This article analysis to what extent these institutions have
emerged as institutions of self-governments, enabled people’s
participation-particularly vulnerable sections like Scheduled Castes (SCs),
Scheduled Tribes (STs) and women in these institutions.
Emergence of Local Self -Governments
Central Act has both mandatory and enabling provisions. The
state governments were supposed to devolve the functions, finance and
functionaries pertaining to 29 subjects listed in the Eleventh Schedule of the
Constitution to the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRls) to enable these bodies to
function as institutions of self government. In order to function, panchayats as
institution of self- government (ISG), the Panchayats have to fulfil three basic
conditions, namely, (a) institutional existence in the sense that the decisions
are taken by the people’s representatives, (b) institutional capacity, which
means that these institutions have clearly defined functions, functionaries and
finances. Let us see as to what extent the Panchayats have emerged as ISG after
evaluating the progress made towards empowering these bodies in last two
The Ministry of Panchayati Raj has been undertaking the
preparation of a devolution index from 2006 onwards through independent
institutions. .For the year 2014-15, the Ministry entrusted this task to the
Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). The main features of this exercise is
that it is based both on examining activity, mapping, covering the transfer of
functions, functionaries and finances to PRls in the subject listed in the 11th
Schedule of the Constitution and grass roots reality based on the ground
situation in few Panchayats in each tier (Gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti and
Zilla Panchayat) across the states to see the extent of powers they actually
exercise at their level8 All the states except Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland and
Goa are covered under the study. A total sample of 41 OPs, 39 PSs and 42 GPs
have been taken for the field study.
The index of devolution in policy (DPo) and index of
devolution in practice (DPr) across the states. DPo reflects the state
governments policy commitment to devolve powers to the panchayats. The DPr
reflects actual devolution happening in the field and validate the data obtained
from the state governments. This indicator shows actual control of Panchayats
over transferred institutions, functions, functionaries, financial autonomy and
utilisation of developmental funds and the status of infrastructure and
administrative systems in place.
Whereas, the performance of Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu &
Kashmir, Bihar, Assam and Uttarakhand are poor. From the point of view of DPr
the table shows that Kerala stands out as the top performing state in this
index. It means there is no difference between policy and its translation in the
field from the point of view of decentralization, whereas in other states,
positions are different.
From the above analysis, it can be said that none of tl1e
states have achieved 100 per cent devolution. Kerala, which tops the list, has
an index of less than 80. From the point of view of DPr which shows actual
happening of decentralisation, as much as 92 per cent of the states have not
crossed the devolution index of 50. It shows apathy of political leaders and
bureaucrats and what the Report of the Asoka Mehta Committee observed in late
seventies that the PRls had failed in their objectives on account of
unfavourable political environrnent.jlt also appears correct from the study
conducteaby TISS. Besides, there is no pressure from the Panchayats on these
leaders to devolve powers to them, as no demands have been made from the elected
representatives. Whatever is being done in the name of Panchayati Raj is supply
driven instead of demand driven.
The Extension Act has not only made the Gram Sabha a strong
body, but has also put ‘jal, jungle and jamin’ (water, forest and land) under
its control. Panchayats are expected to take the approval of the Gram Sabha in
matters relating to rural economy.
But the sidelights of field studies revealed that states have
not gone into the spirit of the legislation and have tried to manipulate the
provisions in a narrow way. On behalf of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, IRMA
had carried out an independent assessment of the functioning of the Panchayats
across the states. Some of the states which comes under 5th Scheduled Areas
(where Extension Act is applicable) have also been covered. Assessment revealed
that in case of Andhra Pradesh, although several mandatory provisions of the
Extension Act have been incorporated in the state Acts, actual implementation is
lacking. In case of Himachal Pradesh, in practice, most of the functions are
handled by the states.
Reservations for SCs, STs and women have been provided in the
Panchayats for membership and chairpersonship across the country. As a result of
this provision, more than six lakh SCs/STs and more than 10 lakh women have been
holding the offices of the members and chairpersons at different tiers of the
Panchayats. Lets see how these categories have functioned as members and
chairpersons in the Panchayats at different levels.
The findings of a study of the working of Panchayats in six states conducted by
PRIA revealed that 25 per cent women notice and remark on the visible change in
their status within their family after they have been elected, about 60 per cent
of women said that they would encourage other women to contest elections. The
same percentage (60 per cent) is contemplating to contest PRI elections again.
It is also worth mentioning that representatives from SC/ST
communities and women have faced several problems in discharging their duties.
The State of Panchayats Report 2008-09, an independent assessment done by IRMA
says that sample data on proxy representation revealed that about 59 per cent of
elected SCIST women were proxy representatives, of which about one-fifth were
proxies for their husbands and /or male relatives. One third were proxies for
dominant castes and about one-tenth for others including political parties.
In fact, caste prejudices emerged as a major problem in the
functioning of the Panchayats. This is due to unwillingness and grouse the
dominant castes hold for having themselves become ineligible to share the powers
and control they have long been used to in the PRls, on account of
constitutional provisions for the marginalized group. Due to the prevailing
strangle- hold of the caste structure in rural society in the country, neither
the respect for the office of elected representatives nor the simple social
values of giving equal regard to fellow human-beings, impel the fellow villagers
and the fellow elected representatives to treat SC elected representatives as
equal during the course of their functioning under the PRS. This has resulted
into a paradoxical situation, where, on the one hand, Panchayati Raj Act
provides de jure powers to the office of the chairpersons at different levels
and, on the other, de facto, they remain bereft of these powers. The local
bureaucracy, which is expected to work under the control of the elected
representatives of the Panchayats, is either generally away from the scene or
succumbs to the pressure of the village politics and power game.
Thus, the affirmative action for these groups in local
governance has resulted in social identities and political awareness among them
and created an urge to become part of the mainstream political, economic and
social life. The political space given to marginalised sections has, to some
extent, dealt a blow to the asymmetrical social structure at the local level and
given greater space for their participation and involvement in decision-making
at local level.
A five pronged strategy has been given below, which is, if
implemented in letter and spirit would enable Panchayats more strong and their
elected representatives would be more knowledgeable and assertive in performing
their task at local level.
1. There is need for Constitutional amendment, which should
aim at removing discrepancies in the allocation of functions, finances and
functionaries and establishing organic links between and among the tiers of the
panchayats, preparation of decentralised plans and making Extension Act
2. Effective demand for de facto decentralization from
panchayat leaders is also important. For this, social mobilisation is required.
Social mobilization could be done only through a social movement from greater
autonomy of the panchayats in discharging their responsibilities. The political
parties should also accept effective decentralistion as one of the issues in
their election manifestos and panchayat leaders use that for pressurising the
political parties to implement the same.
3. Basic infrastructure like office building may be provided
to the panchayats. The midterm appraisal f the 11th plan indicates that out of
the 2, 32, 638 Gram Panchayats, 78, 868 (34%) have no buildings and 59, 245
(25%) require major renovation. Now, in such a situation, one can imagine the
level of discussion could take place in the villages where society is divided on
caste and class basis.
4. Panchayats are expected to prepare decentralised plan,
which is basically integrated area plan. For effective decentralised plan, Gram
Panchayat may be reorganized demographically and geographically to make them
viable institutions for local development. Besides, Gram Panchayats must have a
full- fledged secretariat where all local officials relating to various
departments sit there and villagers instead of going to the house of panchayat
president visit the panchayat secretariat.
5. Training and capacity building is a process of empowerment
of people/communities/ organizations to take up activities for their
development. In fact, capacity building has two components namely competence and
commitment. Competence denotes training which comprises three things knowledge,
skill and attitudes. The commitment denotes not the chalta hai (can work)
syndrome, but the concern and commitment on the part of the trainers and others
who are involved in the process of the capacity building for developing human
resources engaged in local development.