India is rightly regarded as the land of villages. In a country where 72.22% of the population (2001 Census) lives in 5,80,781 villages, the importance of rural local government popularly known as Panchayati Raj in India, is self-evident. Indeed, the idea of rural local government is part of a larger concern for social & economic amelioration of the people, a task to which the country is irrevocably committed. The Panchayats have been among the oldest political institutions of India and the very use of this term has a deeply nostalgic association tending to take the mind to the distant & dim past. One need not go into the distant past and may, instead, start with the inauguration, on 2nd October, 1952 of the Community Development (CD) Programme. This date was chosen to synchronise the birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, to whom nothing was dearer than rural amelioration. After the Community Development Programme was launched in 1952, it was realized that without an agency at the village level “which could represent the entire community, assume responsibility and provide the necessary leadership for implementing development programmes”, real progress in rural development could not take place. It was against this background that a Committee headed by Balwantrai G.Mehta (1957) was appointed to make recommendations for the revitalization of the Panchayati Raj system and define its role in the development process. The Balvantrai Mehta Committee published its report (1957) recommending a 3-tier system of rural local government, called Panchayati Raj (in India). The principal thrust of the report was towards decentralization of the democratic institutions in an effort to shift decision centers closer to the people to enable their participation and to put up bureaucracy under local popular control. The State Governments were persuaded to accept the recommendations and to decentralize adequate powers to popularly elected Panchayati Raj bodies, besides making them responsible for development activities within their jurisdiction. The report of the Committee was influential in creating a three-tier Panchayati raj structure with District Panchayat at the top and Grama Panchayat at the bottom. The intermediate tier was co-terminus with Community Development Blocks. Most of the States amended their laws to conform to the recommendations of the Committee. The introduction of Panchayati Raj in India constitutes the most conspicuous measure of reform in the system of governance in Independent India. But Panchayati Raj came to be associated with 3 broad images: (i) It is viewed as an instrument for the realization of the ends of Community Development (ii) It is perceived as an organ of the State Government to execute the Community Development Programme and such other schemes as the State Govt. may entrust to it (iii) It is an extension and the embodiment of democracy at the village level Panchayati Raj is also a cardinal part of Sarvodaya, a harbinger of a new social order to replace the present system. Panchayati Raj was in low profile from the mid-sixties. As a form of local government, it fell out of favour everywhere and its justification was sought increasingly in terms of an agency to augment agriculture production. It was in this context, the Central Government appointed in December 1977, a Committee under the Chairmanship of Ashoka Mehta to suggest measures to
strengthen the Panchayati Raj Institution. The Committee’s principal thesis is the functional necessity for the decentralization of administration. At the same time, in order to remain continually sensitive to popular will and aspirations, it requires democratic supervision. The Committee recommended in its Report (1978) the creation of a two-tier system of Panchayati Raj, the first point of decentralization being the revenue district (below the State level) which assures...
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