Evolution of Panchayati Raj Institutions in Jammu and Kashmir: A Critical Analysis Abstract: The Panchayati Raj is an indigenous and time-honoured concept in our country. Panchayats as traditional institutions were seen in India as almost sacred with their Panchas (members) referred to as ‘Panch Parmeshwar’ (member as God) with expectations of fairness and justice in their role of settlement of local interpersonal and community disputes. The genesis of the new panchayats can be traced to the attempts made in colonial India. The State of Jammu and Kashmir (J & K) has its own unique history as far as Panchayati Raj is concerned. In Jammu and Kashmir, the Panchayati Raj institutions are established under the Jammu & Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989. The Panchayati Raj Act, 1992-popularly known as 73rd amendment-was enacted in the country to revitalise the Panchayati Raj. However, the provisions of 73rd amendment were not extended to the State owing to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under article 370. Although the State government has adopted various provisions of 73rd amendment but still the Jammu & Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989 has many loopholes.
The Panchayati Raj is an indigenous and time-honoured concept in our country. The form may vary, but the spirit has always been part of our socio-cultural ethos. Its origin can be traced back to ancient ages where community spirit was the main force not only to keep village communities united but to help them manage local affairs independently. Sir, Charles Metcalfe characterised them as small “republics having nearly everything that they want within themselves” (Aslam 1996). The genesis of the new panchayats can be traced to the attempts made in colonial India with the panchayat laws enacted in the provinces and princely states in 1920 and thereafter. These laws sought to create panchayats as local bodies dealing with sanitation, regulation and maintenance of buildings, roads, etc., and to be endowed with judicial powers for settlement of petty disputes. The next stage of legislative action about panchayats was in 1940s when the Congress governments elected in the provinces under the Government of India Act 1935 legislated for more broad-based panchayats (Buch 2010). It is, however, in independent India that we see panchayats in their present incarnation as local bodies with substantial development services orientation. Article 40 of the Constitution of India provides that the State shall take steps to organise village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority to enable them to function as units of local self-government. The two milestones in the evolution of Panchayati Raj institutions (PRIs) were the reports of two committees set up by the central government in 1957 and 1978 namely the B.R. Mehta Committee of 1957 and Ashok Mehta Committee of 1978. However, even after the recommendations of the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee and Ashok Mehta Committee on panchayats had been put into force, several ills continued to afflict the Panchayati Raj system in the country in the post independence period. There were long delays in holding of panchayat elections, frequent suspension/supersession/dissolution of the panchayat bodies, lack of functional and financial autonomy, inadequate representation of marginalised and weaker sections and meager and occasional government grants. This crippled the functioning of panchayats and did not allow them to function as institutions of local Self-government as had been envisaged in the Constitution. Thus an imperative need accordingly emerged to enshrine in the Constitution of India, certain basic and essential features of local self-government so as to enable local bodies to function as institutions of self-governance both in planning and implementation of development programmes. Consequently Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 was passed and was brought into force with effect from 24th April 1993. The...
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