(Abstracted from the original)


Precept, Practice and Potential

People’s engagement with local self-government in India has a long history, but its evolution through various regions of the country over time has taken many forms - from management of community resources like grazing lands, village commons and water, to local dispute resolution and regulating the customs and practices of the constituent population. Its most important attribute was that it was more or less autonomous in most decision-making and did not depend on a distant centre of authority to give its actions legitimacy. The fundamental principle of this form of political order -democratic decentralization- is that elected local bodies are more sensitive to local communities and are as a result, more accountable to them.

Another core principle that defines local self-government is subsidiarity. This principle is based on the belief that the citizens are the true sovereigns and stakeholders in a democracy and must, therefore, be the final decision makers. The Oxford dictionary defines subsidiarity as “ a principle that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level.”

The Gandhian perspective

The foremost advocate of this form of decentralization was none other than the Father of the Nation, who said:

“My idea of village Swaraj is that it is a complete republic independent of its neighbours for its own vital wants and yet interdependent for many others in which dependence is a necessity…The government of the village will be conducted by the panchayats of five persons annually elected by the adult villagers, males and females….Hence there is perfect democracy based upon individual freedom. The individual is the architect of his own government.”

There was, however, a strong contrarian argument against local governments, particularly panchayats, within the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly and leaders like Dr.Ambedkar felt that the power relations obtaining in rural areas would only lead to oppression and exploitation. The direction for organization of self-governing village panchayats was therefore placed in the non justiceable chapter of Directive Principles of State Policy under Article 40 of the Constitution. Moreover, there was no reference in the Constitution to urban local bodies. In consequence, the subject did not receive due attention or priority of the government for almost four decades.

Community Development (1952)

The first major development initiative undertaken after adoption of the Constitution was the introduction of the Community Development Programme (CDP) in 1952. After the introduction of CDP, a National Extension Service was started to deal with the issue of inclusive growth at the grassroots level. While CDP was hailed as a major comprehensive programme for socio-economic transformation of rural areas, it did not elicit the desired response.

Balwantrai G. Mehta Committee (1957)

In order to seek mass public support and participation, a study team on Community Projects and National Extension Service was set up in 1957 headed by Shri. Balwantrai G. Mehta. Their report concluded that for effective community development, there must be full community participation and vigilance on local administration. It also made the following suggestions:

1) It should have a 3- tier structure.

2) There should be genuine transfer of power and responsibility to them.

3) Adequate resources should be transferred to local bodies.

4) All development plans/programmes must be implemented through them.

5) The higher level body, Zila Parishad, to play an advisory role.

By 1959, all the states had passed local legislations to set up and regulate PRIs. The period that followed up to 1964 has been described as the period of ascendency for panchayati raj. The next phase from 1965-77 has been described as the period of stagnation and decline. Some of the causes for this can be attributed to (a) change in development priorities (b) lack of clarity about the concept of local self government (c) lack of funds (d) asymmetry in implementation in various states and (e) political and bureaucratic resistance.

Asoka Mehta Committee (1977)

After the Janata Party came to power in 1977, a committee headed by Shri Asoka Mehta was assigned the task to have a fresh look at the panchayati raj system. The Committee observed, “India has gathered wide experience in the practice of democratic decentralization in the wake of recommendations of Balwantrai Mehta study team. The extent and form of democratic decentralization have varied from state to state and there have been periods of heightened interest as well as times when the programme has lost its appeal.

The Asoka Mehta Committee noted the following reasons for the decline of panchayati raj:

(i) Disassociation of the programmes of development with panchayati raj: The Committee observed that the will for strengthening the PRIs further weakened as the demand to keep development programmes out of their orbit became stronger. 

(ii) Role of bureaucracy: The Committee felt that the bureaucracy had played an important role in dissociating the PRIs from the development process as it believed that its accountability for outcomes and financial proprieties was primarily to the state government. 

(iii) Lack of conceptual clarity: The report commented that there was a lack of clarity regarding the role that was expected of panchayati raj institutions. 

(iv) Lack of political will: The Committee found that sufficient attention had not been given to strengthen the panchayati raj Institutions and this indicated a lack of political will. 

(v) Disillusionment:

The Committee observed that the performance of PRIs had been affected by political factionalism, parochial loyalties, corruption and political interference in the day-to-day administration, leading to a disenchantment of the average villager with panchayati raj.

Summing up, the Committee made several important recommendations:

  • The district should be the main point of decentralization.


  • Below this, there should be mandal panchayats comprising a group of villages with a total population of 15,000-20,000.


  • Electioto the panchayat bodies should be conducted by the Chief Electoral Officer of the state. The zila parishad should be made responsible for planning at the District level.


  • The zila parishad should comprise six types of members elected from suitably demarcated electoral divisions, Presidents of panchayat samitis (as ex-officio members), nominees of bigger municipalities, nominees of district level federations, two women who get the highest number of votes in the zila parishads and two co-opted members one each from an interest group from rural development and the other representing college teachers/universities.


A major weakness of the report was that it ignored the primacy of the gram sabha.

G.V.K.Rao Committee

This Committee was set up in 1985 by the Planning Commission. Its major recommendations were:

  • A holistic approach should be taken with regard to rural development as it encompasses all economic and social developmental activities.


  • Elections should be held regularly to these bodies.


  • The district should be the basic unit for policy planning and programme implementation and all development programmes should be handled by the zila parishad.


  • Some of the state level planning functions needed to be transferred to the district level.


L.M.Singhvi Committee

In 1986 the Government of India set up a Committee under the Chairmanship of L.M.Singhvi to prepare a plan to revitalize the PRIs. This Committee felt that it was erroneous to only look to PRIs for administering programmes and developmental projects when their primary role was to function as units of self government.

It therefore gave primacy to the gram sabha regarding it as the embodiment of direct democracy. Its main recommendations were:

  • Local self government should be given constitutional status by the inclusion of a new chapter in the Constitution


  • Regular elections should be held at the end of their specified terms.


  • The Committee observed that the institution of Nyaya Panchayat was valuable for the development of the social habit of self government. It should be further strengthened by giving it functions of mediation and conciliation in addition to adjudication.


  • Commenting on the scarcity of resources available for PRIs to function effectively, it suggested that the Finance Commission should make adequate provision to assist them.


  • It also suggested that model legislation within the frame work of the Constitution should be drafted and circulated to the states for adoption with appropriate local adaptations.


The Sarkaria Commission (1988)

This Commission also examined the subject. Although it was primarily concerned with Centre- State relationship, it recommended the strengthening of local bodies both functionally and financially. It also recommended the setting up of a state level Finance Commission for devolution of resources to the districts and local bodies.

The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments

The recommendations of the various committees and commissions did not by themselves lead to their immediate adoption but set in motion certain proposals that fructified in the 73rd and 74th Amendments, a phase which had begun with the introduction in Parliament of the 64th Amendment Bill (1989). The Amendment required all the states to amend their respective Panchayat legislations in order to bring them in conformity with the Constitution within one year. The 73rd Amendment put the Gram Sabha at the centre of the scheme of devolution. It is defined as a body consisting of all registered voters of a village within the area of a village panchayat. Article 243 A provides that a gram sabha may exercise such powers and perform such functions at the village level as the legislature of a State may, by law, provide. Hence, the powers assigned to the gram sabha vary from state to state.

The main features of the Amendments are:

  • Provision for a uniform three-tier system with exemption for only states with less than 20 lakh population.


  • Reservation of seats for SC/ST in every panchayat in proportion to their population. One third of the seats reserved for SC/ST and women.


  • All elections to the panchayats/ local bodies are to be conducted under the supervision of the State Election Commission.


  • The panchayats would have a term of five years, and if dissolved earlier for any reason, elections would have to be held within six months.


  • The Act gives powers and responsibilities to the panchayats to plan and execute development projects.


  • The activities assigned to panchayats include poverty alleviation, agriculture, land improvement, minor irrigation, small scale industry, animal husbandry and fishery, education, health, social welfare and infrastructure development.


Taken together, the 73rd and 74th Amendments gave a Constitutional status to the third tier of governance. Hereafter, the federal structure was not a mere union of the Centre and the states, but included institutions of local governance like panchayats and municipalities. This was the level at which people would have a sense of direct participation or influence in making decisions regarding their own day to day administration.

All evaluations of the functioning of panchayati raj institutions and urban local bodies showed that even after two decades the system of governance still remained far too centralized with innumerable layers of bureaucracy. Effective decentralisation from states to local governments never really took place due to the unwillingness on the part of states to give it the priority that it deserved and to let go of their powers. Consequently, the plans, policies and schemes conceived in national or state capitals rarely reflected the needs of the people or the ground realities. The actual timing of delivery due to blockages or delays in the elongated delivery channels often nullified the intent of the schemes. In many cases, the funds earmarked for local bodies got diverted.

Moreover, decentralisation per se did not lead to democratisation. Neither deconcentration nor delegation of power was a sufficient condition for effective democratisation. What was missing was real devolution of power to the constitutionally elected representatives at the level of local self-government

The challenge of making PRIs the key vehicles for social transformation and the location of the countervailing power of the people to claim their rights and demand direct social accountability still remains. The main reasons of this failure are:


(1) The sensitivity of the local political economy to external influences and the high probability of elite capture of resources. 

(2) The central and state level political elite feels threatened having to compete with the local political elite for winning support from a common constituency.

(3) There are State and Central projects that bypass the authority of the PRIs. 

(4) Problems of accountability and transparency often associated with rent seeking behavior characterise many functionaries at all levels. 

(5) Meetings of gram sabhas, which are the fundamental units of direct democracy, are often convened at irregular intervals and suffer from poor attendance because the panchayat officials are not accountable to gram sabhas. 

(6) There is the problem of ‘proxy panchayats’, as male members of the family act on behalf of the elected women representatives. 

(7)Social-institutional barriers often inhibit the role of dalits (the Scheduled Castes) and the Scheduled Tribes in the panchayati raj system. 

(8) An indifferent bureaucracy has seriously held back the devolution of powers.

(9) District Planning Committees have not yet been set up in some states and even in those where they have been set up, they are beset with problems.

The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments introduced the new Parts IX and IXA in the Indian Constitution containing Articles 243 to 243 ZG. These amendments to the Constitution constitute a new chapter in the process of democratic decentralisation in the country. In terms of these amendments, the responsibility for taking decisions regarding many activities (29 activities at the panchayat level – the Eleventh Schedule and 18 activities at the ULB level - the Twelfth Schedule of the Constitution) which affect people’s lives directly, are to be vested in the PRIs and ULBs. By making regular elections to panchayati raj/municipal bodies mandatory, these institutions have been given permanency as entities of self-governance with a specific role in planning and implementation for economic development and social justice in their local area. In totality, the intention was to assign a position of primacy and command to people and through them, to the institutions of self-governance at local levels, within the democratic framework of the country.

Responsibilities of the States

Consequent to the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments and the Supreme Court’s rulings, which effectively mandate that local authorities are also to be treated as ‘Government or State’, the PRIs and ULBs have acquired substantial legitimacy, are recognised as an instrument of the Government, and have created participatory structures of grass-roots democracy. But local government being a State subject under Schedule VII, the implementation of these Constitutional provisions is, to a large extent, dependent on the states complying with the letter and spirit of the Constitution. This, unfortunately, has rarely been the case with the state enactments or their implementation.

At the same time, the structures of district administration under the control of the Collector/District Magistrate, which have become somewhat anachronistic in today’s context, continue to be characterised by a centralized command and a lack of horizontal coordination at the grassroots level.

In order to make local administration more responsive, transparent and accountable to citizens, there is a need to have a representative government not only at the Union and states, but also at the district and village levels with an equitable division of functions, resources and authority among them. However, any such reform agenda is constrained by the lack of interest in the state government as well as the lack of capacity in the panchayati raj institutions for taking on enhanced responsibilities for want of trained personnel and financial resources. The fact that the Union government and most states have created autonomous organisations and parastatals to carry out even local level functions, such as water supply, primary education, primary health and poverty alleviation programmes, means that the issue of allocation of functions between such organisations and the local authorities (PRIs and ULBs) comes in the way of greater devolution.

In urban areas, the state governments have created a large number of functional bodies in the form of urban development authorities, housing boards etc. and financed and empowered them liberally at the cost of ULBs. The growth of these specialised agencies has weakened the authority of municipal bodies and contributed to their atrophy. The challenge is to ensure a system of architecture for the state laws, structures and instrumentalities, which are in harmony with the spirit of the 73rd and 74th Amendments.

The very purpose of the Constitutional Amendments was to empower panchayats and ULBs to provide effective local self-government. While States do have a degree of leeway in framing the enabling legislation to implement the Constitutional provisions, such flexibility is considerably limited by the imperative objects of the Constitutional Amendment to provide adequate devolution of power, authority and financial resources “as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government”. The devolution of power and responsibilities upon panchayats and ULBs for implementation of schemes for economic development and social justice may be as are entrusted to them but these must include matters listed in the Eleventh and Twelfth Schedules (Article 243G/ 243W). The devolution may go beyond the areas listed in the Eleventh/Twelfth Schedule but must not be less. The enactments of the Panchayati Raj Act and The Municipality Act and their implementation in the states do not meet this constitutional provision.

The enabling legislations passed by the states since the 73rd and 74th Amendments have brought about very little change in the way central and state departments deal with panchayats and municipalities. While the enabling PRI legislations may have made provisions for transferring some of the functions to PRls on paper, there has been a lack of action to transfer these functions in practice. lt has continued to be business as usual for departments, which have functioned more or less in the same manner as they did before the 73rd and 74th Amendments. Panchayats have hardly been recognized as having any autonomy or responsibility. They have at best been perfunctorily involved in the implementation of programmes and, at worst, ignored and supplanted by parallel agencies in implementing departmental programmes. The apathy towards the operationalising of Parts lX and IXA of the Constitution has created a situation where notwithstanding the provisions of the Constitution and the law, ministries and departments at the central and at state levels have created, by executive orders, schemes that are implemented in states with little or no involvement of PRIs and ULBs even in respect to those functions which have been devolved to panchayats/ULBs through state laws. Several of these schemes are also implemented through institutional arrangements that run parallel to the panchayats/ULBs and are supervised and managed by officers who are not accountable to the panchayats. For example, a sample study by the Planning Commission on Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, published in May, 2010, shows that 17 years after the 73rd Amendment, only 15% of the village schools in the state of Uttar Pradesh are managed by the Panchayats, while 85% are controlled by the state government. This important scheme is almost totally controlled by the State through the district administration. Education is listed at Sl. no. 17 in the 11th Schedule of the Constitution, which lists the functions to be devolved to panchayats. The situation in respect of National Rural Health Mission is equally distressing. Furthermore, state governments are not doing enough to create the required capacities or devolve the administrative and financial assets for effective local self-government. Functionaries of the state government continue to hold on to decision-making powers over planning, supervision, fund allocation and control of schemes, while panchayats and ULBs are starved of funds and functionaries.

A few examples of these parallel bodies are the DRDAs, Urban Development Authorities, Housing Boards, Water Boards etc. These parallel bodies have a separate system of decision making on resource allocation and execution of projects which is independent and removed from the panchayati raj set up. These parallel bodies mostly consist of bureaucrats and nominated non-officials in decision making positions. They have considerable autonomy, flexible procedures and function in isolation, reporting directly to the state government and sometimes to the Central government. As the Constitution mandates that planning for economic development and social justice and implementation of such plans should be the responsibility of the panchayats and ULBs, these parallel bodies have become redundant except as bodies subsidiary to the panchayati raj institutions/ULBs. As fully elected panchayats are in place there cannot be any place for semi-bureaucratic para-statal structures except as bodies existing at the discretion of and under direct overall control of the institutions of local self-government.

The National Council for Applied Economic Research has on behalf of the Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj evolved an index for measurement of the degrees of devolution of functions, finances and functionaries to institutions of panchayati raj. The index for 2008-09 shows that while Uttar Pradesh ranks 12th overall out of 21 states included in the ranking, it ranks a lowly joint 17th in terms of functionaries. The Ministry of Panchayati Raj had in 2009 also assigned a study to the Indian Institute of Public Administration to prepare a “devolution index”. This devolution index consists of four sub-indices viz. Mandatory Frames, Functions, Finances and Functionaries. Uttar Pradesh scores 80% in Mandatory Frames, 42.47% in Functions, 35.31% in Finances and only 23.17% in Functionaries.

Recent initiatives: Recent efforts have resulted in a number of initiatives to ensure that the panchayats form the central focal point for development of rural areas. Important among them are:

(i) Setting up of an Expert Group on Grassroots Level Planning under the Chairmanship of Shri V. Ramachandran, former Vice-Chairman, State Planning Board, Kerala. This Expert Group suggested the steps to be taken to realize grassroots level planning, which inter alia included strengthening of the planning machinery at the district and sub-district levels. 

(ii) Seven Round Tables of Sate Panchayat Ministers were organized with the Union Minister between July-December, 2004 with a view to arrive at a national consensus through the process of mutual consultation. This process resulted in the unanimous adoption of Resolutions containing about 150 action points. 

(iii) The Ministry of Panchayati Raj initiated a major step to promote ‘Rural Business Hubs’ (RBHs) based on the governance relationship between business enterprises and panchayati raj institutions with the aim of setting up at least one RBH in each development block. The key areas identified for startup activities included agribusiness and food processing, rural tourism, textiles and handicrafts.

Reports of various government agencies:

a) The Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General for the state of Uttar Pradesh for the year ending 31st March, 2009 states that the Twelfth Finance Commission’s two major recommendations viz., transfer of assets of water supply and sanitation to PRIs and creation of database and computerization of maintenance of accounts were not implemented even after lapse of over two years. The state government did not issue order for taking over the assets of water supply and sanitation by the PRIs nor made any effort for computerization and creation of database. Monitoring was not effective as there was no system to ensure credit of Twelfth Finance Commission (TFC) grants in the account of PRIs within 15 days from the date of release by the Government of India. Utilization Certificates were not obtained by district panchayati raj organisations from thekshetra and gram panchayats. It recommended that works to be executed as per guidelines of TFC should not be decided by state government but by PRIs themselves.

b) Referring to availability of functionaries to panchayati raj institutions, the CAG observed that over 38,000 functionaries out of 45,299 transferred by the state government were recalled by 2006 and only 6,235 continue to remain with panchayats as on January, 2008 catering to more than 52000 institutions of panchayati raj in Uttar Pradesh. This observation confirms the low ranking in the Devolution Index. With near absence of available staff, it is hardly surprising that the panchayati raj institutions are unable to even complete systemic formalities and manage their account books, let alone take steps to improve the living conditions of their constituents. The provisions of U.P. Panchayati Raj Act provides hardly any autonomy to panchayats to recruit their own staff, or to decide on their pay and other terms, or take disciplinary action against them.

c) In an evaluation of Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, the Planning Commission has noted, “Many a time, local Zila/Gram Panchayats are not taken into confidence, which results in disputes subsequently and causes delay in timely implementation of the road projects for the unconnected habitations. According to the norms, MPs and MLAs are empowered for selection and construction of roads at their own behest. Although the schemes have to be approved by the Zila Parishad, their members are neither consulted nor given any importance by the MPs and MLAs in the selection process. This problem has been noticed in Uttar Pradesh.”

d) The Second Administrative Reforms Commission, in its 6th Report titled “Local Government” has quoted the observations of Standing Committee on Urban and Rural Development, 2004 (Thirteenth Lok Sabha) on the failure of the Union and State Governments in implementing the provisions of the Constitution as follows:

“The overall aim of Part IX is to endow the Panchayats with such powers and responsibilities as may be necessary to enable them to function successfully as institutions of self-government, as per Article 243G of the Constitution. State Legislatures have been empowered to endow Panchayats by law with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to prepare plans for economic development and social justice and implement schemes for economic development and social justice, including those in relation to the matters contained in the Eleventh Schedule. The Committee is, however, constrained to note that although more than nine years have passed since the Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) Act was enacted, very few States seem to be serious about the implementation of said provision of Part IX. They further find that endowing Panchayats with certain functions is fruitful only if the Panchayats are equipped with the trained functionaries and adequate finances are also made available to them. Thus they note that Panchayats can fulfill their responsibility as institutions of self-government only if devolution is patterned on a nexus between the three Fs, i.e. functions, functionaries and finances. The Committee are unhappy to note that very few States have linked the very important devolution of functions to the means of actualising such devolution through the devolution of functionaries and funds for all the 29 subjects enlisted in the Eleventh Schedule”.

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission has made several important observations and recommendations on this subject in their reports. The foremost of them is about application of the principle of subsidiarity in delineation of functions to be carried out by PRIs and ULBs. The 6th Report of ARC on Local Self Government” makes the following observations in regard to the principle of subsidiarity: 

“2.2.4 Application of the subsidiarity principle has three great advantages in practical terms. First, local decision-making improves efficiency, promotes self reliance at the local level, encourages competition and nurtures innovation. The demonstration effects of successful best practices will ensure rapid spread of good innovations and there will also be greater ownership of programmes and practices by the local communities. Second, democracy is based on three fundamental assumptions: all citizens are equal irrespective of station and birth; the citizen is the ultimate sovereign; and the citizen has the capacity to decide what is in his best interest. Only when these principles are put in practice can a democratic system derive its full legitimacy. Subsidiarity is the concrete expression of these foundations of a democratic society.Third, once decision-making and its consequences are integrally linked at the local level, people can better appreciate those hard choices need to be made. Such awareness promotes greater responsibility, enlightened citizenship and maturing of democracy.

2.2.5 The Commission is of the considered view that a local government reform package must be informed by the principle of subsidiarity. Only then can citizen sovereignty be real and meaningful and democracy will acquire content beyond structures and institutions.”

On the need for a Framework Law for Local Bodies, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission has in its Report made the following recommendations:

Government of India should draft and place before Parliament, a Framework Law for Local Governments. The Framework Law could be enacted under Article 252 of the Constitution on the lines of the South African Act, for the states to adopt.

This Law should lay down the broad principles of devolution of powers, responsibilities and functions to the local governments and communities, based on the following:

  • Principles of Subsidiarity


  • Democratic Decentralisation


  • Delineation of Functions


  • Devolution in Real Terms


  • Convergence


  • Citizen Centricity



A Framework for Decentralisation

The process of devolution and decentralized governance in India has had the following objectives:

  • to achieve greater responsiveness from the government towards its citizens


  • to promote effective bottom- up planning


  • to ensure functional separation between policy making and execution


  • to ensure democratic participatory governance
    The Ministry of Panhayati Raj advocated two strategies for effectualising devolution:


(i) Undertaking activity mapping and delineating functional activities between the state and the panchayats; and 

(ii) Application of the subsidiary principle for allocating functions among the three tiers of panchayats.

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission recommended a frame work law to be enacted under Article 252.

The Draft Model Panchayat and Gram Swaraj Act, forwarded by the Union government to state governments in April, 2009 provides a blueprint of democratic decentralization which seeks:

“The Centre and state Governments may not set up special committees outside the panchayats. However, if such specialized committees are required to be set-up because of professional or technical requirements, and if their activities coincide with those listed in the Eleventh Schedule, they shall either function under the overall supervision and guidance of the panchayats or their relationship with the panchayats shall be worked out in consultation with the concerned level of panchayat. If considered necessary, the initiative for creation of Community Level Bodies shall come from the panchayats and they shall be accountable to panchayats. The District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) shall be merged with the respective District Panchayats. Similarly, the District Water and Sanitation Committee (DWSC), the District Health Society (DHS) and Fish Farmers Development Agency (FFDA) shall be restructured to have an organic relationship with the panchayats.”

Article 243 A of the Constitution provides that “A Gram Sabha may exercise such powers and perform such functions at the village level as the Legislature of a State may by law provide.” While Article 243A does not mention specific powers or functions of a gram sabha, it is implicit in the scheme of democratic local self governments envisaged by the Parliament while passing the 73rd Amendment that the gram panchayats, as institutions of self governments, are to be accountable to their gram sabha. The Parliament further strengthened this accountability by specifically mandating consent of the gram sabha (and not gram panchayat or any other elected or official body) in the proviso of Section 3(2) of The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. The Operational Guidelines for MGNREGA also make it clear that the gram sabhas are the deciding bodies while panchayats are the bodies tasked with implementing those decisions.

The Draft Model Panchayat and Gram Swaraj Act referred to above also defines the powers and functions of gram sabhas and panchayats as follows:

“(1) The Gram Sabha shall, in such manner and subject to such procedure as may be prescribed, perform such functions as enumerated in the Fifth Schedule.

committees shall be placed before the Gram Sabha and if approved, shall be considered as decisions of the Gram Sabha and action taken accordingly:

Provided that such committees shall consist of not less than ten members of whom not less than half shall be women.”

A possible road map

In more than fifty years of implementation of democratic decentralization, after the adoption of the Constitution and the enactment of local laws by various state governments, the devolution of powers to the third tier has been at best sluggish. In the preceding pages we have tried to identify some of the main reasons for this. However, with the maturing of democratic processes, a vigilant and active civil society, an alert and vibrant media, an independent judiciary that is conscious of its Constitutional responsibilities, it is time that we seize the opportunity to fulfill the unfinished task that would bring about the India of our dreams.

The first step, therefore, that the state governments need to take would be to make such legislative changes in their laws and regulations so that the letter and spirit of the Constitutional amendments are made implementable. The next step is to give local self governments the requisite man power along with technical support. This manpower should be brought under their administrative control and not controlled through departmental heads. They should also be given the funds to implement through their own channels the projects, schemes and programmes that are entrusted to them.

Another important matter is that many of the gram sabhas are much too large to be cohesive. The bigger gram sabhas may have to be made smaller to be more effective. Also, many of the panchayats do not have secretaries and are, therefore, inactive. All efforts need to be made to fill up these positions.

In many states, the zila parishads are dysfunctional. These must be activated and empowered. Mission mode projects also have to be brought under the management and superintendence of PRIs and Local bodies.

Finally, the performance and accounts of local bodies should be monitored and audited by an institutionalized social audit system and CAG respectively.

In conclusion, it may be stated that the functioning of any democracy, and particularly democracy at the grassroots, is an act of faith and its success depends to a large extent on the respect and trust reposed on it by the people and government. In election after election to our Parliament and State Legislatures, we have repeatedly demonstrated our faith in the first two tiers of our democracy but have yet to show the same tenacity to this cutting edge level of our democratic architecture. Are we ready for it now and willing to do all the necessary hard work? The future of our very special democracy depends on this answer.

(2) The Gram Sabha shall make periodical reports to the Village Panchayat in respect of the matters specified in this section. 

(3) The Village Panchayat shall carry out the recommendations, if any, made by the Gram Sabha in regard to the matters before it under this section. 

(4) When beneficiaries are to be selected for any scheme, project or plan, the criteria for eligibility and order of priority shall be fixed by the Panchayat subject to the terms and conditions prescribed in the scheme, project or plan and such criteria shall be published in the manner prescribed and intimated to the Gram Sabha. 

(5) The priority list prepared by the Village Panchayat after inviting applications for the selection of beneficiaries and conducting enquiries on the application received, shall be scrutinised at the meeting of the Gram Sabha in which the applicants will also be invited and a final list of the deserving beneficiaries, in the order of priority, shall be prepared and sent for the approval of the Village Panchayat: Provided that the Village Panchayat shall not change the order of priority in the list sent by the Gram Sabha for approval. 

(6)The Gram Sabha may appoint, elect or constitute general or special subcommittees for detailed discussions on any issues or programmes and for the effective implementation of the schemes and the decisions and in furtherance of its 27 rights and responsibilities. The recommendations of such

April – June, 2012