The Panchayati Raj in India has not been an absolute success. Its functioning all these years has demonstrated numerous shortcomings. Some of the defects of the system are as follows:
The Panchayati Raj scheme is defective in so far as the distribution of functions between the structures at different levels has not been made along scientific lines. The blending of development and local self- government functions has significantly curtailed the autonomy of the local self government institutions.
Again it has virtually converted them into governmental agencies. Even the functions assigned to the Panchayat and the Panchayat Samiti overlap, leading to confusion, duplication of efforts and shifting of responsibility.
The three-tiers do not operate as functional authorities. The tendency on the part of the higher structure to treat the lower structure as its subordinate is markedly visible. M. P. Sharma rightly observes the hierarchical domination and predominance, “fitters down step by step from Zilla Parishad to Panchayat Samiti and from them to the Village Panchayats” Needless to state that this kind of mutual relationship is not in comensurate with the genuine spirit of democratic decentralisation.
The inadequacy of funds has also stood in the way of successful working of the Panchayati Raj. The Panchayati Raj bodies have limited powers in respect of imposing cesses and taxes. They have very little funds doled out to them by the State Government. Further, they are generally reluctant to raise necessary funds due to the fear of losing popularity with the masses.
4. Lack of cordial relation between officials and people:
Introduction of the Panchayati Raj aimed at securing effective participation of the people. But in reality this hardly happens since the key administrative and technical positions are manned by the government officials.
Generally there is lack of proper cooperation and coordination between the people and the officials like Block Development Officers, the District Officers etc. Again the officers fail to discharge the development duties more efficiently and sincerely.
There is lack of clarity in regard to the concept of Panchayati Raj itself and the objectives for which it stands. Some would treat it just as an administrative agency while some others look upon it as an extension of democracy at the grass roots level, and a few others consider it a charter of rural local government. What is all the more intriguing is the fact that all these conceptual images could co-exist simultaneously tending to militate against each other every now and then.
Various Panchayati Raj Institutions are constituted setting aside democratic norms and principles. The indirect election of most of the members to Panchayat Samiti only increases the possibility of corruption and bribery. Even the Zilla Parishad consists of mainly ex-officio members. They are, for the most part, government officials. This negates sound democratic principles.
The performance of Panchayati Raj Institutions has been vitiated by political cum caste factionalism, rendering developmental projects into chimeras. Corruption, inefficiency, scant regard for procedures, political interference in day to day administration, parochial loyalties, motivated actions, power concentration instead of true service mentality- all these have stood in the way of the success of Panchayati Raj. Furthermore, the power to supercede the local bodies on the part of the State Government clearly violates the spirit of democratic decentralisation.
The Panchayati Raj bodies experience several administrative problems. They are the tendency towards politicization of the local administration, lack of co-ordination between the popular and bureaucratic elements, lack of proper incentives and promotion opportunities for administrative personnel and apathetic attitude of the government servants towards development programmes etc.
The manipulative nature of rural politics is manifest in the techniques used at the time of elections. The fact-finding research teams observe that the caste system in rural India has made a mockery of the concept of rural development. Even the Panchayat elections are fought on caste grounds and the traditional dominant castes have manoeuvred in such a way that they still occupy the positions of power in the changed set-up.
Once the dominant castes have managed to occupy important positions where the decisions are made, they find it easy to manipulate the plans to serve their best interests. Consequently, the schism of caste grows wider day by day, alienating the low castes farther and farther from participating in rural development programmes.
The political elite in the villages develops a vested interest in the perpetuation of the caste system. As a result, the Panchayats which were to bring about social changes have themselves become victims of caste divisions. As K. Seshadri pointed out, the institution which was created to bring changes in the socio-economic structure, due to the mere logic of the situation, legitimises the authority of socially and economically well-off persons.
10. It is being increasingly noticed that the Panchayati Raj Institutions are viewed only as organisational arms of political parties, especially of the ruling party in the state. The State Government, in most states, allows the Panchayati Raj Institutions to function only upon expediency rather than any commitment to the philosophy of democratic decentralisation.
In view of the various shortcomings in the working of the Panchayati Raj Institutions, the Janata Party Government in 1977 appointed a Committee under the chairmanship of Ashok Mehta to inquire into the causes of failure in the working of Panchayati Raj bodies and suggest measures to strengthen them.
In 1978, this Committee made a number of recommendations for revitalisation of PRIs. These included: replacement of the three- tier system by a two-tier system with Mandal Panchayat at the base and Zilla Parishad at the top; assigning more powers to PRIs; making Zilla Parishad primary unit in PR system; political parties taking part in the Panchayati Raj Institutions; conducting election within six months in case of supersession of PRIs; grant of compulsory powers of taxation for Panchayati Raj Institutions to augment their resources; setting up of a Social Justice Committee to safeguard and promote the interests of the vulnerable social and economic groups, imparting training to Panchayat members etc.
The recommendations of the Ashok Mehta Committee were not honoured by the Government of Mrs. Indira Gandhi. In 1985, another Committee under the chairmanship of G. V. K. Rao was constituted. The G. V. K. Rao Committee recommended that (1) PRIs have to be activated and provided with all the required support to become effective organisations, (2) PRIs at district and block levels should be assigned the work of planning, implementation and monitoring of rural development programmes, and (3) Block Development Office should be the spinal chord of the rural development process.
A high-powered Committee was set up by the Government of India in 1986 under the chairmanship of Dr. L.M. Singhvi. The L.M. Singhvi Committee observed that a host of factors like lack of political will, lack of evaluation and feedback, reluctance to raise revenue resources through exercising taxing powers, indifference to corrective measures were responsible for the failure of the Panchayati Raj Institutions.
The Committee suggested locating means to ensure availability of adequate financial resources for Panchayati Raj Institutions. It suggested a pattern of compulsory and optional levies for PRIs in order to enable them to function effectively.
It laid stress on the training, research and public education inputs to strengthen the institutions of Panchayati Raj. The Committee also attached importance to the performance capabilities of persons connected with Panchayati Raj Institutions such as voters, elected representatives, administrative officials, voluntary workers etc.
In May, 1989, the Rajiv Gandhi Government introduced in Parliament 64th Amendment Bill which sought to reinvigorate and streamline the Panchayati Raj Institutions. It sought to provide wider powers and adequate funds to the Panchayats. But the Bill could not be passed due to the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. V. P. Singh Government also indicated its intention to introduce a new Panchayat Bill in the Parliament.
However, the Lok Sabha was dissolved and the bill could not be passed. In 1992, Narasimha Rao Government finally decided to amend the Constitution. This amendment was made by the Lok Sabha in December, 1992, by the Rajya Sabha in December, 1993 and after being ratified by 17 State Assemblies, it came to be known as 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1993. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment made in 1993 came into operation in April, 1994.