Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Three-Tier System of Panchayati Raj in India

 1. Village Panchayat:
In the structure of the Panchayati Raj, the Village Panchayat is the lowest unit. There is a Panchayat for each village or a group of villages in case the population of these villages happens to be too small. The Panchayat chiefly consists of representatives elected by the people of the village.

Only the persons who are registered as voters and do not hold any office of profit under the government are eligible for election to the Panchayat. The persons convicted by the court for criminal offences are disqualified from election of the Panchayat.
There is also provision for co-option of two women and one member of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, if they do not get adequate representation in the normal course.
The Panchayat as a body is accountable to the general body of the village known as Gram Sabha which meets at least twice a year. The Gram Panchayat must present its budget, accounts of the previous year and annual administrative report before the Gram Sabha. Furthermore, it has to secure the latter’s approval of the village production plan, proposals for taxation and development programmes before they are enforced by the Panchayat.
Every Panchayat elects a President or Sarpanch and a Vice-President or Upsarpanch. In some states the Sarpanch is directly elected by the Gram Sabha either through the show of hands or through secret ballot while in other states the mode of election is indirect.
The Sarpanch occupies a pivotal position in Gram Panchayat system. He supervises and coordinates the various activities of the Panchayat.
He is an ex-officio member of the Panchayat Samiti and participates in its decision-making as well as in the election of the Pradhan and of the members of various Standing Committees. He acts as the executive head of the Panchayat, represents it in the Panchayat Samiti as its spokesman and coordinates its activities and those of other local institutions like cooperatives.
The Panchayat Secretary and the Village Level Worker are the two officers at the Panchayat level to assist the Sarpanch in administration.
The Panchayat Secretary assists the Panchayat in recording decisions, keeping minutes, preparing budget estimates and reports, and does other sundry jobs like preparing notices, explaining circulars, organising Gram Sabha meetings etc.
The Village Level Worker now called Village Development Officer assists the Panchayat in drawing up agricultural production plans, helps farmers in securing loans for agriculture, arranges the supply of inputs like seeds and fertilizers, and educates farmers about modern agricultural practices. He serves as the principal link between the Panchayat and the Panchayat Samiti.
He keeps the Panchayat informed of various development programmes and reports to the Panchayat Samiti about the progress of the schemes and achievement of targets. He is accountable to the Sarpanch at the Panchayat level on the one hand, and to the Block Development Officer and extension officers on the other hand at the Samiti level.
The Gram Panchayats can levy certain taxes and duties to meet their expenses. Some of the taxes which the Gram Panchayats can levy include tax on animals, vehicles, house, vacant lands and professions. They can also levy duty on transfer or property situated in the area under their jurisdiction.
The fees paid for presenting civil criminal cases before the Panchayats and fines on account violation of Panchayat laws are other sources of its income. But a, as the duties to be performed by the Panchayats are so onerous that they have to depend on the state government for further finances.
As regards the principal functions performed by the Village Panchayat, they include maintenance of roads, wells, schools, burning and burial grounds, sanitation, public health, libraries, reading rooms, community centre etc.
The Panchayat also keeps records of births and deaths. It makes necessary provisions for the promotion of agriculture and animal husbandry, cottage CONTI industries, co-operative societies etc. The minor disputes among residents of village are also settled by the Village Panchayat.
It seeks to ensure a minimum standard of cultivation for raising agricultural production. In addition, the Panchayat also acts as the agent of the Panchayat Samiti in executing schemes of development at the village level.

2. Panchayat Samiti:

The Panchayat Samiti is the second on join tier of the Panchayati Raj. The Balwant Rai Mehta Committee report has envisaged the Samiti as a single representative and vigorous democratic institution to take charge of all aspects of development in rural areas. The Samiti, according to the Committee, offers “an area large enough for functions which the Village Panchayat cannot perform and yet small enough to attract the interest and services of residents.”
Usually a Panchayat Samiti consists of 20 to 60 villages depending on area and population. The average population under a Samiti is about 80,000 but the range is from 35,000 to 1, 00,000. The Panchayat Samiti generally consists of- (1) about twenty members elected by and from the Panches of all the Panchayats falling in the block area; (2) two women members and one member each from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to be co- opted, provided they do not get adequate representation otherwise;
(3) two local persons possessing experience of public life and administration, which may be beneficial for the rural development; (4) representatives of the Co-operatives working within the jurisdiction of the block; (5) one representative elected by and from the members of each small municipality lying within the geographical limits of a block; (6) the members of the State and Union legislatures representing the area are to be taken as associate members.
The President of the Panchayat Samiti is the Pradhan, who is elected by an electoral college consist of all members of the Panchayat Samiti and all the Panchas of the Gram Panchayat falling within the areas. Besides the Pradhan, the Up-pradhan is also elected. The Pradhan convenes and presides over the Panchayat Samiti meetings. He guides the Panchayats in making plans and carrying out production programmes.
He ensures the implementation of the decisions and resolutions of the Samiti and its Standing Committees. He exercises administrative control over the Vikas Adhikari (BDO) and his staff. He is a member of the Zilla Parishad by virtue of his office as a Pradhan. He is the ex- officio chairman of the Standing Committees of the Samiti.
As the Chief Executive Officer of the Panchayat Samiti, the Block Development Officer is entrusted with the responsibility for implementing the resolutions of the Samiti and its Standing Committees. He prepares the budget of the Samiti and places it before the Samiti for approval. Preparing the annual report of the Samiti and sending it to the Zilla Parishad and State Government also comes within the purview of his responsibility. He is accountable to the President of the Samiti for his actions.
The principal function of the Panchayat Samiti is to co­ordinate the activities of the various Panchayats within its jurisdiction. The Panchayat Samiti supervises the work of the Panchayats and scrutinises their budgets. It also reserves the right to suggest measures for improving the functioning of the Panchayats. The Samiti is charged with the responsibility of preparing and colon implementing plans for the development of agriculture, animal to SU (husbandry, fisheries, small scale and cottage industries, rural health tropic etc.
On the face of things it may appear that the Panchayat Samiti enjoys enormous powers. But the reality is something different. It has no independence in instituting special programmes or development projects of its choice. It simply carries out the directives of the State Government pertaining to specific projects.
Furthermore, the primacy of the non-elected members of the Samiti over the elected members amounts to a mockery of democracy so far as democratic decentralisation is concerned. Despite all world these it cannot be gainsaid that the Panchayat Samiti serves as a launching pad for the political leaders for higher responsibilities at the district and state levels.

3. Zilla Parishad:

The Zilla Parishad stands at the apex of the three-tier structure of the Panchayati Raj system. Generally, the Zilla Parishad consists of representatives of the Panchayat Samiti; all the members of the State Legislature and the Parliament representing a part or whole of the district; all district level officers of the Medical, Public Health, Public Works, Engineering, Agriculture, Veterinary, Education and other development departments.
There is also a provision for special representation of women, members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes provided they are not adequately represented in the normal course. The Collector is also a member of the Zilla Parishad.
The Chairman of the Zilla Parishad is elected from among its members. There is a Chief Executive Officer in the Zilla Parishad. He is deputed to the Zilla Parishad by the State Government. There are subject matter specialists or officers at the district level in all the states for various development programmes.
The Zilla Parishad, for the most part, performs co-ordinating and supervisory functions. It coordinates the activities of the Panchayat Samitis falling within its jurisdiction. In certain states the Zilla Parishad also approves the budgets of the Panchayat Samitis.
The Zilla Parishad also renders necessary advice to the Government with regard to the implementation of the various development schemes. It is also responsible for the maintenance of primary and secondary schools, hospitals, dispensaries, minor irrigation works etc. It also promotes local industries and art.
The finances of the Zilla Parishad consist of the grants received from the State Government and share in the land cess and other local cess and taxes. Sometimes it has been allowed by the State Government to levy certain taxes or enhance the taxes already levied by the Panchayat Samitis subject to a certain limit.