Panchayat is the local government system in India. These are typically located in rural areas, and the heads of these panchayats are elected by the local population. The term Panchayat is derived from a Sanskrit word, Panch meaning five. It was an ancient system used to settle disputes and administer justice in villages. With time, this system has been institutionalized, and today, they have been given numerous powers to administer local governments.
Panchayati Raj System in India:-
Panchayati Raj System (PRS) is a three-tier local-level governance system in India. PRS aims to empower local citizens in decision-making, local planning, and providing services for citizens. Panchayats at the village level, intermediate-level, and district-level forms the three tiers of Panchayati Raj System.
Constitutionally, Article 243 sets out the legislative framework for Panchayats. The 73rd Amendment of the Constitution has given constitutional protection to the PRS. The amendment acts as a security mechanism for the panchayats to carry out their functions without undue interference.
Powers and functions of Panchayat:-
Panchayats have both the administrative and financial functions. The Constitution empowers the panchayats to levy and collect tax on agriculture, land, property, and other such sectors. Additionally, panchayats are responsible for managing assets like forests and minerals, and revenue collections.
Moreover, panchayats have the power to prepare a budget for their district, formulate the development plans and programs and provide basic municipal amenities like sanitation and drinking water facilities, health services and primary education in their jurisdiction. The 73rd Amendment of the Constitution also mandates that the Panchayats must receive a share of the funds allocated to rural development by the central and state governments.
Challenges Faced by Panchayats:-
Although Panchayats perform various functions based on their jurisdiction, there are several challenges that they encounter in the delivery of their services. Most of them depend on the devolution and availability of resources. Unequal distribution of resources and insufficient power to collect revenue, scarcity of funds, and limited control over schemes act as a roadblock in their performance.
Moreover, Panchayats are dependent on the district administration for implementing various central and state-sponsored schemes. This results in undue delay in implementing such schemes. Corruption is another significant challenge faced by Panchayats. Deviations from rules and corruption reduce transparency in the utilization of funds, which result in misappropriation of funds.
Role of Judiciary in Panchayats:-
The judiciary also plays a critical role in the efficient functioning of Panchayats. Their role includes interpreting the laws, scrutinizing the regulations and decisions of Panchayats, and monitoring its performance. Judicial intervention is necessary in ensuring the mandates enshrined in the constitution are upheld. A good example is the case of The State of Madhya Pradesh and Ors. v. Shriyut Tulsiram Patel and Ors relating to the reservation of seats in the Panchayat elections. In this case, the Supreme Court, while interpreting Article 243D of the Constitution, held that reservation shall be provided for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and women by rotation.
Panchayats play a crucial role in the administration of rural India. They are a representation of the grassroots level of democracy, and it is essential that they function efficiently and proficiently. The three-tier system of Panchayats under article 243 of the constitution provides constitutional protection to them. However, several challenges need to be addressed. A complete devolution of powers to the Panchayats, augmenting their revenue sources and providing more resources for their functioning can go a long way in enhancing their functionality. Judiciary plays an important role in ensuring transparent and fair practices in providing justice to citizens.
– Constitution of India, Article 243
– The State of Madhya Pradesh and Ors. v. Shriyut Tulsiram Patel and Ors (2007) 5 SCC 421
– Ojaswi Malik and Srikant Sharma, Panchayats in India – their Role, Significance and Function available at https://blog.ipleaders.in/panchayats-in-india-their-role-significance-and-functions/ (last accessed on August 20, 2021)