Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Provisions of Panchayati Raj Institutions

Provisions of Panchayati Raj Institutions

What are the provisions relating to the Panchayati Raj Institutions in Indian Constitution?

The original Constitution of India did not contain elaborate provisions with respect to Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in India, though village Panchayats as units of local administration had been functional since the early British days. As per Article 40 of the Constitution, a Directive exists in the Directive Principles of State Policy under which the State is required to take steps to organise village Panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.

Acting on the strength of this Directive, many State governments had enacted their Panchayati Raj Acts and had adopted two or three tier system of PRIs. In the meanwhile, several Committees appointed by the government of India, including Balwant Rai Mehta Committee, submitted their reports, which were also considered and selectively adopted by various State governments. But, by mid-eighties it was realised that many States were not very keen to promote the PRI and elections to these institutions were not held for many years on one pretext or the other. It was, thus, decided to add some specific provisions to the Constitution itself, on the basis of which the legislatures of various States would enact detailed laws to ensure uniformity in provisions, regularity in holding elections and empowerment of the people, particularly the downtrodden at the grass root level.

Hence, 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act 1992 was passed which sought to insert a new Part IX to the Constitution in the form of Articles 243A to 243-O. The provisions of this Constitutional Amendment required the State legislatures to enact own laws to enforce the new Constitutional provisions. These constitutional provisions provide for a uniform three tier system of the PRIs, with Gram Panchayats at village level, Panchayat Samitis at the intermediate (Block) level and Zila Parishads at the District level. The States with less that 20-lakh population need not have the intermediate tier. While the elections to all the seats at Gram Panchayat level are to be direct, elections to other two tiers take place as per the laws of the State concerned.

73rd Constitutional Amendment also provides for reservation of seats for various categories. As a landmark provision that may have far reaching implications for socio-economic and political empowerment of the rural women, it is provided that not less than one-third of the total seats are to be reserved for women in all three tiers. While the reservations for SC and ST candidates are subject to the provisions under Article 334, the same for women do not have any limiting factor.
It has been made mandatory to hold elections to all the PRIs within six months of the expiry of their previous term. Every such institution is required to function for five years after the date of its first meeting. In case any such institution is dissolved as per law, fresh elections are required to be held within six-month period.

Minimum age prescribed for a candidate seeking election to any office of the PRIs is 21 years. These provisions relating to timely elections as well as free and fair elections to the PRIs are to be implemented by the State Election Commissioner, who is to be appointed by the Governor in every State. The State Election Commissioner can be removed only on the same grounds and in the same manner as in case of the Judge of a High Court.

The Constitution enlists 29 items, including land improvement, rural development schemes, minor irrigation, primary education, fisheries, animal husbandry, development of women and children, etc., which can be assigned by the States to the PRIs. The States can assign various taxes, duties and levies to the Panchayats for effectively carrying out and supervising the works assigned to them. With a view to distribute economic resources to the PRIs, assign certain taxes, duties and tolls to them and give them grants in aid. The Constitution provides that every five years, the State governments would appoint a State Finance Commission who would make recommendation to the State government in this regard.

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