Gandhiji believed that nation’s freedom would not be real until its villages became economically self-sufficient and politically self-governing.
Feudalism has no place in democracy and every effort should be made to instill economic values and practices to build a broad based and solid foundation for economic and social progress and the Panchayati Raj system is the best made to realize it. Thus, the basic philosophy behind Panchayati Raj institution is to ensure people’s participation in the management of their own affairs. Unless participation of masses is ensured at every level of our political and administrative system, we cannot think in terms of real democracy and development. The emergence of Panchayati Raj institutions, thus, offer a unique and remarkable opportunity to empower local communities, to accomplish major goals set out in the Constitution of India and to demonstrate the power of democracy.
India lives in villages and the development of the villages was the immediate problem faced after independence. Hence, the Community Development Programme was launched in October, 1952 with a view to seek people’s participation and involvement in the task of rural development. Under this programme, the administration at the district and the lower levels was reorganized and Panchayati Raj was integrally connected with it both in its programmatic connect and organizational evolution. But the programmatic content and organizational evolution. But the programme failed in its mission without any agency at the legal level to assume responsibility, represent entire community and provide the necessary leadership for implementing development programmes.
In January 1957 the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee was appointed to study the failure an the Committee came to the conclusion that the movement failed because it could not arouse local interests. Rather it recommended the replacement of the old district boards with a three-tier system at the district, block and village level with an organic link among them.
Following the recommendations of the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee, Panchayati Jar was introduced in various states in different patterns and Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh were the first states to adopt the three-tier system of Panchayati Raj. Thus, they established the Zilla Parishad or District Council at the district level, Panchayat Samiti at block level and Village Panchayats at the village level to give practical shape to goal of decentralized administration and decision making by people themselves through the local self-government of Panchayati Raj system at the grass-root-level.
The Village Panchayat or Gram Panchayat is constituted fro one village or group of villages. The powers and functions of Gram Panchayats are more or less similar in all the states. They have to execute schemes entrusted by the Panchayat Samitis and Zilla Parishad. Their administrative functions include looking after village sanitation, construction and maintenance of bridges, wells and ponds, improvement in the health, preventive and curative measures during epidemics, maintenance of village schools, improvement of agriculture and cottage industries etc.
The intermediate tier Panchayat Samiti has a term varies from three to five years in different states. The elected head of the Samiti is known as President/Chairman/Pradhan/Pramukh. Panchayat Samitis have to play an important role in the developing administration. They have been assigned large number of functions to perform. Their important functions are in the areas of agriculture, animal husbandry, health and rural sanitation, education, communication, cooperatives, cottage industries and upliftment of backward classes. The main source of income of the Panchayat Samiti are annual grants by state government. Besides their own resources like agriculture and share in the land cess, surcharge on stamp duty also substitute the income. Although the budget of the Panchayat Samiti is sent to the Zilla Parishad for approval, the Panchayat Samiti is sent to the Zilla Parishad for approval, the Panchayat Samiti have full freedom to frame their own budget and formulate their annual plans of development within the frame of the state plan.
The nomenclature used to indicate the popular body constituted at district level is Zilla Parishad in most of the states. But in Assam it is known as Mahakuma Parishad. The important power and functions of the Zilla Parishad are to examine and approve the budget of Panchat Samitis in the district, distribute the funds allotted to the district by the central or state government among the Panchayat Samitis, coordinating and consolidating the plans prepared by the blocks in the district, collect such data as it deems necessary and publish statistics or other information relating to activities of local authorities. Its main source of income are money received from the state government, donations and contributions from Panchayat Samitis etc. In Maharashtra, it can impose few taxes. Its budgets are submitted to state government for approval.
The Gram Sabha which is not a tier of Panchayati Raj is the general body consisting of all voters residing in the jurisdiction of a Gram Panchayat. The functions allotted to the Gram Sabha are consideration of the annual statement of accounts, audit report of the Gram Panchayat, administration report of the Gram Panchayat, work programme for the ensuing year, taxation proposals and any other specific development schemes.
Nyaya Panchayat are judicial Panchayat established with the objective of providing a speedy and inexpensive system of justice to the villagers. Nyaya Panchayats are functioning in some states. The jurisdiction of Nyaya Panchayats varies in different states, from one gram panchayat to over five or more gram Panchayats. Nyaya Panchayats generally try petty civil suits relating to movable property and minor offences for which a fine would be an adequate corrective.
On April 23, 1994 the task of granting constitutional status to Panchayati Raj system has been completed with the states enacting legislation to bring has been completed with the states enacting legislation to bring their existing Panchayat Acts in conformity with the provisions of 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act 1992. This marks a historic transition of political power to the grass-roots level.