Panchayati Raj was a pious dream of our great leader Mahatma Gandhi who wanted to strengthen the democracy at the grassroots level by this system. In our country, senventy percent of the population is in rural areas. As such, amidst widespread diversity and various problems, the main attention of our country is to focus on rural planning development. Thus it has become important to implement Panchayati Raj with full vigour and dedication to prepare ourselves to face the challenges of the 21st century.
Our country is spread in a vast area and it is not easy to solve the various problems being encountered by rural people. This gives rise to the need of participation by rural folks on priority basis. For this reason, Gandhiji wanted to keep the base of the ladder of growth in the rural areas and make it reach the centre through gradual process of development. So he proclaimed that India must follow the system of self-government functioning through Panchayats. His slogan of “Gram Swaraj” was most remarkable and accepted by all Indians. Everybody realized that all problems whether administrative, social, political or economical can be solved by our own participation through panchayat Raj.
As a first step in direction of Panchayat Raj, composite basic development was entrusted to the rural bodies by introduction of Community Development Programmes. This step gave rise to a network of panchayats spread almost all over the country. However, it could not help its evolution because of its functioning on the directions from the top. Then in 1956, an official committee was set up by the government of India to examine the problems related to implementation of Panchayati Raj. This committee was headed by Shri. BalwanRaj Mehta who recommended in its report the introduction of three-tier system for self-government at the grassroots levels. It also recommended transfer of more responsibility and power to these bodies. Hence, the recommendation of the Mehta Committee led to inauguration of the Panchayati Raj at Nagaur in Rajasthan on October 2, 1959. this was a great tribute on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
During the tenure of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehur, various institutions were thus established which were assigned various tasks related to administrative, political and other development activities. However, with the arrival of the regime of Smt. Indira Gandhi, other schemes relevant to “Garibi Hatao” started prevailing. There wer few incentives to promote Panchayati Raj due to superiority given to bureaucrats.
In 1978, the Ashok Mehta Committee submitted a report in which it observed that the institutions set up to promote Panchayati Raj had failed to pass the fruits of democracy to the rural sections of the society. It gave recommendations to set up Zila Parishads and Mandal Samitis at village levels inter-linked through a two-tier mechanism of Panchayat Samitis. Panchayat Raj was given constitutional legitimacy in 1993 by ratifying various state legislatures by the President of India. It provided reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women and devolution of financial and administrative powers. Gram Sabha was laid as the foundation of the Panchayat Raj System to perform functions entrusted to it by State legislature. All village Panchayats were assured a five – year tem with elections mandatory after this period of five years.
However, Panchayati Raj system cannot be called as a real decentralization of powers and authority since, it only takes away certain powers of states and gives them in turn to Panchayats. In fact, it is a took to bypass the State Governments. That is why it came under criticsm and got no support from State Government. Therefore, to make Panchayat Raj successful, real land reforms are needed. The development of rural people is of utmost importance to improve the condition of weaker sections of our society.
Today Panchayati Raj is suffering due to lack of basic reforms in socio-economic structure. With the creation of Panchayati Raj, various filthy and divisive processes have percolated to the village level. If all such minus points of Panchayati Raj are taken care, we will see that its merits may outnumber its drawbacks. Desire of self – governance assumes greater significance in rural population. The relevance of Panchayati Raj is being appreciated because of growing individualism and desire of self-rule and its role among the rural masses at all levels on account of increased awareness and spread of education.