Panchayati Raj system (Polity GS 2)

Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) is a system of rural local self-government in India.

  • Local Self Government is the management of local affairs by such local bodies who the local people have elected.

PRI was constitutionalized through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 to build democracy at the grass roots level and was entrusted with the task of rural development in the country.

How did the Panchayati Raj System Evolve in Independent India?

After the Constitution came into force, Article 40 made a mention of panchayats and Article 246 empowers the state legislature to legislate with respect to any subject relating to local self-government.

However, this inclusion of panchayats into the Constitution was not unanimously agreed upon by the then decision-makers, with the major opposition having come from the framer of the Constitution himself i.e. B.R.Ambedkar.

Since the Directive Principles are not binding principles, the result was the absence of a uniform structure of these bodies throughout the country.

After independence, as a development initiative, India had implemented the Community Development Programmes (CDP) on the eve of Gandhi Jayanti, the 2nd October, 1952 under the major influence of the Etawah Project undertaken by the American expert, Albert Mayer.

It encompassed almost all activities of rural development which were to be implemented with the help of village panchayats along with the participation of people.

In 1953, the National Extension Service was also introduced as a prologue to CDP. But the programme did not yield much result.

There were various reasons for the failure of CDP like bureaucracy and excessive politics, lack of people participation, lack of trained and qualified staff, and lack of local bodies interest in implementing the CDP especially the village panchayats.

Balwant Rai Mehta Committee (1957)

  • In 1957, the National Development Council constituted a committee headed by Balwant Rai Mehta to look into the working of community development programme.
  • The team observed that the major reason for the failure of the CDP was the lack of people’s participation.
  • The committee suggested a three-tier PRIs, namely, Grama Panchayats (GPs) at the village level, Panchayat Samiti (PSs) at the block level, and Zilla Parishad (ZPs) at the district level.
  • As a result of this scheme of democratic decentralization was launched in Rajasthan on October 2, 1959.
  • Rajasthan was the first state to establish Panchayati Raj. It was inaugurated in 1959 in Nagaur district.
  • Most of the states created the system in their states. However, there were wide-ranging differences between them. Some states had adopted two-tier system, others three-tier and four-tier. The manner of devolution of power was also varying across the country.

Ashok Mehta Committee (1977)

  • The appointment of the Ashok Mehta Committee in 1977 did bring new thinking in the concepts and practices of the Panchayat Raj.
  • The committee recommended a two-tier Panchayat Raj institutional structure consisting of Zilla Parishad and Mandal Panchayat.
  • In order to use planning expertise and to secure administrative support, the district was suggested as the first point of decentralization below the state level.
  • Based on its recommendation, some of the states like Karnataka incorporated them effectively.

In subsequent years in order to revive and give a new lease of life to the panchayats, the Government of India had appointed various committees.

The most important among them are the Hanumantha Rao Committee (1983), G.V.K. Rao Committee (1985), L.M.Singhvi Committee (1986) and the Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State relations (1988), P.K. Thungan Committee (1989) and Harlal Singh Kharra Committee (1990).

G.V.K. Rao Committee (1985)

  • The committee recommended making the “district” as the basic unit of planning with a post of district development commissioner in-charge of the development departments at district level
  • and also holding regular elections

L.M.Singhvi committee (1986)

  • It recommended providing more financial resources
  • and constitutional status to the panchayats to strengthen them.
  • Judicial tribunals should be established to adjudicate judicial matters related to PRI

The Amendment phase began with the 64th Amendment Bill (1989) which was introduced by Rajiv Gandhi seeking to strengthen the PRIs but the Bill was not passed in the Rajya Sabha.

The Constitution (74th Amendment) Bill (a combined bill for the PRIs and municipalities) was introduced in 1990, but was never taken up for discussion.

It was during the Prime Ministership of P.V.Narasimha Rao that a comprehensive amendment was introduced in the form of the Constitution 72nd Amendment Bill in September 1991.

73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments were passed by Parliament in December, 1992. Through these amendments, local self-governance was introduced in rural and urban India.

Salient Features of the 73rd and 74th Amendments?

These amendments added two new parts to the Constitution, namely, added Part IX titled “The Panchayats” (added by 73rd Amendment) and Part IXA titled “The Municipalities” (added by 74th Amendment).


  • Organization of Gram Sabhas;
  • Creation of a three-tier Panchayati Raj Structure at the District (Zila), Block and Village levels;
  • Almost all posts, at all levels to be filled by direct elections;
  • Minimum age for contesting elections to the Panchayati Raj institutions be twenty one years;
  • The post of Chairman at the District and Block levels should be filled by indirect election;
  • There should be reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes in Panchayats, in proportion to their population, and for women in Panchayats up to one-third seats;
  • State Election Commission to be set up in each State to conduct elections to Panchayati Raj institutions;
  • The tenure of Panchayati Raj institutions is five years, if dissolved earlier, fresh elections to be held within six months; and
  • A State Finance Commission is to be set up in each State every five years.
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