Peter, a student of the 5th grade had done badly in the term-end exam. The headmistress had a detailed discussion with Peter’s class teacher on whether he should be kept back and not sent to the 6th grade. The class teacher advised that Peter had been ill that month, but was really bright and deserved to go up to the 6th grade.
Why did the headmistress consult the class teacher? Naturally, because the class teacher meets Peter everyday and knows what he needs in order to succeed. The headmistress doesn’t know Peter all that well because she’s in charge of other classes too.
It is precisely on this principle that the system of local governments is formed India is a vast country with a huge population: there are rich people, poor people, people from different religions, different castes, from urban citizens to forest dwelling tribes and many more categories. A single central government can’t possibly deal with this vastness and variety.
What is a Gram Panchayat?
A Gram Panchayat is the local self government organisation in India of the Panchayati Raj system, at the village or small town level and is at the base level of the Panchayati Raj.
They are governed by the 73rd Amendment, which is concerned with Rural Local Governments.
A Gram Panchayat is headed by the Sarpanch, who is the elected head.
How does the Gram Panchayat administrate its duties?
- The Sarpanch, Members and Gram Sevaks represent the voice and opinion of the village people on behalf of the Gram Panchayat to the Taluka and Zilla level by attending the meetings or sending the official records.
- The Panchayat and Rural Development Minister of the State controls all the functions of the Gram Panchayat Department of the State.
Hence India has a federal structure, where there are governing bodies at lower levels. The administrative hierarchy is something like this:
Centre —> State —> District —> Taluka (block) —> Village (Panchayat).
The central government is the policy maker and makes important decisions for the nation. It makes decisions about big issues like whether the country should be a nuclear power and what kinds of infrastructure should be implemented to benefit everybody.
At the other end is the village panchayat which chiefly deals with its own village. This group of villagers are in charge of asking the state government for the needs of the village.
It is funded by the state government and the central government and must abide by the state and central government laws.
Benefits and Importance of the Gram Panchayat
- Reduces poverty by addressing needs at a grass root levell.
- Better use of local resources.
- People are directly involved in their local government.
A village council system is maybe as old as Indian civilization but somehow got lost over time. With the efforts of the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the 73rd Amendment Act came into force in 1993 and the Panchayati Raj system was part of the constitution. It aims to reach even the smallest and remotest village.
Structure of the Village Panchayat
Each village has a gram sabha made up of people in an area over the age of 18 and are citizens of India. The gram sabha is represented by a panchayat and elects a president who is the sarpanch. The panchayat is further divided into wards, smaller areas with its own representatives or ward panchs. Together the ward panchs and the sarpanch make up the gram panchayat.
There is a panchayat at the village, intermediate and district level. In states with population below 20 lakhs, there would be panchayats at the village and district level only. Members of the panchayat (five in number) would be elected by the people. The panchayat would be headed by the sarpanch or village headman.
The panchayat can plan and implement schemes related to agriculture, cottage industries, fisheries, rural housing and electrification, clean drinking water for all, poverty alleviation, adult education, health and sanitation, and welfare of the weaker sections such as remote forest tribes in their area.
The 73rd Amendment Act is an attempt to restructure the Panchayati Raj to affect administration at the grassroot level. In many cases it has succeeded.
For Example in Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra, under the guidance of Anna Hazare, the villagers of this arid land contributed their labour (shramdaan) to create rainwater catchment areas. This gave the villagers employment as well as much needed water reserves.
Attempts are being made to provide employment so that the village youth do not migrate to cities. It is also heartening to see the village women actively involved in the business of the panchayat.
Powers and functions of Gram Panchayat
The Panchayat Act specifies the functions, powers and duties of the Gram Panchayats as :
A Gram Panchayat shall provide :
- Sanitation, drainage and maintenance of public property.
- Curative and preventive measures incase of any epidemic.
- Supply of drinking water and disinfecting the sources of supply and storage of water.
- Maintenance, repair, construction and protection of public streets.
- Removal of encroachments of public streets or public places.
- The control and administration of the Gram Panchayat Fund.
- The imposition, assessment and collection of the taxes, rates or fees.
- The maintenance and control of Dafadars and Chowkidars.
- Administration of Nyay Panchayat, etc.
Other Functions Assigned by the State Government :
- Primary, social, technical, vocational, adult or non-formal education.
- Rural dispensaries, health centers, maternity and child welfare centers.
- Management of any public transportation.
- Grow-more-food campaigns.
- Rehabilitation of displaced persons.
- Improved breeding of cattle.
- Bringing waste land under cultivation through land improvement and soil conservation.
- Promotion of village plantations, social forestry and farm forestry.
- Arranging for co-operative management of land.
- Assisting the implementation of land reform measures.
- Rural housing programs.
- Rural electrification.
- Women and child development.
Discretionary functions of Gram Panchayat
A Gram Panchayat may make provision for :
- Maintenance of lighting of public streets.
- Planting and maintaining of trees on the sides of public streets.
- The sinking of wells and excavation of ponds and tanks.
- The introduction and promotion of cooperative farming and enterprises.
- The construction and regulation of markets.
- The promotion and encouragement of cottage, khadi, village and small-scale including food processing industries.
- The construction and maintenance of dharmasalas, rest houses, cattle sheds and cart sheds.
- The establishment and maintenance of libraries and reading rooms.
- Promotion of dairy-farming, animal husbandry, poultry and fishery.
- The welfare of socially and educationally backward classes.
- Maintenance of community assets, etc.
This picture depicts the Panchayati Raj undertaking village development Projects.
Elect your class panchayat (your teacher will be able to help you with the process). Make one of them the sarpanch. The panchayat must then get to work, motivate the entire class to win the ‘Best Classroom Competition’ amongst your standard.
For more such interesting Civics articles and videos, go to Civics for Kids category.