Despite their long historical and social legacy in India, modern Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) were created by 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992. The Act mandated local self government in form of elected Panchayati Raj Institutions in villages, sub-districts, and districts. Its provisions were eventually incorporated in various conformity acts, called State Panchayati Raj Acts, and its reach extended to Schedule V areas through Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act – PESA, 1996. The 1992 Act mandating PRIs was strengthened by providing centrality to Panchayats in Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 and the Forest Rights Act, 2006. With nearly 3 million elected representatives, of whom about 1.4 million are women and a million Dalit and tribals, Panchayats have ensured visible participation of the hitherto marginalized social groups in grassroots governance.
The Ministry of Panchayati Raj developed a National Capability Framework, 2014, to provide overall guidance for capacity building of PRIs. It also launched initiatives such as Panchayat Sashaktikaran Abhiyan, Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Abhiyan and e-governance in these rural local bodies. The Central Finance Commission and State Finance Commissions have recommended enhancement of resource base of PRIs. Panchayats have also been provided support to enable them to play a lead role in development of backward districts under Aspirational District Programme, 2018. Government of Odisha (GoO) increased funds for GPs in state as suggested by 4th Odisha Finance Commission and devolved functions of 11 departments to PRIs. GoO also introduced schemes like Ama Gaon Ama Vikash while reorganizing GPs, to improve efficiency in service delivery, increasing their number from 6,336 to 6799.
These initiatives notwithstanding, barring few exceptions, Panchayats are still not genuinely vibrant local government in most states. They largely continue to be reliant on Central and State Governments to determine their functions, finance, and functionaries. That is why even after 25 years of Panchayati Raj in India, there are many issues, which need to be considered by relevant stakeholders.
- Is Gram Sabha a unique forum of direct democracy to discuss and decide on development agenda at local level in the countryside? Does it ensure accountability of Gram Panchayat? If not, why? What should be done?
- What are the obstacles for genuine devolution of 3 Fs (Functions, Funds and Functionaries), as indicated by Schedule XI of the Constitution of India? What are mechanisms of accountability of Union and State vis-à-vis PRIs?
- Why do Panchayats fail to raise their own resources, as also pointed out by the National Economic Survey, 2018? What can help them do so?
- How have State Finance Commissions (SFCs) led to value addition to the 15th Finance Commission? Do SFCs enable Panchayats financially?
- Does Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP) follow constitutional framework for integrated decentralized planning, as mandated in Article 243 G and Article 243ZD, of the Constitution? Can GPDP become a more effective approach, for convergence at local level, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals?