The Panchayati Raj is a South Asian Political
system mainly in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh
and Nepal. The word “panchayat” literally
means “assembly” of five wise and respected
elders chosen and accepted by the local community.
Panchayati Raj is a system of governance
in which gram panchayats are the basic units
of administration. Mahatma Gandhi advocated
panchayati Raj, a decentralized form of government.
It is the oldest system of local government in the
Indian sub continent. This system was adopted by
state governments during the 1950s and 60s as
laws were passed to establish panchayats in various
states. It also found backing in Indian constitution
with the 73rd Amendment in 1992 to accommodate
the idea. In the history of Panchayati Raj in India, on
24th April, 1993, the constitutional (73rd Amendment)
Act 1992 came into force to provide constitutional
status to the Panchayati Raj institutions. Currently,
the Panchayati Raj system exits in all the states
except Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram and the
all Union Territories except Delhi.
The Three-Tier System of Panchayati Raj in
The states of Goa, Jammu and Kashmir,
Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Sikim have
two-tier panchayats- one at the village level and
the second at the Zila or District level. In Jammu
and Kashmir, block is the second level. In all other
states Panchayati Raj is a three-tier system- village
as first level, block or janapad as second level and
zila or district as the third level.
Village Level :
Village is the basic unit of Panchayati Raj
Institutions. It is generally a revenue unit. The unit
of local government here is called village panchayat.
In the structure of the Panchayati Raj, the village
panchayat is the lowest unit. The panchayat chiefly
consists of representatives elected by the people of
Only the persons who are registered as
voters and do not hold any office of profit under
the government are eligible for election to the
panchayat. The persons convicted by the court for
criminal offences are disqualified from election of
There is also provision for co-option of two
women and one member of the Scheduled Castes
and Scheduled Tribes, if they do not get adequate
representation in the normal course.
The panchayat as a body is accountable to the
general body of the village known as Gram Sabha
which meets at least twice a year. The Gram Panchayat
must present its budget, accounts of the previous
year and annual administrative report before the
Gram Sabha. Furthermore, it has to secure the latter’s
approval of the village production plan, proposals for
taxation and development programmes before they
are enforced by the panchayat.
Every panchayat elects a president or Sarpanch
and a Vice-President or Up-Sarpanch. In some states,
the Sarpanch is directly elected by the gram sabha
either through the show of hands or through secret
ballot while in other states the mode of election in
indirect. The Sarpanch occupies a pivotal position
in gram panchayat system. He supervises and
coordinates the various activities of the panchayat.
The panchayat secretary and the village level worker
are the two officers at the panchayat level to assist
the Sarpanch in administration.
The panchayats have two types of functions –
- Mandatory 2. Discretionary
- 1Mandatory Functions : Sanitation, conservancy
and drainage, prevention of public nuisances,
drinking water, construction and maintenance
of village roads, construction and repair of
public buildings, registration of births and
deaths, opening and maintenance of cremation
and burial grounds, rural electrification,
poverty alleviation programme, preparation
of annual budget and development plans,
construction and maintenance of cattle sheds,
ponds etc. social farm forestry, fuel and fodder,
slaughter houses, public parks and playgrounds,
agriculture, poultry and fisheries etc.
- Discretionary Functions : Agriculture, animal
husbandry and dairy development, minor
irrigation, small scale industries, housing,
electricity and non-conventional energy, rural
development programmes, education cultural
affairs and heritage, public health etc.
In addition, the village panchayats may be
assigned additional functions by the state
governments and Zila Parishads.
Sources of Revenue :
A gram panchayat fund has been created
on the pattern of the consolidated fund of the
state. All money received by the Gram Panchayat
like contribution or grants made by the State
Government, Union Government, Zila Parishad and
all sums received by the panchayat in the form of
taxes, rates, duties, fees, loans, fines and penalties,
compensation, court decree, sale proceeds and
income from panchayat property etc. go into that
Village Panchayats have been empowered
to levy taxes or fees on subjects like houses
and buildings, professions, trades, callings and
employments, fees on registration of vehicles,
fairs and melas, sanitary arrangements, water
tax, lighting tax, tax on sale of firewood, tax on
slaughter houses, private fisheries, license fee on
tea stalls, hotels or restaurants, carts, carriages,
boats, rickshaws etc.
Block Level :
Block or Union is the second or intermediate
level of local self government in rural India. It has
been named differently is different states. In Andhra
Pradesh, it is known as Mandal Parishad, in Assam, it
is known as Anchalik Panchayat, in Bihar, Jharkhand,
Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Tripura, West Bengal,
Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab and Rajasthan it is
known as Panchayat Samiti and so on.
Usually, a Panchayat Samiti consists of 20
to 60 villages depending on area and population.
The average population under a Samiti is about
80,000, but the range is from 35,000 to 1,00,000.
The Panchayat Samiti generally consists of the
- about twenty members elected by and from
the Panches of all the Panchayats falling in the
- two women members and one member each
from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled
Tribes to be co-opted.
- two local persons possessing experience of
public life and administration, which may be
beneficial for the rural development.
- representatives of the co-operatives working
within the jurisdiction of the block.
- one representative elected by and from the
members of each small municipality lying within
the geographical limits of a block.
- the members of the State and Union legislatures
representing the area are to be taken as
The President of the Panchayat Samiti is the
Pradhan, who is elected by an electoral college
consists of all members of the panchayat Samiti
and all the Panchas of the Gram Panchayat falling
within the panchas areas. Besides the Pradhan, the
Up-pradhan is also elected. The Pradhan convenes
and presides over the Panchayat Samiti meetings.
He guides the panchayats in making plans and
carrying out production programmes. He ensures
the implementation of the decision and resolutions
of the Samiti and its standing committees. He
exercices administrative control over the Vikas
Adhikari (BDO) and his staff. He is a member of the
Zila Parishad by virtue of his office as a Pradhan.
He is the ex-officio chairman of the standing
committees of the Samiti.
As the Chief Executive Officer of the
Panchayat Samiti, the Block Development Officer is
entrusted with the responsibility for implementing
the resolutions of the Samiti and its Standing
Committees. He prepares the budget of the Samiti
and places it before the Samiti for approval.
Preparing the annual report of the Samiti and
sending it to the Zila Parishad and State Government
also comes within the purview of his responsibility.
He is accountable to the president of the Samiti for
The principal function of the Panchayat
Samiti is to co-ordinate the activities of the various
panchayats within its jurisdiction. The Panchayat
Samiti supervises the work of the Panchayats and
scrutinizes their budgets. It also reserves the right
to suggest measures for improving the functioning
of the Panchayats. The Samiti is charged with the
responsibility of preparing and implementing plans
for the development of agriculture, animal husbandry,
fisheries, small scale and cottage industries, rural
Sources of Revenue :
All State legislations provide for the creation of
Panchayat/ Block Samiti Fund like the Consolidated
Fund of the State. All money collected by the Samiti
goes into that fund. These are grants given by the
State Government or Union Government, donations
received, income from properties owned by the
Samiti, all taxes, fees, tolls etc. levied by the Samiti,
any share of the land revenue or taxes levied by the
State Government and assigned to the Samiti, part
of the income of the Zila/ District Parishad assigned
to the Samiti, all loans raised by the Samiti etc.
District Level :
Except in the State of Jammu and Kashmir,
the District / Zila Panchayat constitutes the apex
body of the three-tier structure of the Panchayati
Raj system. The Panchayat at the district level is
called Zila Parishad in most of the States. But, in
Goa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Sikkim and Uttar
Pradesh it is called Zila Parishad and in Tamil Nadu,
Kerala and Gujarat its name in District Panchayat.
Generally, the Zila Parishad consist of
respresentatives of the Panchayat Samiti, all
members of the State Legislative and the Parliament
representing a part or whole of the district, all
district level officers of the Medical, Public Health,
Public Works, Engineering, Agriculture, Education
and other development departments.
There is also a provision for special
representation of women, members of Scheduled
Castes and Scheduled Tribes provided they are not
adequately represented in the normal course. The
collector is also a member of the Zila Parishad.
The Chairman of the Zila Parishad is elected
from among its members. There is a Chief Executive
Officer in the Zila Parishad. He is deputed to the Zila
Parishad by the State Government. There are subjectmatter
specialists or officers at the district level in all
the states for various development programmes.
The term of each District Panchayat is five
years unless dissolved earlier. In most of the States
their meeting must be held at least once in three
months. However, in Goa, Haryana and Karnataka
their meetings must be called at least once in two
The Zila Parishad, for the most part, performs
co-ordinating and supervisory functions. It coordinates
the activities of the Panchayat Samiti
falling within its jurisdiction. In certain states the
Zila Parishad also approves the budgets of the
The Zila Parishad also renders necessary
advice to the Government with regard to the
implementation of the various development
schemes. It is also responsible for the maintenance
of primary and secondary schools, hospitals,
dispensaries, minor irrigation works etc. It also
promotes local industries and art.
Sources of Revenue :
The legislations of all states provide for the
certain of separate Zila Parishad / District Panchayat
Fund which is like the consolidated Fund of the State.
The sources of income of the Zila Parishad / District
Panchayat are :
i) Grants-in-aid given by the State Government
and the Union Government (general or for any
ii) Donations and incomes like rent or lease or sale
proceeds of the properties of the Parishad.
iii) Toll, fees or cess imposed on bridges, ferries,
entertainment, fairs, haats etc.
iv) Share of the land revenue assigned to the
v) Several states like U.P., Punjab, Manipur,
Maharashtra etc. have empowered them to
levy taxes on any matter on which Panchayats
at the lower levels are empowered to do.
vi) Loans raised by it against the security of its
vii) Contributions made by Panchayat Samitis or
any other local authority.
After the passage of the 73rd Constitutional
Amendment in 1992, the States were expected to
decentralize their authority to the institutions of
self-government at the local level. The purpose was
to take democracy to the grass-root level so that
the people should manage their own affairs at that
level. Only the people themselves know what is best
for them and what needs to be done. The idea was
not only to entrust the people with the power of
decision-making but also to give them the authority
and capacity of governing themselves.