1. Introduction:
Late Rajiv Gandhi came to the helm of affairs in the country he repeatedly stressed the importance of Panchayati Raj. He formed his views on the subject by under-taking whirlwind tours of rural India to familiarize himself with the realities of rural life, by holding frequent workshops of district magistrates all over the country, and thus assessing their views and understanding their difficulties. As a result of this interaction with the people and the administrators, his views on Panchayati Raj gradually evolved, his thoughts ware clarified and he could form his own plan of Panchayati Raj and place it before the parliament with perfect self-confidence and case. He also sought to give it constitutional sanction by proposing to add a fresh chapter to the Indian constitution in the form of the 64th amendment, through the Bill which he moved in the parliament on the 15th of May, 1989. As a result of his clarity of thought and powerful advocacy, the bill was passed with near unanimity, with only five M.P.’s voting against it. Late Rajiv Gandhi forcefully and clearly unfolded the concept of Panchayati Raj, the urgent need of constitutional sanction for it, and the salient features of his scheme for making it a reality. He told the members of the parliament that, “Democracy was the greatest gift of our freedom struggle to the people of India. Independence made the nation free. Democracy made our people free. A free people are a people who are governed by their will and ruled with their consent. A free people are a people who participate in decisions affecting their lives and their destinies”. “Gandhiji believed that democratic freedoms have to be founded in institutions of self-government in every village of India. He drew his inspiration and his vision from the Panchayats, the traditional ‘village republics’ of India. Panditji established the institution of Panchayati Raj as the primary instrument for bringing development to the doorstep of rural India. Indiraji stressed the need for the people’s participation in the processes of economic and social transformation.

In this era of globalization and rapid economic growth, it is even more essential to ensure that the voices of the Panchayats are heard, that Panchayati Raj leaders and workers have a say in shaping and influencing development policies. So that grassroots needs and aspirations are represented, and the benefits of our economic growth flow. The Panchayat system has been integral part of the Indian village system through ages. A village is self contained microcosm, a composite peasant society representing different communities and cultural hues. It does not have irritant elements but represent an integrated culture, free to a greater extent from the penetrations of urban cultural patterns into the village life.

2. Local self government:
In the context of a large, diverse nation like India where the public faces a myriad of problems large and small, a functioning system of local self-governance becomes even more critical. To speed up the development process and make it most effective, people at the grassroots level must have as much authority to tackle the issue facing them as possible. Their powers should not be limited only to casting a vote once in five years. They should be actively involved in day-to-day governance issues and should have a say in the matters that concern them. They should not have to run for every small task to their local bureaucrats and politicians. The efforts to eliminate poverty must synthesize the top down policies of the central and state governments with bottom up knowledge, problem solving abilities and the needs of the grassroots citizens.

Idea of Gram Sabha in Panchyats Raj system was created with the hope that it would provide a platform to the local people to collectively plan and implement programs for their own development. However, they are yet to become effective institutions of local self-governance. The local institutions, though exists formally now, have far too little power particularly over funds and local officials to accomplish the will of their constituents. In case of Municipalities, it is even worse because at the least Gram Sabha in Panchayat Raj provides a platform to the villagers to collectively deliberate and decide but no such platform in Municipalities, where people can collectively express their will and concerns.

3. Panchayati raj:
The panchayat raj is a South Asian political system mainly in India, Pakistan, and Nepal. The word “panchayat” is a traditional one and are an ancient form of local government based on the idea that when five (panch) respected elders chosen and accepted by the village community, God will be present. It literally means assembly of five people. Traditionally, these assemblies settled disputes between individuals and villages. The five elders in a village who mediated conflict and spoke on behalf of all the residents of a village in pre-modern times. In these traditional bodies, the lower castes and women had no representation. The question did not arise. Modern Indian government has decentralized several administrative functions to the village level, empowering elected gram panchayats. Panchayati Raj is a system of governance in which gram panchayats are the basic units of administration. It has 3 levels: village, block and district.

4. The Panchayat Raj system has a three-tier structure as:

1. The Village Panchayats
2. The Panchayat Samitis and
3. The Zilla Parishad

4.1. The Village Panchayat or Gram Panchayat:
The village panchayat or the gram Panchayat functions at the Village level. It is called a Panchayat at the village level. It is a local body working for the good of the village. The number of members usually ranges from 7 to 31; occasionally, groups are larger, but they never have fewer than 7 members.

4.2. Panchayat Samiti/ Intermediate level panchayat:
Panchayat samiti is a local government body at the tehsil or Taluka level in India. It works for the villages of the Tehsil or Taluka that together are called a Development Block. The Panchayat Samiti is the link between the Gram Panchayat and the district administration. There are a number of variations of this institution in various states. It is known as Mandal Praja Parishad in Andhra Pradesh, Taluka panchayat in Gujarat, Mandal Panchayat in Karnataka, etc. In general it’s a kind of Panchayati raj at higher level.

4.2.1. Constitution:
It is composed of ex-officio members all sarpanchas of the panchayat samiti area, the MPs and MLAs of the area and the SDO of the subdivision, co-opted members representatives of SC/ST and women, associate members a farmer of the area, a representative of the cooperative societies and one of the marketing services and some elected members. The samiti is elected for 5 years and is headed by the chairman and the deputy chairman.

4.2.2. Departments:
The common departments in the Samiti are as follows:

– General administration
– Finance
– Public works
– Agriculture
– Health
– Education
– Social welfare
– Information Technology and others.

There is an officer for every department. A government appointed block development officer is the executive officer to the samiti and the chief of its administration the department in the samiti.

4.2.3. Functions:
– Implement schemes for the development of agriculture.
– Establishment of primary health centers and primary schools.
– Supply of drinking water, drainage, construction and repair of roads.
– Development of cottage and small-scale industries and opening of cooperative societies.
– Establishment of youth organizations.

4.2.4. Sources of income:
The main source of income in the panchayat samitis are grants-in-aid and loans from the State Government.

4.3. Zilla Parishad/ District level panchayat:
In the district level of the panchayati raj system you have the “Zillah parishad”. It looks after the administration of the rural area of the district and its office is located at the district headquarters. It is headed by the “District Collector” or the “District Magistrate” or the “Deputy Commissioner”. It is the link between the state government and the panchayat samiti.

4.3.1. Constitution:
Members of the Zilla Parishad are elected from the district on the basis of adult franchise for a term of five years. Zilla Parishad has minimum of 50 and maximum of 75 members. There are seats reserved for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, backward classes and women. The Chairmen of all the Panchayat Samitis form the members of Zilla Parishad. The Parishad is headed by a President and a Vice-President.

4.3.2. Functions:

1. Provide essential services and facilities to the rural population and the planning and execution of the development programmes for the district.
2. Supply improved seeds to farmers. Inform them of new techniques of training. Undertake construction of small-scale irrigation projects and percolation tanks. Maintain pastures and grazing lands.
3. Set up and run schools in villages. Execute programmes for adult literacy. Run libraries.
4. Start Primary Health Centers and hospitals in villages. Start mobile hospitals for hamlets, vaccination drives against epidemics and family welfare campaigns.
5. Construct bridges and roads.
6. Execute plans for the development of the scheduled castes and tribes. Run ashramshalas for adivasi children. Set up free hostels for scheduled caste students.
7. Encourage entrepreneurs to start small-scale industries like cottage industries, handicraft, agriculture produce processing mills, dairy farms, etc. implement rural employment schemes.
8. They construct roads, schools, public properties and they take care of the public properties.
9. They even supply work for the poor people like tribes, scheduled caste, and lower caste.

4.3.3. Sources of Income:

1. Taxes on water, pilgrimage, markets, etc.
2. Fixed grant from the State Government in proportion with the land revenue and money for works and schemes assigned to the Parishad.

5. Gram swaraj (village self-government):
Gram swaraj was a goal of India’s Freedom Movement, although it was not enshrined in India’s 1951 constitution. Mahatma Gandhi advocated Panchayati Raj, a decentralized form of Government where each village is responsible for its own affairs, as the foundation of India’s political system. His term for such a vision was “Gram Swaraj” Village Self-governance. The village Republic will be managed by a panchayat which will be living political force and entity.

6. Objectives-panchayats raj institutions-gram sabha:
The 73th Amendment envisages the Gram Sabha as the foundation of the Panchayats Raj System to perform functions and powers entrusted to it by the State Legislatures. The amendment provides for a three tier Panchayats Raj System at the village, intermediate and district levels. Articles 243A provides that the Gram Sabha may exercise such power perform such functions at the village level as the Legislature of a state may be law provide. “Gram Sabha” means a body consisting of persons registered in the electoral rolls comprised within the area of Panchayats at the village level. In the Panchayats Raj System Gram Sabha is the only permanent unit. Duration of Panchayats i.e. Mukhiyas and other members of Panchayats continue for 5 years only from the date appointed for the first meeting but the villagers do not change. Articles 243H empowers State Legislature to make by law provision for imposing taxes etc. by the panchayats. Drafting and implementation of development plans for the uplift of the villages would be vetted and monitored by the Gram Sabha. Panchayats Institutions are the vehicles of political empowerment of people at the grass root level for shaping their own destiny.

7. Constitutional Scheme:

7.1. Three-tier structure:
“India is poor because the villages of India are poor. India will be rich if the villages of India are rich. Panchayats should be given greater power; for we want the villagers to have a greater measure of real swaraj in their own villages.” According to Mahatma Gandhi, “Indian Independence must be at the bottom and every village ought to be a Republic with Panchayat having powers.”

7.2. Directive Principles:
The Constitution provided, in Part 4, The Directive Principles of State Policy, Article 40 for the setting up of village panchayats.

7.3. Gram sabha: Art. 234 A
To ensure that the panchayats stay accountable to all the people of their constituency, they are required to hold village assemblies means gram sabha with a quorum of citizens several times each year. In the Panchayati Raj set up, the Gram Sabha, the general assembly of villagers has a key role for effective functioning of Panchyats. In the Gram Sabha meeting, the rural poor, the women and the marginalised people would now get an opportunity to join in decision making on matters affecting their lives. Active functioning of the Gram Sabha would ensure a participatory democracy with transparency, accountability and achievement.

• Gram Sabha should meet a least in each quarter preferably on Republic Day, Labour Day, Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti.
• Decide developmental work to be undertaken by Panchayats based on needs assessment.
• Suggest remedial measures for economy and efficiency in the functioning of the Panchayats.
• Discuss the Annual Financial Statement of Gram Panchayats.