Pandemic & Panchayat
29th Apr, 2020
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed elected representatives in local governments on April 24, 2020 to mark the National Panchayati Raj Day. He addressed them when India’s local governments have taken the centrestage in this disruptive stage of the fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
- In the ongoing 40-day national lockdown, India has not had much to celebrate as number cases positive to the SARS-COV-2 virus have spiked.
- But if anyone wants to seek a silver lining, it is there in almost every village: The ubiquitous panchayat elected member.
- In a crisis without precedent, both in spread and scale, everybody needs to speak to the panchayat member.
- Whether how to quarantine returning migrants to villages, or how to identify the hungry and immediately reach food relief to them, a chief minister needs these elected members more than his elected members of the legislative assembly.
- At least 16 states have now COVID-19 emergency strategy that puts the panchayats at the core of implementation.
- An Indian has more per capita elected member due to these local governments than a hospital bed or a doctor or a government welfare officer.
- With more than three million of them, India’s local government, or the Panchayati Raj, is the largest experiment in direct democracy in the world.
- And they are in the forefront of the country’s fight against the pandemic. They are proactive in readying the infrastructure to treat people, to arrange massive movements of food grains for community kitchens and also to maintain that crucial hygiene and “social distancing” at village level.
- They have emerged as the bridge between the decision makers and the community that would have to adapt or implement such decisions.
What is Panchayati Raj System?
- Panchayati Raj is the oldest system of local government in the Indian subcontinent.
- Panchayati Raj Institutions as units of local government have been in existence in India for a long time, in different permutations and combinations.
- However, it was only in 1992 that it was officially established by the Indian Constitution as the third level of India’s federal democracy through the 73rd Amendment Act.
- The Panchayat Raj Systemwas first adopted by the state of Rajasthan in Nagaur district on 2nd October 1959. The second state was Andhra Pradesh.
- The Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) consists of three levels:
- Gram Panchayat at the village level
- Block Panchayat or Panchayat Samiti at the intermediate level
- Zilla Panchayat at the district level
- The word “Panchayat” means assembly (ayat) of five (panch) and raj means “rule”.
- Traditionally Panchayats consisted of elderly and wise people chosen by the local community, who used to settle disputes between individuals and villages.
- The Panchayati Raj system is also recognised as a form of direct democracy (i.e they exercise all powers of a government at a village level), as opposed to the popular notion that it is a type of representative democracy.
- In modern India, Mahatma Gandhi was one of the leading advocates of Gram Swaraj i.e village self-governance where the village would be responsible for its own affairs.
- The Panchayati Raj system of governance can be found all over South Asia in countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, where it goes by the same name.
National Panchayati Raj Day:
- The first National Panchayati Raj Day was celebrated in 2010. Since then, the National Panchayati Raj Day is celebrated on April 24 every year in India.
- Every year on this National Panchayati Raj Day Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj organises National Conference and awards best performing Gram Panchayats with 'The Panchayat Shashakatikaran Puraskar/Rashtriya Gaurav Gram Sabha Puraskar'.
Understanding the structure:
- Gram Panchayat consists of a village or a group of villages divided into smaller units called “Wards”.
- Each ward selects or elects a representative who is known as the Panch or ward member.
- The members of the Gram Sabha elect the ward members through a direct election.
- The Sarpanch or the president of the Gram Panchayat is elected by the ward members as per the State Act. The Sarpanch and the Panch are elected for a period of five years.
- Panchayat Samiti (also called Taluka Panchayats or Block Panchayats) is the intermediate level in Panchayati Raj Institutions.
- The Panchayat Samiti acts as the link between Gram Panchayat (Village) and District Panchayat (Zilla).
- The block council consists of all of the Sarpanchas and the Upa Sarpanchas from each Gram Panchayat along with members of the legislative assembly (MLA), members of parliament (MPs), associate members (like a representative from a cooperative society) and members from the Zilla Parishad who are a part of the block.
- The Gram Panchayat members nominate their Sarpanch and Upa Sarpanch amongst their ranks, which extend to the selection of the chairperson and vice-chairperson as well.
- The Executive Officer (EO) is the head of the administration section of the Panchayat Samiti.
- The District Panchayat also known as the District Council or Zilla Parishad is the third tier of the Panchayati Raj system.
- Like the Gram Panchayat, it is also an elected body.
- Chairpersons of Block Samitis also represent the District Panchayat. Like the Block Panchayat, the MP and MLA are also members of the district panchayat.
- The government appoints the Chief Executive Officer to carry out the administration of the district Panchayat along with the the Chief Accounts Officer, the Chief Planning Officer and one or more Deputy Secretaries who work directly under the Chief Executive Officer and assist him/her.
- The Zilla Parishad chairperson is the political head of the district panchayat.
Salient features of Panchayat: