Panchayats and Municipalities
In the structure of the Panchayati Raj, the Village Panchayat is the lowest unit. There is a Panchayat for each village or a group of villages in case the population of these villages happens to be too small. The Panchayat chiefly consists of representatives elected by the people of the village.
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 the Panchayat.
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 Upsarpanch. 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 is indirect. The Sarpanch occupies a pivotal position in Gram Panchayat system. He supervises and coordinates the various activities of the Panchayat. He is an ex-officio member of the Panchayat Samiti and participates in its decision-making as well as in the election of the Pradhan and of the members of various Standing Committees. He acts as the executive head of the Panchayat, represents it in the Panchayat Samiti as its spokesman and coordinates its activities and those of other local institutions like cooperatives.
The Panchayat Samiti is the second on join tier of the Panchayati Raj. The Balwant Rai Mehta Committee report has envisaged the Samiti as a single representative and vigorous democratic institution to take charge of all aspects of development in rural areas. The Samiti, according to the Committee, offers “an area large enough for functions which the Village Panchayat cannot perform and yet small enough to attract the interest and services of residents.”
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-
- About twenty members elected by and from the Panches of all the Panchayats falling in the block area;
- Two women members and one member each from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to be co- opted, provided they do not get adequate representation otherwise;
- 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 associate members.
The Zilla Parishad stands at the apex of the three-tier structure of the Panchayati Raj system. Generally, the Zilla Parishad consists of representatives of the Panchayat Samiti; all the members of the State Legislature and the Parliament representing a part or whole of the district; all district level officers of the Medical, Public Health, Public Works, Engineering, Agriculture, Veterinary, 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 Zilla Parishad.
The Chairman of the Zilla Parishad is elected from among its members. There is a Chief Executive Officer in the Zilla Parishad. He is deputed to the Zilla Parishad by the State Government. There are subject matter specialists or officers at the district level in all the states for various development programmes.
The Zilla Parishad, for the most part, performs co-ordinating and supervisory functions. It coordinates the activities of the Panchayat Samitis falling within its jurisdiction. In certain states the Zilla Parishad also approves the budgets of the Panchayat Samitis. The Zilla 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.
The finances of the Zilla Parishad consist of the grants received from the State Government and share in the land cess and other local cess and taxes. Sometimes it has been allowed by the State Government to levy certain taxes or enhance the taxes already levied by the Panchayat Samitis subject to a certain limit.
74th Constitutional Amendment added a new part IX-A to the Constitution entitled as ‘The Municipalities’ and a new Twelfth Schedule containing 18 functional items for municipalities. The main provisions of this Act can be grouped under two categories–compulsory and voluntary.
Some of the compulsory provisions which are binding on all States are:
- Constitution of Nagar panchayats, municipal councils and municipal corporations in transitional areas (areas in transition from a rural area to urban area), smaller urban areas and larger urban areas respectively;
- Reservation of seats in urban local bodies for Scheduled Castes / Scheduled Tribes roughly in proportion to their population; Reservation of seats for women up to one-third seats;
- The State Election Commission, constituted in order to conduct elections in the panchayati raj bodies (see 73rd Amendment) will also conduct elections to the urban local self- governing bodies;
- The State Finance Commission, constituted to deal with financial affairs of the Panchayati Raj bodies will also look into the financial affairs of the local urban self governing bodies;
- Tenure of urban local self-governing bodies is fixed at five years and in case of earlier dissolution fresh elections are to be held within six months;
The Municipal bodies are constituted of persons chosen by direct election from the territorial constituencies (known as wards) in the municipal area. However, the Legislature of a State may, by law, provide for the representation in a municipal body of persons having special knowledge or experience of municipal administration, the members of Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha and the members of Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly of the State, representing constituencies, which comprise wholly or partly the Municipal Area.The state legislature may also provide the manner of the election of the Chairpersons of a municipality. The state legislature may also provide the manner of the election of the Chairpersons of a municipality.
Empowerment of weaker sections of society and women by reserving seats for such groups is one of the important constitutional provisions of the Constitutional Amendment. The offices of chairperson are also reserved for SC/ST and women. Thus, at least one year, out of five year duration of Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the office of Mayor is reserved for a woman, and for one year is reserved for a Councillor of Scheduled Caste. It gives a term of five years to the municipalities and if any of them is to be dissolved, it must be given an opportunity of being heard.
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