Social Scientist. v 8, no. 93 (April 1980) p. 36.

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Panchayati Raj and Decentralisation of Political Power

PANCHAYATI RAJ as a concept has attracted considerable public as well as academic attention ever sincc-the acceptance of the recommendations of the Balawatrai Mehta Committee report in 1957. Although there is a vast body of literature on the functioning of the panchayati.raj'institutions, most of it is descriptive, impressionistic and often prescriptive as desired by the national leadership. Nevertheless experts have pointed out various maladies of panchayati raj institutions and suggested numerous remedies in weighty reports and books. All these, however, appear to leave the essence of the issue untouched. There is hardly a study which goes deep into the constraints of the sociaPstructure in the process of realization of the set goals of pane hayati raj.

The panchayati system in India is not purely a post-independence phenomenon. In fact, the dominant political institution in rural India has been the village panchayat for centuries. In ancient India panchayats were usually elected^councils with executive and judicial powers.1 Within the feudal set-up they were functioning as instruments of domination of upper castes. Decentralization of power was thus limited to the remote past when there was little social differentiation in the village and in recent past to areas where the heterogeneity in social structure was weakly developed. Foreign domination, specially Mughal and British, and the natural and forced socio-economic changes had undermined the importance of the village panchayats^ But towards the end of the nineteenth century, British rulers like Lord Ripon urged the revival of local governments. A resolution was drafted in 1882 for the establishment of resolution of local boards which was repeated in 1909 in the report of the Royal Commission on Decentralization. As a result, rural district boards and village panchayats were set up.3 These ad hoc initiatives, however, died without achieving much success.

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