Panchayati Raj System: Path to Sustained Development

The first major democratic exercise post abrogation of Article 370 in the newly created union territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is likely to be conducted in November-December 2020 to fill over 13,000 vacant panchayat posts. Even though the main panchayat election in November-December 2018 had been held on a non-party basis, when J&K was a state, the by-election would be the UT’s first, and on a party basis.
Panchayati Raj system in Jammu and Kashmir is not new to the people of the state. It was introduced by Maharaja Hari SinghIn 1935 by passing Jammu and Kashmir Village Panchayat Regulation (Act No 1). In order to build the panchayat system for local development through local representatives, the Maharaja in 1936 created a special Rural Development and Panchayat Department. By the amendment act 1941, he implemented the function list of regulating act 1935. The government of Jammu and Kashmir framed the Village Panchayat Act in 1958 by replacing the previous act. Finally, the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Raj Act 1989 was passed by J&K Legislative Assembly and it came into force on 11 July 1989. Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Raj Act (1989) provided a proper constitutional status to Panchayati Raj system and clearly mentions that the election of Panchayats be held after every five years, but elections were not held on time due to various reasons.
Though the Panchayati Raj Institutions were in existence in various forms in various states, tthese institutions did not acquire in J&K the status and dignity of viable and responsive peoples bodies due to absence of regular elections, prolonged strikes, insufficient representation of weaker sections like Scheduled Castes, Schedules Tribes, and women, inadequate devolution of powers and lack of financial resources. Besides, the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 which made election to panchayats mandatory in due time on regular basis and Gram Sabha as the foundation of the Panchayat Raj system to perform functions and powers entrusted to it by state legislature, was not implemented in Jammu and Kashmir due to its temporary special status in Indian Constitution which otherwise was implemented in all other states except some tribal states. After abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, the Central government has recently amended the Jammu and Kashmir’s Panchayat Raj Act, 1989, to establish District Development Councils (DDCs) in all districts in the union territory. The move is the final step in the implementation of the 73rdAmendment and envisages the Gram Sabha as the foundation of the Panchayati Raj System and empowers Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women. The move to establish DDCs is aimed at enhancing grassroots level democracy across J&K.
Panchayati Raj is a system of local self governance, meant to ensure that local administrative affairs, particularly in rural areas, should be resolved by local government units constituted with elected members. The modern Panchayat Raj consists of three levels, village level panchayats, block level panchayats and district level panchayats. State and central government institutions are often too remote from the people to look after local affairs. Hence, Panchayat Raj can make governance in J&K more efficient. It can play significant role in development of the region. Taking a cue from other states, Panchayat Raj System can accrue large benefits for the region to include a few like:
Good Governance: It will enable elected representatives to upgrade their knowledge and skills to better perform their responsibilities. It will make community stakeholders to accept and promote the Panchayat Raj as an essential level of local government for inclusive and participatory development. Panchayats will ensure that people are aware of government schemes and policies and get maximum benefits from them. Local bodies can motivate village youth to take responsibility and act as change agents for a vibrant and self sustained village.
Infrastructure Development: Panchayati Raj can usher in an era of local development wherein villagers can themselves decide about the development work to be undertaken and also monitor the quality of work. These institutions can prioritise work in better manner and create infrastructure in villages which is required on priority.
Economic Growth: It will promote livelihoods through entrepreneurship and skill education and empower women socio-economically and politically while facilitating and creating capacity strengthening opportunities for sustained economic and livelihood gains of the poor communities and vulnerable households.
Development of Society: It is likely to create an equitable, just and crime free society by inculcating humane values and harmony in diversity. Panchayats can create awareness for protecting the environment and the community hygiene and restore the confidence of peoples in these institutions.
These institutions should be assisted to effectively to mobilise local resources through tax and non-tax measures. The resources can be utilised for the benefit of the poor people of the Gram Sabha. Regular campaigns and frequent use of print and electronic media can make people aware of the power of Gram Sabha and the developmental programmes of these institutions such as MGNREGA, watershed management and conservation, rural connectivity and other rural infrastructural activities.
There is nothing inherently impossible in the world provided the Gram Sabhas operating at the grossroots level ensure people’s participation. The aim of the panchayat system is that every village has to become a self-sufficient republic and for that, the panchayat committee has to work for the people without any bias. Although there are a number of constraints that severely hamper the performances of these institutions, proper coordination and combination of efforts by all the three tiers can definitely help to realise the ultimate goals of these institutions and fulfillment of dreams.
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