Gram Sabha means a body consisting of all persons whose names are included in the electoral rolls for the Panchayat at the village level. The term is defined in the Constitution of India under Article 243(b).
Constitution mentions that Gram Sabha exercises such powers and performs such functions at the village level as the Legislature of a State may, by law, provide. For instance, they approve of the plans, programmes and projects for social and economic development before such plans, programmes and projects are taken up for implementation by the Panchayat at the village level (Panchayat at the village level is otherwise known as Gram Panchayat). It is also responsible for the identification or selection of persons as beneficiaries under the poverty alleviation and other programmes. Every Panchayat at the village level are required to obtain from the Gram Sabha a certification of utilisation of funds by that Panchayat for such plans, programmes and projects implemented.
Functions of Gram Sabha are also elaborated in the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996. As per the Act, every Gram Sabha is competent to safeguard and preserve the traditions and customs of the people, their cultural identity, community resources and the customary mode of dispute resolution.
Gram Sabhas in the Scheduled Areas (as referred to in Clause (1) of Article 244 of the Constitution; those areas where marginalised, vulnerable communities /tribes live) can be endowed by the state governments with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government. Some such powers include:
- the power to enforce prohibition or to regulate or restrict the sale and consumption of any intoxicant;
- the ownership of minor forest produce;
- the power to prevent alienation of land in the Scheduled Areas and to take appropriate action to restore any unlawfully alienated land of a Scheduled Tribe;
- the power to manage village markets by whatever name called;
- the power to exercise control over money lending to the Scheduled Tribes;
- the power to exercise control over institutions and functionaries in all social sectors;
- the power to control over local plans and resources for such plans including tribal sub-plans;
- Structure and Major Functions of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in India
- Decentralization and Rural Governments in India
- Gram Nyayalayas or Village Courts