Structure and Major Functions of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in India
Though the basic structure of the PRIs is identical across the states of India, it is described via different nomenclatures in different states. Panchayats in every state has its own characteristics and even election procedures to these institutions are at variance.
A District Panchayat or Zilla Parishad is co terminus with the district. Each district has one Zilla Parishad.
Similarly Block Panchayats or Panchayat Samitis are co terminus with blocks of the said district.
A Block may have several villages within it, but Gram Panchayats are not necessarily co terminus with each village. Depending on the size of population (as a matter of fact, number of voters) a Gram is defined under the law with a specific geographical area, which may consist of a single village or a cluster of adjoining villages.
Members of Panchayats:
A. Zilla Panchayat:
Each block Panchayat under a ZP elects one/two/three members directly (depending on number of voters within it). Presidents of all the Block Panchayats are also ex-officio members of the ZP. In some states the Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) and Member of Parliament (MP) of the district/constituency are also ex-officio members.
B. Block Panchayat or Panchayat Samiti:
Each GP under a Block Panchayat elects one/two/three members directly to the Block Panchayat. GP pradhans are ex-officio members of the Block Panchayats.
C. Gram Panchayat:
A Gram as defined under the Act (meaning a village or a cluster of villages) is divided into a minimum of five constituencies (again depending on the number of voters the Gram is having). From each of these constituencies one member is elected. Body of these elected members is called the Gram Panchayat. Size of the GPs varies widely from state to state. In states like West Bengal, Kerala etc. a GP has about 20000 people on an average, while in many other states it is around 3000 only.
D. Gram Sabha:
In most of the states, each constituency of the members of the Gram Panchayat is called the Gram Sabha and all the voters of the same constituency are members of this body. However, in some states this is called Ward Sabha/Palli Sabha etc. In West Bengal it is called Gram Sansad (village parliament). Gram Sabha in West Bengal has a different meaning. Here all the voters of the Gram Panchayat as a whole constitute the Gram Sabha.
Under the Constitution there can be only three tiers of the Panchayat. The Gram Sabha is not a tier of the PR system. It does not have any executive function and operates as a recommending body only.
Gram Sabhas hold meetings normally 2 to 4 times a year, but can meet as and when necessary. In some states dates of these meetings are fixed (Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat etc.) while in others dates are fixed by the Gram Panchayats. Issues to be discussed in the meetings can be wide ranging but the essential agenda should include: Annual Action Plan and Budget, Annual Accounts and Annual report of the GP, selection of beneficiaries for different social service programmes (Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), Pension Schemes etc.), identification of schemes for preparation of Annual Plan for development programmes (e.g. MGNREGS) of GP, consideration of the Audit reports, analyses of GP’s performance etc.
The diagram at the end of the note demonstrates the typical structure of the rural local governance system in India, taking the example of West Bengal.
Functioning of Panchayats
As per the Constitution, Panchayats in their respective areas would prepare plans for economic development and social justice and also execute them. To facilitate this, states are supposed to devolve functions to Panchayats (29 subjects as mandated) and also make funds available for doing these (as per State Finance Commission’s recommendations). The functions of Panchayats are divided among different Committees (as ministries are formed in state and union governments), which are called Standing Committees/Sthayee Samitis/Upa Samitis etc. One of the members remains in charge of each of such committees while the over-all charge rests with the chairperson of the Panchayat. Panchayats are supported by a host of other of officials, the number of which varies from state to state.
Apart from grants received from the government under the recommendation of the Finance Commission, Panchayats receive schematic funds for implementation of schemes (MGNREGS, BRGF, IAY etc.). They can also raise revenue by imposing taxes, fees, penalties etc. as per rule of the state.
Diagram; Rural Local Governance System (Panchayati Raj Institutions or PRIs) in West Bengal
Each GP member represents a specified geographical area and numbers of voters. This is called Gram Sansad (village parliament).
NB-I: All the Panchayat Samitis within the geographical limit of a district come under the said District Panchayat or Zilla Parishad.
NB-II:All the Gram Panchayats within the geographical limit of Panchayat Samiti come under it. Panchayat Samiti and Development Block is co-Terminus.
NB-III:A Gram Panchayat will have at least five and maximum of 30 members. Each member has a specified area and voters (constituency) that he represents which is called Gram Sansad (village parliament)
GUS: Gram Unnayan Samiti (village development committee) is a small committee constituted by Gram Sansad and chaired by the elected GP member of the same Gram Sansad. Its function is to help the GP prepare village level plan execute them though social mobilization etc.