Panchayati Raj is a form of government at the village level where each village is responsible for its own activities. The Amendment Act of 1992 contains provisions for passing the powers and responsibilities to the panchayat for the preparation of plans for economic development and social justice.

The thought process behind the Panchayati Raj system was to make democracy functional at the local level and driven by citizens’ needs and participation. It was therefore introduced as a three-tier system that decentralized governance, decision-making, and local development. Political decentralization generally means strong and vibrant means of local government.

Decision-making being closer to the people, decentralization ensures decision-makers more effective accountability to the governed. Panchayat Raj, a synonym of democratic decentralization, was introduced in India in the late 1950s and early 1960s to restore to the erstwhile institution of Panchayat the pristine glory that it enjoyed in ancient India.

While the panchayat is an old concept in India—through its presence as caste-based panchayats in villages—the structure, processes, and functions of the PRI system today are totally different. Mahatma Gandhi was among the first and most important leaders to advocate for Panchayati Raj. His vision of a village panchayat was a small self-sufficient republic with individual freedom, opportunities for all, and full participation of the people.

While the idea seemed revolutionary at the time, it was Gandhi’s endorsement of it that perhaps explains why the PRI system was partially accepted by the makers of our constitution. PRIs were mentioned in Article 40 only as a Directive Principle of State Policy in 1950. It stated that steps shall be taken to organize village panchayats and endow them with the powers and authority necessary for them to act as units of self-government.

However, around the same time, the central government took a different route to facilitate local development, launching the Community Development Programme (CDP) as a pilot in 1952. The CDP tried to push expert-driven, top-down development processes, moving away from the idea of organizing village communities and self-government. 

The CDP, however, was not very successful, despite strong government backing. The reason for this was that under CDP, people were neither involved nor did participate in their own development. In fact, this was why the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee was formed five years later, in January 1957, to review both the CDP and the National Extension Service, and suggest measures for improvement. The committee’s report recommended that “the government should divest itself completely of certain duties and responsibilities and devolve them to a body which will have the entire charge of all development work within its jurisdiction, reserving to itself only the functions of guidance, supervision and higher planning”.


The amendment made it obligatory for the states to establish PRIs in accordance with the act, and the Gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti, and Zilla Parishad were introduced as elected local bodies. The Sarpanch, also known as panch or pradhan in different states became the elected head of the Panchayat through a formal electoral process.

The Gram Sabha is recognized as the people’s parliament at the village levels—the lowest level of administration and comprises all adult members of the village. It has the power to plan, approve, and monitor various development programs for its village. It has a constitutional mandate, and the elected PRIs are accountable to the Gram Sabha. There have been further iterations since, such as the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act of 1996, which gave greater autonomy to people residing in tribal and forest areas.

Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) is a system of rural local self-government in India. 

▪ Local Self Government is the management of local affairs by such local bodies that have been elected by the local people.

▪ PRI was constitutionalized through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 to build democracy at the grassroots level and was entrusted with the task of rural development in the country


State Legislatures may endow Panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable the Panchayats to become institutions of self-government at the grassroots level. Responsibility may be given to them to prepare plans for economic development and social justice. Schemes of economic development and social justice with regard to 29 important matters mentioned in the XI schedule such as agriculture, primary and secondary education, health and sanitation, drinking water, rural housing, the welfare of weaker sections, social forestry, and so forth may be made by them.

Each village has its own set of issues, which only the locals can understand. Members of a Panchayat are far more cognizant of the region-specific problems, and thus they are capable of taking a more informed decision in favor of the people of their village. Taking into consideration the specified needs of their inhabitants, the panchayats work accordingly.

The panchayats undertake works of varied levels starting from the creation of necessary establishments such as primary schools, to hygiene-related issues, to water requirements, to seek the central government’s help towards generating jobs at the village level as well. They also have a major share of contribution towards mobilization of local resources, encouraging, large-scale community participation, planning at the lower levels, reducing of corruption as well as improving in quality oh nations' work. 


• Zilla Parishad links Panchayat Samitis within the district.

• It coordinates their activities and supervises their functioning.

• It prepares district plans and integrates Samiti plans into district plans for submission to the State Government.

• Zilla Parishad looks after development works in the entire district.

• It undertakes schemes to improve agricultural production, exploit groundwater resources, extend rural electrification and distribution and initiate employment-generating activities, construct roads and other public works.

• It also performs welfare functions like relief during natural calamities and scarcity, the establishment of orphanages and poor homes, night shelters, the welfare of women and children, etc.

• In addition, Zilla Parishads perform functions entrusted to them under the Central and State Government-sponsored programs. For example, Jawahar Rozgar Yojna is a big centrally sponsored scheme for which money is directly given to the districts to undertake employment-generating activities.


Zilla Parishad or district Panchayat is the uppermost tier of the Panchayati Raj system. This institution has some directly elected members whose number differs from State to State as it is also based on population. Chairpersons of Panchayat Samitis are ex-officio members of Zilla Parishads.

Members of Parliament, Legislative Assemblies, and Councils belonging to the districts are also nominated members of Zilla Parishads. The chairperson of a Zilla Parishad, called Adhyaksha or President is elected indirectly- by and from amongst the elected members thereof. The vice-chairperson is also elected similarly.

Zilla Parishad meetings are conducted once a month. Special meetings can also be convened to discuss special matters. Subject committees are also formed. Zilla Parishad meetings are conducted once a month. Special meetings can also be convened to discuss special matters. Subject committees are also formed.


• Panchayat Samitis are at the hub of developmental activities.

• They are headed by Block Development Officers (B.D.Os). 

• Some functions are entrusted to them like agriculture, land improvement, watershed development, social and farm forestry, technical and vocational education, etc

• The second type of function relates to the implementation of some specific plans, schemes or programs to which funds are earmarked. It means that a Panchayat Samiti has to spend money only on that specific project. The choice of location or beneficiaries is, however, available to the Panchayat Samiti.


• Zilla Parishad links Panchayat Samitis within the district.

• It coordinates their activities and supervises their functioning.

• It prepares district plans and integrates Samiti plans into district plans for submission to the State Government.

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