Not unexpectedly, nothing had been done for establishing the Panchayati Raj in 1950s. Central Government had directed its efforts for local development on the Community Development Programme (CDP) with the help of village level workers, social workers, agricultural experts and the newly appointed development officials.
High hopes were pinned on CDP, but when it seemed that it was not making any headway. Government appointed Bal wantrai Mehta Committee to make recommendation for its improvement.
The Committee diagnosed the lack of democratic local bodies with real powers as the major cause of the failure of CDP. The remedy suggested was the setting up of Panchayati Raj by instituting three levels of representative bodies.
The National Development Council accepted these recommendations in 1959. Rajasthan was the first state to set up Panchayati Raj in Oct 1959, followed by Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in the same year. Later the other States followed suit.
Panchayati Raj aims at taking democracy to the village level by delegating substance of power to the people’s organisations. It was the main recommendation of Balwant Rai Mehta Committee with a view to popularizing the Community Development Programme and making it more effective.
The Primary object of Panchayati Raj is to arouse in the people of each area intensive and continuous interest in the development of the entire population.
The following are the main tests by which the success of the Panchayati Raj will need to be measured from time to time;
(i) Emphasis on increased agricultural production,
(ii) Development of rural industry.
(iii) Development of facilities for education and adult literacy.
(iv) Progressive dispersal of authority and initiative with special emphasis on the role of voluntary organisations.
The Rajasthan Government was the first to embark upon this experiment of decentralisation in the village of Nagaur and to pass the Zila Parishad Act in 1959. The Government divested itself of certain powers in the sphere of development activities; it only retained regulatory and residuary powers.
The idea was to help the village leadership to grow. These selfless people, who worked for the people, would ultimately become the accredited leaders of the people.
It is a three-tier system in each state:
(a) The Zila Parishad at the district level.
(b) Panchayat Samitis at the block level.
(c) Gram Panchayats at the village level.
The members of the Panchayats are directly elected by the people, whereas the members of Panchayat Samitis will be elected by the Panchayats.
The members of Zila Parishad would consist of the Presidents of the Panchayat Samitis bodies of MLAs, and MPs elected from that district. The Panchayat Samitis would undertake to look after schemes, like (a) elementary education, (b) village roads, (r) public health.
Nyaya Panchayats or village courts which provide a speedy and inexpensive system of justice to the villagers are functioning in some of the states. Panchayati Raj now covers all the states except Meghalaya and Nagaland.
The panchayat, the cooperative and the school are the basic institutions at the village level for carrying out programmes of rural development. The elected panchayat is responsible for many development programmes within its territorial jurisdiction. The village school, which is also a community centre, looks after the recreational, educational and cultural needs of the people.