Panchayats in history:
India has known panchayats since antiquity. In its long history there have been phases of vitality and phases of morbidity, but the most remarkable aspect about it has been its continuity. However, in the ancient period, it was a robust body, characterised by autonomy and extensive powers to collect land tax and other revenues and to utilize them for local developmental needs.
During the medieval times, despite a centralised and autocratic rule, the Mughals interfered little with the ancient customs of village government and incorporated the village into administration as a unit for revenue and police purposes.
Although judicial powers of the village council were considerably curtailed, local affairs remained unregulated from above and the village officers and servants remained answerable to the Panchayats.
When the British came to India, panchayats suffered a major blow. The role of land revenue collection by village communities was abolished and instead a direct settlement with Zamindars and individual cultivators was introduced.
The British also established a highly centralised system of administration in which the functions performed by village communities were taken over by the new judicial and administrative officers appointed by the British Raj.
Lord Rippon-Local Self-Government:
Later, for reasons of legitimacy and exigencies of better administration, the British Government wanted to have decentralisation of administration. In 1870, Lord Mayo, in this context, recognised the importance of local self-government, but the rural committee he envisaged for the purpose was largely of nominated officials.
In 1882, Lord Rippon ushered in local self-government, restricting the number of official members to not more than a third of the total. In 1907, the Royal Commission on Decentralisation recommended the development of panchayats as units of local administration. The Government of India Acts 1919 and 1935 further gave impetus to local self-government.