It has been two decades since the Panchayati Raj system got the constitutional mandate of being the third-tier of democratic governance in India. Still, the lack of devolution of functional and financial powers being supported by the lack of will power of legislative and executive authorities has made it a toothless tiger and a mere puppet to the state governments. This article looks into different perspectives of it in the last two decades and tries to bring forth the hurdles in its functioning and the vulnerable actors involved in it. Lastly, the article presents possible solutions such as the application of principle of subsidiarity and redesigning of the 11th schedule to make gram swaraj a functional reality in India.
The purpose for widening the scope and fairness of a democracy is to promote twin objectives of accountability and responsiveness of policy concerning delivery of local public goods and services to citizens, and decentralization[i] is one way of such widening.[ii] For this phenomenon to see the light of the day, steps were taken in the form of a provision in the Constitution of India, constitution of multiple committees in a non-periodical manner to look out for its reforms and finally granting constitutional status via an Amendment Act to the panchayati raj (hereinafter PR) functionaries. The reason behind these efforts was that the PR system was seen as a means of promoting greater community participation & involvement in developmental efforts and also local government officials are thought of being more equipped with the choices of local citizens.[iii]
Two decades have elapsed and even after these many efforts, the functioning of the PR system has either remained dormant or has remained thwarted or dominated social exclusion and domination by the upper castes and other such dominating groups at the village and state levels in most of the states except very few such as the states of Karnataka[iv], Kerala[v] and West Bengal[vi] where the PR system has been relatively successful, but that too in the pre-Amendment period. So, an obvious question then arises that what could be the reason behind such failure and dull performances by the rural local governments, i.e. Gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti and Zilla Parishad which constituted the three-tier PR system in India.