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A gram panchayat is the cornerstone of a local self-government organisation in India of the Panchayati raj system at the village or small town level, and has a Sarpanch as its elected head. The role of Panchayat organizations under British Colonial rule were strengthened, but in post-independence they have been given little right of co-determination. The failed attempts to deal with local matters at the national level brought back, in 1992, the reintroduction of panchayats for their previously used purpose as an organization for local self-governance. As of 2002[dated info] there were about 265,000 gram panchayats in India. A panchayat is needed for every town and village.
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The Sarpanch, or elected head, has the responsibilities of village
- Maintaining street lights, construction and repair work of roads in villages and also the village markets, fairs, collection of tax, festivals and celebrations
- Keeping a record of births, deaths and marriages in the village
- Looking after public health and  by providing facilities for sanitation and drinking water
- Providing free education
- To organise the meetings of gram sabha (ग्रामसभा) and gram panchayat (ग्रामपंचायत)
- Providing health services and facilities
- Implementing development schemes related to agriculture and animal husbandry
- Planting trees in and around the village and to protect the environment
- Maintaining public parks and playgrounds, etc.
- Implementing various government schemes
A gram panchayat consists of between 7 and 17 members, elected from the wards of the village, and they are called a "panch". People of the village select a panch, with one-third of seats reserved for female candidates. To establish a gram panchyat in a village, the population of the village should be at least 300 people of voting age.
Number of members for gram panchayat
- 600–1500 (population):7 members
- 1501–3000: 9
- 3001–4500: 11
- 4501–6000: 13
- 6001–7500: 15
- 7501–9000: 17
Sources of income
The main source of income of the gram panchayat is the property tax levied on buildings and open spaces within the village. Other sources of income include professional tax, taxes on pilgrimage, animal trade, grant received from the State Government in proportion of land revenue and the grants received from the District Councils of India (Zila Parishad).
The Gram Sevak, also known as Gram Vikas Officer or Village Development Officer, is the communicator in government and village panchayat and works for the Sarpanch. The district planning commission (DPC) takes the development schemes to be implemented for the next planning year from respective panchayat samitis submitted by gram sevaks of different villages under that panchayat samiti.
Gram Sabha include all the adult citizens of the village. It is empowered to elect the Gram Panchayat. The Sabha can contribute to the number of decisions taken by the Panchayat and can modify weak decisions whenever they feel. The Panchayat can be established for a village having a population of 1,000–25,000. The several small villages having low population can be grouped under one Gram Sabha. The member count usually ranges from 7 to 17 depending on the strength of the village population. These form various Committees, viz. Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Public Works, Social Welfare and Health and sanitation in village Gram Panchayat.
According to Sec. 6 (3) of Andhra Pradesh Panchayat Raj Act, its gram sabha has to conduct a meeting whenever needed but there is a prescribed minimum number of meetings per year, two rather than a prescribed maximum. The national government notifies the local organization which two dates have been selected for the minimum gram sabha meetings. The gram sabha meeting should be held on every 14 April and 3 October. Conduct of gram sabha twice yearly is a minimum, not maximum. Gram sabha can be convened as and when necessary and as many times as possible, depending on the need.
In states like Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Punjab, Sikkim and Uttar Pradesh there are statutory provisions to hold the gram sabha two times a year, whereas in states like Assam, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan the gram sabhas are held four times a year.
Functions of Gram Panchayat
- Supply of water for domestic use
- Construction and repairs to public roads, drains, small irrigation bandharas
- Maintaining sanitation and public health
- Construction, repairing and maintaining public buildings, grazing lands, forest public wells and tanks in good condition
- Lighting on roads and public places
- Controlling fairs, bazaars (public market) bullets cart stands
- Controlling and maintaining village cremation ground and/or cemetery
- Taking part in Agricultural development
- Maintaining a library and opening elementary school
- Providing and maintaining a playground for children
- Construction and maintaining public latrines
- Watch and ward work
- Planting and preservation of trees on the sides of the public roads in the village
- Collection of taxes
- Providing recreational facilities through establishment of TV unit
- Vani (forest) scheme introduced
- Ipsita Sapra (February 2013). "Living in the villages". dandc.eu.
- website of Ministry of Panchayati Raj Government of India
- Subramaniam Vincent (2002-02-28). "Ugly duckling to swan". India Together.