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The panchayat raj" is a South Asian political system mainly in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. It is the oldest system of local government in the Indian subcontinent. The word "panchayat" literally means "assembly" (ayat) of five (panch) wise and respected elders chosen and accepted by the local community. However, there are different forms of assemblies. Traditionally, these assemblies settled disputes between individuals and villages. Modern Indian government has decentralized several administrative functions to the local level, empowering elected gram panchayats. Gram panchayats are not to be confused with the unelected khap panchayats (or caste panchayats) found in some parts of India.
Panchayat raj 
Panchayat Raj is a system of governance in which gram panchayats are the basic units of administration. It has 3 levels: Gram (village, though it can comprise more than one village), Janpad (block) and Zilla (district).
The term "panchayat raj" is relatively new, having originated during the British administration. Raj literally means "governance or government". Mahatma Gandhi advocated Panchayati Raj, a decentralized form of Government where each village is responsible for its own affairs, as the foundation of India's political system. The term for such a vision was Gram Swaraj ("village self-governance").
Recommendations of Balwant Rai Mehta Committee
The Balwant Rai Mehta Committee was a committee appointed by the Government of India in January 1957 to examine the working of the Community Development Programme (1952) and the National Extension Service (1953) and to suggest measures for their better working. The recommendations of the committee were approved by NDC in January 1958 and this set the stage for the launching of Panchayati Raj Institutions throughout the country. The committee recommended the establishment of the scheme of ‘democratic decentralisation’ which finally came to be known as Panchayati Raj. (i) Establishment of a 3-tier Panchayati Raj system - Gram Panchayat at the village level, Panchayat Samiti at the block level, and Zila Parishad at the district level. This system was adopted by state governments during the 1950s and 60s, as laws were passed to establish panchayats in various states. It also found backing in the Indian Constitution, with the 73rd amendment in 1992 to accommodate the idea. The Amendment Act of 1992 contains provision for devolution of powers and responsibilities to the panchayats both for the preparation of economic development plans and social justice, as well as for implementation in relation to 29 subjects listed in the eleventh schedule of the constitution.
The panchayats receive funds from three sources:
- Local body grants, as recommended by the Central Finance Commission
- Funds for implementation of centrally sponsored schemes
- Funds released by the state governments on the recommendations of the State Finance Commissions
In the history of Panchayati Raj in India, on 24 April 1993, the Constitutional (73rd Amendment) Act 1992 came into force to provide constitutional status to the Panchayati Raj institutions. This act was extended to Panchayats in the tribal areas of nine states, namely Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Rajasthan starting 24 December 1996. Currently, the Panchayati Raj system exists in all the states except Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram, and in all Union Territories except Delhi.
The Balwant Rai Mehta Committee was a committee appointed by the Government of India in January 1957 to examine the working of the Community Development Programme (1952) The Act aims to provide a 3-tier system of Panchayati Raj for all States having a population of over 2 million, to hold Panchayat elections regularly every 5 years, to provide seats reservations for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and women; to appoint a State Finance Commission to make recommendations as regards to the financial powers of the Panchayats and to constitute a District Planning Committee to prepare a development plan draft for the district. The 3-tier system of Panchayati Raj consists:
- Village-level Panchayats
- Block-level Panchayats
- District-level Panchayats.
Powers and responsibilities are delegated to panchayats at the appropriate level:
- Preparation of the economic development plan and social justice plan.
- Implementation of schemes for economic development and social justice in relation to 29 subjects given in the Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution.
- To levy and collect appropriate taxes, duties, tolls and fees.
Experts like sociologist Ipsita Sapra see a great potential in the inclusive function of panchayats on the social level. Neverthelesse more should be done to strengthen these institution.
Block panchayat 
A block panchayat (panchayat samiti) is a local government body at the tehsil or taluka level in India. This body works for the villages of the tehsil or taluka that together are called a Development Block. The panchayat samiti is the link between the gram panchayat and the district administration. There are a number of variations of this institution in different states. It is known as Mandal Praja Parishad in Andhra Pradesh, Taluka panchayat in Gujarat, Mandal Panchayat in Karnataka, Panchayat Samiti in Maharashtra etc. In general, the block panchayat is a form of the Panchayati raj but at a higher level.
The constitution is composed of ex-official members (all sarpanchas of the panchayat samiti area). There is an officer for every department. A government appointed Block Development Officer (BDO) is the executive officer to the Samiti and the chief of its administration.
The common departments in the Samiti are as follows:
- General administration
- Public work
- Social welfare
- Information technology, and others.
There is an officer for every department. A government appointed Block Development Officer (BDO) is the executive officer to the Samiti and the chief of its administration.
- Implementation schemes for the development of agriculture.
- Establishment of primary health centres and primary schools.
- Supply of drinking water, drainage, and construction/repair of roads.
- Development of cottage and small-scale industries, and the opening of cooperative societies.
- Establishment of youth organisations.
Sources of income 
The main source of income of the panchayat samiti are grants-in-aid and loans from the State Government.
District level panchayat 
- Provide essential services and facilities to the rural population
- Supply improved seeds to farmers. Inform them of new farming techniques
- Set up and run schools and libraries in the rural areas
- Start Primary Health Centers and hospitals in villages. Start vaccination drives against epidemics
- Execute plans for the development of the scheduled castes and tribes. Run ashramshalas for adivasi children. Set up free hostels for them
- Encourage entrepreneurs to start small-scale industries and implement rural employment schemes
- Construct bridges, roads & other public facilities and their maintenance
- Provide employment
Sources of Income:
- Taxes on water, pilgrimage, markets, etc.
- Fixed grant from the State Government in proportion with the land revenue and money for works and schemes assigned to the Parishad.
Reservation for women in PRIs in India 
The Union Cabinet of the Government of India, on 27 August 2009, approved 50% reservation for women in PRIs (Panchayati Raj NIJO Institutions). The Indian states which have already implemented 50% reservation for women in PRIs are Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. As of 25 November 2011, the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharastra, Orissa, Rajasthan and Tripura also reserve 50% of their posts for women.
See also 
- Rohit Mullick & Neelam Raaj (9 September 2007). "Panchayats turn into kangaroo courts". The Times of India.
- India 2007, p. 696, Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India
- Article 9374468, Britannica.com.
- Nepal glossary, lcweb2.loc.gov.
- Article 333357, zeenews.com
- Article India994-07, hrw.org.
Further reading 
- Subrata K. Mitra and V.B. Singh. 1999. Democracy and Social Change in India: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of the National Electorate. New Delhi: Sage Publications. ISBN 81-7036-809-X (India HB) ISBN 0-7619-9344-4 (U.S. HB).
- Subrata K. Mitra. 2001. Making local government work: Local elites, panchayati raj and governance in India, in: Atul Kohli (Ed.). The Success of India's Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Subrata K. Mitra. 2003. Politics in India, in Almond, Gabriel/Bingham Powell/Russell Dalton/Kaare Strøm (Eds.), Comparative Politics Today. 8th edition. New York: Addison-Wesley-Longman, pp. 634–684.
- Ipsita Sapra. 2013. "Living in the villages". dandc.eu. http://www.dandc.eu/en/article/after-25-years-elected-village-councils-india-democracy-still-needs-be-deepened
- Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India
- Panchayati Raj
- See the entry on Panchayat in Encyclopædia Britannica
- A Feature on the Women of the Indian Panchayats, with video, by the International Museum of Women.