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Grass root democracy and empowerment of people:evaluation of Panchayati Raj in India

Menon, Sudha Venu (2007): Grass root democracy and empowerment of people:evaluation of Panchayati Raj in India.

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As Gandhi often pointed out, India lives in villages and unless village life can be revitalized the nation as a whole can hardly come alive. When India became independent in 1947, perhaps one-third of the villages of India had traditional Panchayats and many of them were far from flourishing conditions. The congress government has made a determined effort to promote the creation of Panchayats and to make them effective units of local self- government. Article 40 of the Constitution clearly declares ‘The state shall take necessary actions to organize village Panchayats and to endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government’. The aim was to foster democratic participation, to involve villagers in the development of the community and to reduce the burden of higher level of administration. Though various steps were taken by successive governments to revitalize the system, Gramswaraj through village Panchayats remained as a distant dream till 1992. Bureaucratic apathy, indifference of the people, lack of political will, lack of uniformity etc were the main factors behind the failure of the system. Realizing the potential of the PR system, Rajeev Gandhi government initiated a process of Constitutional amendment to give sanctity and uniformity to Panchayati Raj system so that it can be immune from political interference and bureaucratic indifference. Rajeev Gandhi introduced 64th Constitutional amendment Bill in 1989. But the Bill did not materialize because of the fall of his Ministry. Finally the P.V.Narasimha Rao government introduced Panchayati Raj system in India through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment in 1992. The article mainly focuses on the effectiveness of 73rd Constitutional amendment in securing empowerment of people. The article tries to capture the efforts of various states to implement panchayati Raj system and makes a comparative study of performance of states in terms of people’s participation, capacity building, de-bureaucratization and decentralization of powers. The salient features of 73rd Amendment Act including reservation of seats, provision for separate election commission and finance commission, gramsabha, taxes, periodic elections etc are discussed. More over it examines the initiatives of state governments towards democratic decentralization and highlights special programmes initiated by Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh etc to make the system effective. The article critically evaluates the effectiveness of PRIs as a system of governance for increased people’s participation empowerment and social change. Here attempt is made to incorporate the results of impact assessment studies conducted by World Bank. Concluding section highlights the need for revitalizing the system through integrating NREGP [National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme] and NRHM [National Rural Health Mission] etc

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