Evolution of Panchayati Raj System in Assam: – Assam has experimented with Panchayati Raj right from the dawn of the Independence. After independence Assam has seen five Panchayats Acts. These are:
(1) Assam Rural Panchayat Act, 1948,
(2) Assam Panchayati Raj Act, 1959,
(3) Assam Panchayati Raj Act, 1972,
(4) Assam Panchayati Raj Act, 1986,
(5) Assam Panchayat Act, 1994.
Presently, the Panchayat Raj System in Assam is working in accordance with the Assam Panchayat Act, 1994.
Assam Rural Panchayat Act, 1948
In Assam the first Panchayati Raj legislation was the Assam Rural Panchayat Act, 1948. Under this system there were two tiers of Panchayats – Primary Panchayats at village level and Rural Panchayats at Mouza (Circle) level. This Act was passed to establish and develop Local Self Government in the rural areas of the Assam and to make better provision for rural administration, reconstruction and development.
The Act provided for the division of rural Assam into several Rural Panchayat areas. Each Rural Panchayat consisted of a number of villages. Each village, again, had a Primary Panchayat. All adult persons in the Primary Panchayat area had the right to vote. The President, the Vice-President and the members of the Primary Panchayats have to be elected for a term of three years by adult suffrage. Every Primary Panchayat has to elect one representative to the Rural Panchayat. The President and the Vice-President of the rural Panchayat have to be elected by the members for a term of three years. The Act empowered the Primary Panchayat to set up an executive authority. Accordingly, each Primary Panchayat had an executive body comprising minimum of 9 and maximum of 15 members including the President and the Vice- President of the Primary Panchayat. A Rural Development Officer under the Deputy Commissioner of the District looked after the functioning of these Panchayats both at village level and also at Mouza level.
Assam Panchayati Raj Act, 1959
The Panchayat Act of 1948 could not function properly for several reasons. Firstly, all the Rural Panchayats and the Primary Panchayats were not established in the village areas. Secondly, the paucity of fund was also a vital point in this respect. Thirdly, the local boards existed at that time were also allowed to function in the rural areas, which was not in conformity with the Assam Rural Panchayat Act. As the Rural Panchayat Institutions established in accordance with the Assam Rural Panchayat Act, 1948 could not function properly and hence the Government of Assam appointed a Panchayat Enquiry Committee in July, 1953 with Hitendra Chandra Chakraborty as its chairman to examine the working of the Panchayats and to make recommendations. In the meantime, the Community Development Programme was launched nationwide to accelerate the process of rural development. This was supported by the introduction of National Extension Service later on. In 1957, the Planning Commission appointed a study team under the Chairmanship of Shri Balwant Rai Mehta to review the working of the Community Development Programme. The Mehta Committee recommended at three-tier system of Panchayats. Keeping in mind the recommendations of the Enquiry Committee of Assam, the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee report and after having a prolong discussion, the Assam Panchayat Act, 1959 was passed. This Act provided for three tier system i.e., Gaon Panchayat at the village level, Anchalik Panchayat at the block level and Mahkuma Parishad at the sub-divisional level.
The Gaon Panchayat consisted of not more than eleven and not less than nine members directly elected on the basis of adult suffrage. The Anchalik Panchayat consisted of the representatives of the Gaon Panchayats, the members of Parliament (MP) and members of State Legislature (MLA), the representatives of Cooperative Societies within the area of Anchalik Panchayat. The BDO acted as the Secretary of Anchalik Panchayat. The Mahkuma Parishad consisted of Presidents of Anchalik Panchayats, the MPs, MLAs, the DC and the SDO within the area of Mahkuma Parishad.
Assam Panchayati Raj Act, 1972
The Assam Panchayati Raj Act, 1959 was further amended as it did not work successfully. The Assam Panchayat Act, 1959 was replaced by the Assam Panchayati Raj Act, 1972. Under the Act of 1972, the Government of Assam wanted to abolish the intermediate level and centralized more and more power at the Sub Divisional level. Accordingly, a two tiers Panchayat system having Mahkuma Parishad at the Sub Divisional level and the Gaon Panchayat at the lower level was introduced. A salient feature of the Act was the extension of Panchayati Raj System to tea garden areas. The Gaon Panchayat had 15 elected members with the President directly elected. Vice-President of Gaon Panchayat was elected from amongst the members of the Gaon Panchayat. The electorates of Gaon Panchayat area elected one councillor to the Mahkuma Parishad. The directly elected councillors constituted the Mahkuma Parishad. The Chief Executive Councillor, who was the head of the Mahkuma Parishad, was elected from amongst the councillors. The Deputy Chief Executive Councillor of the Mahkuma Parishad was also elected from amongst the councillors. The Chief Executive Councillor was assisted by an Executive Committee. Provision for representation of SC and ST people including women at both the levels was also there. The Anchalik Panchayats which existed earlier were abolished and instead of those, Block Advisory Committee with the GP Presidents and the councillors of the block area as the members were formed. In fact, the Act of 1972 brought about changes more or less akin to the recommendations of the Ashok Mehta Committee (1978).
Assam Panchayati Raj Act, 1986
The provisions of Assam Panchayati Raj Act, 1972 have been found inadequate to provide sound infrastructure relating to rural development and reconstruction. The Act (1972) provided for Mahkuma Parishad at the sub- divisional level and Gaon Panchayat at the village level and virtually, all the powers were vested in the Mahkuma Parishad. Gaon Panchayats were practically not involved in any of the rural development activities. It has been considered necessary to bring the institution of Anchalik Panchayat in the Panchayati Raj system through a three-tier system of Mahkuma Parishad, Anchalik Panchayat and Gaon Panchayat. As a result, the Panchayati Raj Act of 1986 was introduced in order to bring about democratic decentralisation of power for the development of rural areas.
This Act re-introduced the three tier local self-government in the rural areas of Assam with the Gaon Panchayat at the village level, Anchalik Panchayat at the Block level and Mahkuma Parishad at the sub-divisional level in place of two tier system of Gaon Panchayat and Mahkuma Parishad. In the new Act, Mahkuma Parishad assumed a supervisory role. This Act was passed in order to consolidate the laws relating to the Assam Panchayat Act of 1972 and to enable the rural self governing institutions to function more effectively. The Act, 1986 was introduced in order to bring about democratic decentralization of powers for the development of rural areas. The Assam Panchayati Raj Act, 1986 came into force on Nov 2, 1991.
Assam Panchayat Act, 1994
The Government of India passed the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 to remove the shortcomings of Panchayati Raj system in India. This amendment of the constitution sought to give some uniformity to Panchayati Raj Institutions throughout India by providing guidelines and directives. Following this development, Assam Panchayat Act, 1994 was passed with features in conformity with the new provisions of the Indian constitution with regard to Panchayati Raj. Keeping with the provisions of the 73rd Amendment Act, the Assam Panchayat Act, 1994 was enacted and it replaced the Assam Panchayati Raj Act, 1986. The Assam Panchayat Act, 1994 came into force on 5th May, 1994. This Act has retained the three tier system of Panchayati Raj Institutions These institutions are Gaon Panchayat at the village level, the Anchalik Panchayat at the Block level and the Zilla Parishad at the District level. The Act extends over the rural areas of Assam, except the autonomous district under the 6th Schedule of the Constitution of India and area under Autonomous Councils established under State Legislation. It also excluded any area which is included in a Municipality or a Town Committee or a Cantonment or a Municipal Corporation.
Features of Assam Panchayat Act, 1994
- The Assam Panchayati Raj Act, 1994 was passed under the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act. Thus, the Panchayats under this Act get constitutional status.
- This Act has abolished Mahkuma Parishad. In place of Mahkuma Parishad, provision has been made for the creation of Zilla Parishad in each District of Assam.
- Provision for Gaon Sabha is introduced. Gaon Sabha is a democratic device through which people may take part in the development of villages directly.
- The Act provided for the constitution of a District Planning Committee to draw up the district plan.
- Provisions for the welfare of SCs and STs are also included.
- The term of office of every Gaon Panchayat has been fixed as 5 years.
- It has made provision for reservation of 1/3 seats in the Panchayats for women.
- Provision for a Finance Commission has been made to advise the government for distribution of money among the Panchayat.
- The Act has taken steps to make the Panchayats financially strong and independent.
- In order to conduct free and fair Panchayat elections provision has been made to establish a State Election Commission.
The Assam Panchayat Act of 1994 is still in force in Assam. The main provisions of the Act are discussed below.
It is a democratic device through which people may take part in the development of villages directly. Gaon Sabha is an important device to control, supervise and guide the Panchayat. Gaon Sabha consists of persons registered in electoral rolls relating to a village or a group of villages comprised within the area of the Gaon Panchayat. The Gaon Sabha meets from time to time but a period of three months should not intervene between any two meetings. Every meeting of Gaon Sabha is presided over by the President of concerned Panchayat or in his/ her absence by the Vice-President or any person to be selected by the majority of the Gaon Sabha members from the meeting.
Gaon Sabha performs the functions relating to mobilization of voluntary labour and contribution in kind and cash for the community welfare programmes, identification of beneficiaries for the implementation of development schemes pertaining to the villages, and rendering all kinds of assistance in the implementation of development schemes pertaining to villages and rendering services in the villages.
Gaon Sabha considers the matters like the report in respect of development programme of the Gaon Panchayat relating to the preceding year and development programme proposed to be undertaken during the current year, the promotion of unity and harmony among all sections of society in the village and such other matters as may be prescribed and finally may make recommendations and suggestions to the Gaon Panchayts.
The State Government may by notification, declare any local area comprising a revenue village or a group of revenue villages or a forest village or a tea garden area or hamlets or other such administrative unit or part thereof to be a Gaon Panchayat with population of its territory not less than six thousand and not more than ten thousand. Gaon Panchayat consists of ten members directly elected by the voters from each territorial constituency of Gaon Panchayat for a period of five years.
The state government divides the area of the Gaon Panchayat into ten territorial constituencies with allotment of one seat for each constituency. The President of Gaon Panchayat is elected directly by the voters of all territorial constituencies of the Gaon Panchayat. In every Gaon Panchayat 1/3 seats is reserved for women. Seats are also reserved for scheduled caste and scheduled tribes in every Gaon Panchayat on the basis of their population in the Gaon Panchayat area.
Powers and Functions of Gaon Panchayat
Gaon Panchayat is entrusted with all powers and functions which are necessary for the social and economic welfare of the rural areas. A Gaon Panchayat have powers to do all acts necessary for carrying out the functions entrusted, assigned or delegated to it. Every Gaon Panchayat performs certain general functions. These are:
- Preparation of Annual Plans for the development of the Gaon Panchayat area.
- Preparation of Annual Budget of Gaon Panchayat
- Mobilization of reliefs in natural calamities.
- Removal of encroachments on public properties.
- Organizing voluntary labours and contribution for community works.
- Maintenance of essential statistics of villages.
In addition to the above mentioned General Functions, the Gaon Panchayat has different functions to perform in accordance with the Assam Panchayat Act, 1994. These functions are- functions relating to Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Dairy Development, Poultry, Fisheries, Social and Farm Forestry, Village and Cottage industries, Rural Housing, Drinking Water, Road, Buildings, Culverts, Bridges, Ferries, Waterways and other means of Communication, Rural Electrification, Poverty Alleviation Programme, Education, Cultural Activities, Market, Rural Sanitation, Public Health and Family Welfare, Women and Child Development, Social Welfare, Welfare of the Weaker Section and in particular the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Public Distribution System, Community Assets, Construction and Maintenance of Dharmasalas, Construction and Maintenance of Cattle Sheds, Public Parks and Play Grounds, Construction and maintenance of Slaughter House, Maintenance and regulation of Manure. Gaon Panchayat also performs such other functions as may be entrusted from time to time by order of the Government in the department of Panchayat and Rural Development.
The Government of Assam determines the administrative area of an Anchalik Panchayat excluding such portions of the Block as are included in a Town Committee and as are included in a Municipality or under the Municipal Corporation. Anchalik Panchayat consists of one member from each Gaon Panchayat to be directly elected from the territorial constituencies of the Gaon Panchayat. The President of the Gaon Panchayat falling within the jurisdiction of the Anchalik Panchayat and finally the members of the House of the People and the Legislative Assembly of the State representing constituencies under the Anchalik Panchayat area are wholly or partly the members of the Anchalik Panchayat having right of voting in the meetings of Anchalik Panchayat. Seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes. 33% seats of Anchalik Panchayat are reserved for women. The President and Vice- President are elected by the elected members of the Anchalik Panchayat from amongst the members.
The Anchalik Panchayat has powers to do all acts necessary for the carrying out of the function entrusted or delegated to it. The Anchalik Panchayat may exercise some additional powers like power to raise loans, power to issue instructions to the Gaon Panchayat within its jurisdiction, power to impose certain additional taxes and charges in addition to existing rates. The functions which are exercised by three Standing Committees of Anchalik Panchayat are the functions of the Anchalik Panchayat.
Functions of Anchalik Panchayat
Anchalik Panchayat has the same powers and functions as enjoyed by the Gaon Panchayat which has been discussed earlier. Every Anchalik Panchayat performs certain General Functions. These are:-
- Preparation of Annual plan in respect of the schemes entrusted to it by virtue of the Act and those assigned to it by the Government or the Zilla Parishad and submission thereof to the Zilla Parishad within the prescribed time for integration with the District Plan;
- Consideration and consolidation of the Annual plans of all Gaon Panchayats under the Anchalik Panchayats and submission of consolidated plan to the Zilla Parishad;
- Preparation of Annual budget of the Anchalik Panchayat and submission to Zilla Parishad for approval within the prescribed time.
- Performing such functions and executing such works as may be entrusted to it by Government or the Zilla Parishad;
- To assist the Government in relief operation in natural calamities.
- Such other development works as may be entrusted.
In addition to the above mentioned General Functions, the Anchalik Panchayat has different functions to perform in accordance with the Assam Panchayat Act, 1994. These functions are- functions relating to Agriculture, Land Improvement and Soil Conservation, Minor Irrigation, Water Management, Watershed Development, Poverty Alleviation Programme, Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Poultry, Fisheries, Khadi, Village and Cotton Industries, Rural Housing, Drinking water, Social and Farm Forestry, Minor Forest Produce, Fuel and fodder, Roads, Buildings, Bridges, Ferries, Waterways and other means of communication, Education including Primary and Secondary Schools, Adult and Non-formal Education, Women and Child Development, Welfare of the weaker section and in particular of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Maintenance of Community Assets, Public Distribution System, Rural Electrification.
Anchalik Panchayat performs such other functions that may be entrusted by the Government or Zilla Parishad from time to time.
At the apex of the Panchayat structure is the Zilla Parishad. The powers and functions of Zilla Parishad includes matters related to the administration, reconstruction and all round development of the rural areas of the district. It is the co-coordinating supervisory body for implementation of plan and programmes as manifested by each Gaon Panchayat of the district. In every District there is a Zilla Parishad having jurisdiction, over the entire district excluding such portions of the district as are included in a Municipality or a Municipal Corporation, as the case may be, or under the authority of Town Committee or Cantonment area or any notified area contrary to it under any law for the time being in force. It consists of the elected members from the territorial constituencies of the district on the guidelines of one member for not less than thirty thousand rural people including the members of Parliament and the MLAs of the District. The Presidents of the Anchalik Panchayats are also the members of the Zilla Parishad. Seats are also reserved for the SCs, STs and Women. If women from SC, ST category and women from general category are not represented in the Zilla Parishad the Government may nominate one member from each community. Directly elected members of the Zilla Parishad in its first meeting, convened by the Deputy Commissioner, elects from amongst the member one as President and another one as Vice-President of Zilla Parishad. The Zilla Parishad have powers to do all acts necessary for carrying out of the functions entrusted or delegated to it under this Act.
Powers and Functions of Zilla Parishad
It is the function of a Zilla Parishad to prepare plans for economic development and social justice of the District. It is also the function of a Zilla Parishad to ensure the coordinated implementation of various plans relating to Agriculture, Irrigation, Ground water resources and Watershed development, Horticulture, Rural Electrification, Soil Conservation, Social Foresty, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Minor Forest Produce, Fisheries, Household and Small Scale Industries, Rural roads and Inland Waterways, Health and Hygiene, Rural Housing, Education, Social Welfare and Welfare of Weaker Sections, Poverty Alleviation Programme and Social Reforms Activities. The Zilla Parishad may be vested by the State Government with such powers under any Act as the Government may deem fit. Zilla Parishad of two or more adjacent districts may jointly undertake and execute any development schemes on such terms and conditions as may be mutually agreed upon.
District Planning Committee
In every district a District Planning Committee has to be constituted to consolidate the plans prepared by Zilla Parishad, Anchalik Panchayats, Gaon Panchayats, Town Committees, Municipal Boards and Municipal Corporations and to prepare a draft development plan for the district as a whole. The District Planning Committee consists of the members of the Lok Sabha who represent the whole or part of the district, the members of the Assam Legislative Assembly whose major part of the constituencies fall within the district, the President of the Zilla Parishad, the Mayor or the Chairpersons of the Municipal Corporation/Municipal Board/Town Committee as the case may be, such number of persons not less than “four /fifth” of the total number of members as may be specified by the Government elected from amongst the members of the Zilla Parishad, Municipal Corporation or the Municipal Board and Town Committees in the districts on rotation annually. The Deputy Commissioner is permanent invitee of the Committee as an Ex-Officio Member. The Chief Executive Officer of the Zilla Parishad is the Ex-officio Secretary of the Committee. The President of the Zilla Parishad is the Ex-officio Chairman of the District Planning Committee.
The State Government may constitute a Finance Commission to review the financial position of the Panchayat Bodies. The Finance Commission consists of a Chairman and two other members to be appointed by the Governor. In order to perform its functions the Commission may call for any record from any officer or authority, may summon any person to give evidence or to produce records and may exercise such other powers as may be prescribed for the performance of its functions. Finance Commission may make recommendations to the Governor relating to following matters.
- The distribution between the State and the Panchayats the net proceeds of the taxes, duties, tolls and fees levied by the State which may be divided between them and allocation between Panchayats at all levels of their respective share of such proceeds;
- The determination of the taxes, duties, tolls and fees which may be assigned to or appropriated by the Panchayats;
- The grants-in- aid to the Panchayats from the consolidated fund of the state.
- The measures needed to improve the financial position of the Zilla Parishad, Anchalik Panchayats and Gaon Panchayats.
State Election Commission
There is a State Election Commission to prepare electoral roll, supervise, direct, control, and to conduct all elections to the Panchayats. State Election Commission consists of a State Election Commissioner to be appointed by the Governor. The conditions of service and tenure of office of the State Panchayat Election Commissioner are to be such as the Governor may, by rule determine. The Government when so requested by the State Election Commissioner makes available staff as may be necessary to the State Election Commission for the discharge of the functions conferred on the State Panchayat Election Commission under the Act. The Returning officers, Assistant Returning Officers, Presiding Officers, Polling Officers and any other officer appointed under the Act and any Police Officers designated for the time being by the State Government for the Conduct of the Panchayat election are deemed to be on deputation to the State Election Commission for the period commencing on and from the date of notification calling for Panchayat election and ending with the date of declaration of the results of the election and accordingly such officers during that period subject to the control, superintendence and discipline of the State Election Commission. The State Legislature, subject to the provision of Constitution of India, may make provision with respect to all matters relating to or in connection with election to the Panchayats.
Present System of Reservation for Women in Panchayati Raj of Assam
Presently, the Panchayat Raj System in Assam is working in accordance with the Assam Panchayat Act, 1994. The Assam Panchayat Act, 1994 has made provision for 1/3 reservation of seats for women in the Panchayat bodies and in accordance with this provision 2002 and 2008 Panchayat elections provided 33% reservation of seats to women.
On 10th Nov, 2012 the Assam Government has brought some modifications in the reservation policy and announced 50% reservation of seats for women in Panchayat bodies. The Government further stated that the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe women would also enjoy the 50% seat reservation in the Panchayats. Accordingly, in the last Panchayat election (January and February, 2013) there was 50% reservation of seats for women in all Panchayts bodies of Assam.
Panchayati Raj system of Assam
Panchayati Raj system extends over the rural areas of Assam, except the autonomous districts constituted under the 6th Schedule of the Constitution of India and area under Autonomous Councils established under State Legislation. Regarding the Urban Self Government, Assam has three types of Local Bodies i.e.,
(a) Town Committee,
(b) Municipal Board and
(c) Municipal Corporation.
Assam has only one Municipal Corporation i.e., Guwahati Municipal Corporation which is responsible for the Municipal administration of Guwahati city.
In the areas where District Councils exist, under the 6th Schedule of the Constitutions, there are Municipal Boards and Town Committees, but they are completely under the purview of District Councils. In Assam there are three District Councils (Autonomous Councils) under the Six Schedule of the Constitution. The administration of the areas under the jurisdiction of the Sixth Schedule is carried on by these three Autonomous Councils. There are six Autonomous Councils in Assam under the State Legislation and these Councils extend over the plain tribes areas of Assam.
The unique feature of the local self government in Assam is that it presents a varieties of institutions for Local Self Government, such as: Rural local bodies represented by PRIs, Urban local bodies under Municipal system, Autonomous Councils for the Hill tribes under Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and Autonomous Councils for the Plain tribes.