The 73rd Amendment (together with the 74th) was called ‘a silent revolution’ for various reasons.
- First of all, the PRIs no longer operated at the whim of state governments and their laws. They were a part of the Constitution and enjoyed the status of institutions of self-government, as parliament at the federal level and legislative assemblies at the state level.
- The amendment prescribed regular elections every five years and election within six months of the dissolution of any PRI. To ensure free, fair, and timely elections there was a provision for the setting up of a state election commission.
- The most revolutionary provision wais the reservation of one-third of the seats for women in local bodies, along with the reservation of seats for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in proportion to their regional populations.
- The amendment laid down 29 functions to be entrusted to the PRIs.
- To maintain a democratic ethos, popular accountability, and transparency, the amendment emphasized the need for periodic meetings of the gram sabha, composed of all adults in each village. These meetings would approve ongoing programmes and financial allocations.
- In brief, the amendment visualised the allocation of funds, functions, and functionaries to the bodies to ensure genuine and effective democratic decentralisation.
Mandatory and Discretionary Powers
Important mandatory provisions were:
- The establishment in every state (except those with populations below 2 million) of panchayats at the village, intermediate and district levels (Article 243B).
- Direct, elections to all- seats in the panchayats (lowest elective tier) at all levels (Article 243 C).
- Compulsory elections to panchayats every five years.
- If a panchayat was dissolved prematurely, elections must be held within six months, with the newly elected members serving the remainder of the five year term (Article 243E).
- Reservation of seats in all panchayats at all levels for SCs/ STs (Article 243D).
- Reservation of one—third of all seats in all panchayats at all levels for women, with the reservation for women applying to the seats reserved for SC/STs (Article 243D).
- Indirect elections to the position of panchayat chairperson at the intermediate and district levels (Article 243C).
- Reservation of the position of panchayat chairperson at all levels for SC/STs in proportion to their share in the state population (Article 243D).
- Reservation of one-third of the positions of chairperson at all three levels for women (Article 243D).
The discretionary provisions were:
- The transfer of powers and functions to Gram Sabha.
- The mode of election of chairperson of a panchayat at village level.
- Reservation of OBCs.
- To decide the taxes, duties, tolls and fees for which a panchayat shall be authorised.
- To make provision for maintenance of accounts and auditing of panchayats.
State Finance Commissions
In India, decentralization reforms, aimed at empowering local people through local governments, assumed significance in early 1990s. Though the Panchayats and the municipalities (rural local bodies and the urban local bodies) existed even before the 73rd and 74th amendment of the Constitution in the year 1993, these amendments provided an impetus to the decentralisation process through a system of self-government for the panchayats and municipalities and devolve greater powers, functions and authority to them.
They also envisaged the panchayats and municipalities as an institution of self-government. These amendments underscored the organic link in the public finances of the multi-layered federal polity in India. The devolution of financial resources to these bodies was ensured through periodic constitution of the State Finance Commissions (SFCs).
Articles 243 (I) and 243 (Y) of the Constitution spelt out the task of SFCs. Accordingly, SFCs are required to recommend (a) the principles that should govern the distribution between the State on the one hand and the local bodies on the other of the net proceeds of taxes, etc. leviable by the state and the inter-se allocation between different panchayats and municipalities, (b) the determination of taxes, duties, tolls and fees which may be assigned to, or appropriated by the local bodies, and (c) grants-in-aid from the consolidated fund of the State to the local bodies. SFCs are also required to suggest the measures needed to improve the financial position of the panchayats and municipalities. The importance of the SFCs in the scheme of fiscal decentralization was that besides arbitrating on the claims to resources by the state government and the local bodies, their recommendations would impart greater stability and predictability to the transfer mechanism.
Bar to interference by courts in electoral matters
- The validity of any law relating to the delimitation of constituencies or the allotment of seats to such constituencies, made under article 243K, shall not be called in question in any court.
- No election to any Panchayat shall be called in question except by an election petition presented to such authority and in such manner as is provided for by or under any law made by the Legislature of a State.
The Local Government Departments work as executives to the Institutions of Self Governance at different levels.
The Tasks to be accomplished by rural local bodies (i.e. Panchayats) under the 73rd Amendments Act. (Indicative sectors to be addressed under NRDMS are given below)
- Agriculture, including agriculture extension.
- Land improvement, implementation of land reforms, land consolidation and soil conservation.
- Minor irrigation, water management watershed development.
- Animal husbandry, dairying and poultry.
- Social forestry and farm forestry.
- Minor forest produce.
- Small scale industries, including food processing industries.
- Khadi, village and collage industries.
- Rural Housing.
- Drinking water.
- Fuel and fodder.
- Roads, culverts, brides, ferries, waterways, and other means of communication.
- Rural electrification including distribution of electricity.
- Non-conventional energy sources.
- Poverty alleviation programme.
- Education, including primary and secondary schools.
- Adult and non-formal education.
- Cultural activities.
- Markets and fairs.
- Health and sanitation, including hospitals, primary health centers and dispensaries.
- Family welfare.
- Woman and child development.
- Social welfare including welfare of the handicapped and mentally retarded.
- Welfare of the weaker sections, and in particular, of the Scheduled castes and the Scheduled tribes.
- Public distribution system.
- Maintenance of community assets.