Working Of Panchayats In Manipur
- Part 1 -

Dr. K. Shyamsunder Singh*

National Panchayat Day Observed on April 24 2017
National Panchayat Day Observed on April 24 2017 :: Pix - DIPR


A reading on the working of Panchayats in Manipur would essentially require to begin with re-iterating certain basic aspects of the Historic Legislation on Decentralised Governance,generally described as the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act,1992. The Act came into force on 24thApril, 1993 and has become a milestone in the roadmap of Panchayati Raj. It is a fact that the Act has ushered in an era of uniform system of Panchayati Raj throughout the country.

No doubt, bigger States were to adopt a three-tier system, viz ; Gram Panchayat at the Village level, Panchayat/Block Samiti at the intermediate level and Zilla Parishad at the District level, while smaller States were given the option not to constitute the intermediate level Panchayat if they liked to do so. States were to enact their own State Legislations in the light of the provisions and within one year of the enforcement of the Amendment Act .

The Act has accorded Constitutional status to the Panchayat bodies and endowed them with measures of continuity, certainty and strength. The earlier general opinion of Panchayats not being viable and unable to be responsive bodies due to absence of regular elections, prolonged suppression, inadequate representation of weaker sections, lack of proper devolution of power and financial resources no longer persists.

In fact, the transfer of power for determining priorities in planning at the grass-roots level has become a reality with the passage of the Constitutional Amendment. Further, it envisaged decentralization in the execution of all types of developmental activities with the active participation of the people in the rural areas. Concept and Objective of Panchayati Raj:

Panchayat Raj is a constitutionally mandated institutional mechanism of rural self-governance, having a three tier Panchayat structure,viz; Gram Panchayat at the Village level, Panchayat Samiti at the Block level and Zilla Parishad at the District level; the bodies being organically linked and necessary powers devolved upon them to enable to function as Units of self-government for bringing all-round development in the lifestyle of the rural masses.

"The objective of Panchayati Raj is to establish a decentralised, bottom-up, participatory democracy so that at the village level the Gram Sabha, recognised as the basic unit of democracy, consisting of all adult residents of the village, should not only deliberate but also participate with its executive, namely the Gram Panchayat, in planning and implementing the various developmental programs for causing socio-economic transformation in the country side. ln other words the Panchayati Raj Institutions are to function as the inalienable vehicle of Rural Transformation.

The Manipur Panchayati Raj Act, 1994:

In conformity with the provisions of the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 the Manipur Panchayat Raj Act, 1994 was passed and it came into force with effect from 23-04-1994. It extended to the erstwhile 4(four) valley districts, via; Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal and Bishnupur only. For administrative convenience, the Government of Manipur, has created 7 (seven) new districts in December, 2016 which include 2 (two) in the valley and 5(five) in the Hill areas by bifurcating some of the already existing Districts in the valley and hill areas of the State thereby raising the number of districts to 16 (sixteen) in Manipur.

The State Act does not extend Panchayat in the hill areas of Manipur where (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act,1956 or the Manipur ( Hill Areas) District Council Act,1971 is in operation. The Act provides for the establishment of a two-tier system of Panchayati Raj, i.e. Gram Panchayat at the Village level and Zilla Parishad at the District level.

As of now, creation of 2 (two) new Districts in the valley has not made any changes with the existing nomenclature of 4 (four) Zilla Parishads viz Imphal East ZP, Imphal West ZP, Thoubal ZP and Bishnupur ZP and also no changes have been made in the nomenclature of the existing 161 (One hundred sixty one) Gram Panchayats at the village level. The Panchayats at both levels are involved in the implementation of centrally sponsored and State planned schemes for creation of community assets, infrastructure development and employment generation etc; in rural areas of the State. The State Act does not provide for establishment of the intermediate/middle-tier, i.e. Panchayat Samiti at the Block level.

Article 243(G) of the Central Act and the Section 35 and 61 of the Manipur Panchayati Raj Act, 1994 empower the Panchayti Raj Institutions (PRIs) to become vibrant units of local self-governance and play a vital role in the development of rural areas for poverty alleviation through the process of ensuring maximum participation of the general masses by holding Gram Sabhas for preparation of Plans for economic development and social justice.

Besides, as envisaged in the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act 1992, there are provisions for establishment of Gram Sabha, reservation of seats for SC/ST and women, Taxation, Constitution of the State Finance Commission , the State Election Commission and establishment of the District planning Committees etc;.

Gram Sabha:

The Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 gives Constitutional status to the "Gram Sabha". The Manipur Panchayati Raj Act, 1994 also provides for the establishment of the institution of Gram Sabha" and defines " Gram Sabha" as a body consisting of persons registered in the electoral rolls relating to a village comprised within the area of the Panchayat at the village level. The Gram Sabha is the general assembly of the adult villagers.

It is through this forum that the rural poor, women and marginalised get an opportunity to participate in the discussion and expression of their views on common problems they face in their villages. The State Act provides for not less than 4 (four) Gram Sabha meetings in a year. In the dispensation of Panchayati Raj, the Gram Sabha takes the model of being a forum for direct democracy in Rural Governance. Characteristically, the Gram Sabha can be compared with the citizens' forum of democracy in the ancient Greek city-States.

Active Gram Sabha is a must for participatory democracy and transparent village administration. Rather, the Gram Sabha is to function as the basic platform of the Panchayati Raj system. An active Gram Sabha is a must for providing effective socio-economic transformation in the Rural areas of the State.

In this context, what is most called for is to organise Gram Sabhas with as far as maximum attendance. The Rural leaders and elected PRIs representatives will need to go all out to motivate their electorate-members to instil in them a firm sense of faith in the system of grass-roots democracy by way of ads, awareness generation with circulation of Annual Reports of the GPs showing income, expenditure and works taken-up during the year and even providing nominal remuneration to the participants as a token of acknowledgement for being present during the Sabha meetings.

Expenses for conducting at least 4(four) Gram Sabha meetings in a year for all the 161 Gram Panchayats may be reflected in the Departments Annual Budget Estimate. For, without the participation of the general public / electorate members, the deliberations of the Sabhas will remain incomplete and disputes unresolved thereby dislocating the true texture of participatory democracy.

Also, in order that the elected representatives are kept alerted with new developments they are provided with Exposure visits/Study tours to other developed States to make them familiar with the working of more dynamic and responsive Panchayats. It is opined that such activities would help in motivating and reinforcing the working of Panchayats in the home State.

Panchayat Election:

Under the MPR Act, 1994 four General Elections to Panchayats have been held so far. The first election was held in the year, 1997, the second in the year, 2002, the third in the year, 2007, and the fourth in September 2012 under the supervision, direction and the control of the Manipur State Election Commission constituted under Section 98 of the MPR Act, 1994. Under this Act, 4 (four) Zilla Parishads and 161 Gram Panchayats have been constituted and are currently existing .

Out of the 4(four) seats of Adhyakshas of Zilla Parishads, 2 (two) are women reserved seats. Presently, 3 (three) seats of Adhyakshas are being held by women. Also, there are 60 (sixty) seats of ZP members. At the village level, there are 161 (one hundred and sixty one) seats of Pradhans of Gram Panchayats and 1503 seats of Gram Panchayat members.

Further, 49 reserved women Pradhans besides 2 (two) each reserved for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe are working as Rural Women Leaders. Out of the 1503 Gram Panchayat members, there are 525 reserved women members besides 17 women for Scheduled Caste and 21 women for Scheduled Tribe. At present, we have 1723 PRIs representatives in Manipur. Elections to l(one) seat of Pradhan and 13 (thirteen) seats of Gram Panchayat Members could not be held. The 5th General Elections to Panchayats is due sometime in September, 2017.

As required under Section 45 (i) of the Manipur Panchayati Raj Act, 1994, all the 161 Gram Panchayats have been provided with 161 Panchayat Secretaries for their functional support on regular basis. The Birth and Death registration services at GP level are now available under the ex-officio power of the Panchayat Secretary. The Department is also engaging to provide one Panchayat Ghar to each Gram Panchayat for holding meetings and to manage its day-to-day official works.

To be continued ...

* Dr. K. Shyamsunder Singh (Director (RD & PR), Manipur ) wrote this article for 'Manipur Today' that was published by DIPR Manpur in April 2017
This article was posted on May 28, 2017.

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