A village Panchayat in India is similar to that of a town council in the U.S. This lesson walks you through the process of becoming part of the Gram Panchayat and all its responsibilities.
Is local government important? What responsibilities does a local government have? How do people get into local government positions, and what are those positions? These are the political science questions that led you, an adult living in India, to investigate becoming involved in your local government.Living in India, you are aware that there is a three-tiered governmental system called the Panchayati Raj, which forms governing bodies overseeing states, districts, and villages in India. The Zilla Parishad is the highest level body, responsible for state-level administration over many districts and even more villages.
Panchayat Samiti is the next level down, each incorporating many villages in a single geographic region and looking out for residents living outside of the village jurisdiction (like rural residents).Finally, the most local level of government is called the Gram Panchayat, or village Panchayat, and is the governing/administrative body of a village of at least 1500 residents. Your interest was piqued; how is a Gram Panchayat formed? Who leads the body? Why? What positions are available on the governing body?
Building the Gram
The first thing to know about a Gram Panchayat is that the members are elected by a Gram Sabha, the adults in a village. While most Gram Sabhas are made from a single village, if there are not enough people in a village (at least 1500) to form a Gram Sabha, then multiple small neighboring villages can band together and form a single Gram Sabha to elect a single Gram Panchayat governing all the small villages included.
The Gram Sabha meets at least twice a year (in something like a town council meeting in the U.S.) to get reports and summary information from the Gram Panchayat. The term of any member of a Gram Panchayat is five years. You must be a registered voter and not hold any conflict of interest type positions in order to be eligible to be elected into the Gram Panchayat. People with criminal records are not eligible to serve in the Gram Panchayat.
Responsibilities of the Gram Panchayat
Okay, so now you know how to become a Panch, a member of a Gram Panchayat. What do the members do?In general, the Gram Panchayat is responsible for the administration of the village. While approval of major taxation, development, and production plans must be approved at the general Sabha meetings, the Gram Panchayat is responsible for creating, presenting, and executing plans within an approved budget.A few general responsibilities of the Gram Panchayat are:
- Epidemic prevention measures
- Water management
- Maintaining public buildings, spaces, and access points
- Budgeting funds
- Tax-related chores
The Gram Panchayat also has specific duties assigned by the state government including:
- Food production – Including irrigation, cattle breeding, food growth, farm forestry, and appropriate land usage
- Human services – Health centers, women’s and children’s health issues, education, rehabilitation, and rural housing programs
Members of the Gram Panchayat
Now that you know more about what the Gram Panchayat does, you would really like to become a member and make a mark on your village. If elected, you will work with between seven and seventeen Panchas, depending on the size of your village. You’ll also find some of the spots in the Gram Panchayat are reserved specifically for members from underrepresented groups, such as women, officially recognized castes, and designated tribes. Within the Gram Panchayat, four titled positions are elected.
All other Panchas serve in a general sense, helping on projects or committees.
The Sarpanch is the president of the Gram Panchayat. Sometimes the Sarpanch is elected by the general Gram Sabha, and sometimes he is elected by other members of the Gram Panchayat.The Sarpanch, as the leader of his Gram, is automatically an ex-officio member of the Panchayat Samiti (the next level of government). This means that part of his duties is to represent his village in district government. He must stand up for what his village needs with higher levels of government. It is a pivotal position.
The Sarpanch is also in charge of all activities in the Gram Panchayat. He may personally oversee a variety of activities but is ultimately responsible for the outcomes of the Gram Panchayat. If you were in the U.S.
, you might liken the Sarpanch to a town mayor.
Just as a mayor in the U.S. often has a deputy mayor, or someone who is considered second in charge, the Upsarpanch is the vice-president of the Gram Panchayat. His duties are to assist the Sarpanch in any way necessary.
A third role in the Gram is that of the Panchayat Secretary.
The Secretary must record all meetings and keep the budget documents up to date. Writing notices, giving public announcements, and organizing large meetings of the Gram Sabha are all also within the job description of the Panchayat Secretary.
Village Level Worker
The final titled position in a Gram Panchayat is the Village Level Worker, or Village Development Officer.Just as the name sounds, the Village Development Officer is in charge of agricultural production plans. While he must report to his own Sarpanch, he also is responsible for reporting directly to the district-level Panchayat Samiti for progress accountability in areas of agricultural planning and scheme target achievement.
You’ve learned so much about your local government in India that you can’t wait to become a part of it. You’ve learned that:
- The Gram Sabha, consisting of all the adult members of the village, elects the members of the Gram Panchayat (the governing body of the village).
- If a village is too small, it can band together with surrounding villages to make the 1500-population requirement for a Gram Panchayat.
- The Gram Panchayat is responsible for all local administration, such as taxes, health and human interventions, infrastructure, and state-mandated agricultural programs.
- There are four title positions: Sarpanch (or president), Upsarpanch (or vice-president), Secretary, and Village Development Officer. All other Panchas (or members) serve general roles.