The village panchayats are the last but not the least in import-
ance in the ladder of Government machinery and administration. From the early times, the villages in India formed units
which were self-sufficient and administered by the gram panchayats. They were so much self-sufficient and self-governed that they could withstand the onslaughts of Muslim and other foreign depredations. Centralization of power that emerged during the British regime resulted into political, social and economic disruption of the rural areas. The freedom struggle that started in the country during the 20th Century forced the alien power to grant at least the restricted local government so as to keep away the popular discontent. Thus an Act was passed in 1915, which was implemented in 1920 by establishing a few village panchayats in the district, their supervision having been entrusted to the District Councils then in existence.
The Village Panchayats Act of 1946 envisaged the establishment of village panchayats in villages, the population of which was above 1,000, above 500 and below 500 in three stages. Within one year, the phased programme was completed except a few villages in the last stage.
Under the Act, panchayats with membership of between 5
and 15 were established on the basis of adult franchise. They
were to elect a Sarpanch and the Up-sarpanch from amongst
themselves. The revenue patil of the village was to be an ex- officio member of the panchayat.
The Act divided the duties of the village panchayats into obligatory and optional. The obligatory duties of the village panchayats included sanitary and health measures, construction and repairs of roads, maintenance of birth and death registers, provision of water-supply, and undertaking such other works meant for public convenience while the optional duties involved construction and maintenance of dharmashalas, finding ways and means for development of agriculture, co-operation, veterinary services etc. The gram panchayats were to undertake the optional functions provided their funds permitted them to do so.
The incomes of the village panchayats were derived from various sources such as cesses, house tax, sanitary tax, and other taxes as also grants from janapad sabhas and the Government.
A few gram panchayats were entrusted with the performance of judicial functions. They were authorised to impose fine up to Rs. 20 and conduct civil suits of the value of not more than Rs. 100. The appeals upon the decisions of the gram panchayat were heard by the District and Sessions Judge. The panchayats were authorised to appoint the Secretaries and the other necessary staff.
After the reorganisation of States, the Bombay Village Panchayats Act, 1958, was made applicable to the district.
Under this Act, which was put into force in the district from June 1, 1959, females were represented in the panchayats. The
membership of revenue patils who were ex-officio members of
the panchayats was abrogated. The division of the duties of
Village panchayats as obligatory and optional was annulled and
the panchayats were made responsible for the all round development of villages. This Art has given wide powers to village panchayats.
The special features of the new Act are-
(a) reservation of two seats for women in every village panchayat,
(b) constitution of gram sabhas of all adult residents of the village,
(c) establishment of district village panchayat mandal for
every district (now defunct since the formation of the Zilla
(d) appointment of the secretary of a village panchayat as a full-fledged Government servant,
(e) training of the village panchayat secretary to be undertaken at its own cost,
(f) making of the work of collection of land revenue and maintenance of land records, a responsibility of village panchayats,
(g) payments to village panchayats of grants-in-aid of not less than 25 per cent of the land revenue collected in villages, and
(h) constitution of group nyaya panchayats for five or more villages with fairly wide judicial powers, both civil and criminal.
A District Village Panchayat Officer was appointed to control the administration of village panchayats in the district. He assists the Collector in his functions and duties in respect of administration of village panchayats with the aid of District Auditor, live Sub-Auditors and other necessary staff. Besides, two Social Welfare Inspectors were allotted to the district to work as supervisory stall.
With the formation of the Zilla Parishad the district panchayat mandals were abolished and the Village Panchayat Officer now works with the Zilla Parishad. The control of the village panchayats now vests in the Zilla Parishad and is exercised through the Panchayat Samitis.
All the villages in the district are covered by 724 village panchayats of which 508 are independent village panchayats while the remaining 216 are group village panchayats. The 81 nyaya panchayats in the district established under the Central Provinces and Berar Act of 1946 now function under the Bombay Village Panchayats Act, 1958. During 1959-60, ten camps of a duration of three to five days were conducted with a view to giving to the non-official authorities of the village panchayats training in the administration of village panchayats through seminars and symposiums.