Ashok Mehta Committee

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The Committee on Panchayati Raj Institutions (1977), often known as the Ashok Mehta Committee, was a significant turning point in India’s history of rural government. This committee was established in response to the 64th Constitutional Amendment Act of 1989 and given the responsibility of examining and making recommendations for improvements to the nation’s Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs). The group, which was led by well-known social activist and rural development specialist Ashok Mehta, turned in its findings in 1988. The suggestions of this committee were essential in changing India’s rural government system. The influence of the Ashok Mehta Committee’s major conclusions and recommendations on rural decentralization is examined in this article.

Historical Background of Ashok Mehta Committee:

It’s crucial to comprehend the historical background of rural government in India before getting into the intricacies of the Ashok Mehta Committee. India chose a centralized administrative system in the early years of independence, with the majority of the nation’s decision-making occurring at the state and national levels. Rural regions were ruled top-down with minimal involvement from the grassroots and with limited local self-governance.

In order to empower local communities and achieve decentralization, the government established the Panchayati Raj system in the 1950s. However, PRIs’ performance was constrained by a number of issues, including insufficient funding, a lack of autonomy, and political meddling. As a result, there was a rising need for PRIs to be improved and revitalized in order to better serve rural populations.

Establishment and Membership of the Committee

In 1977, the Ashok Mehta Committee was established with the express purpose of reviewing the operation of PRIs and making recommendations to enhance them. Experts and practitioners with extensive experience of rural development made up the committee, which Ashok Mehta served as head of. To learn more about the difficulties PRIs confront and to pinpoint potential solutions, the committee members engaged in intensive field research and conversations.

Important Advice from the Ashok Mehta Committee

  • Three-Tier Structure of PRIs: The implementation of a three-tier structure for PRIs, consisting of the Gram Panchayat at the village level, the Panchayat Samiti at the intermediate level, and the Zilla Parishad at the district level, was one of the committee’s main recommendations. This system of tiers was designed to provide efficient government and the devolution of authority to the populace.
  • Constitutional Status: The committee suggested that PRIs be given constitutional status in order to safeguard their independence and guarantee that they may operate as autonomous entities. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, which gave PRIs a legal basis, was passed as a result of this advice in 1992.
  • Devolution of responsibilities: The committee stressed the necessity of transferring important responsibilities and duties to PRIs, acknowledging the value of decentralization. This gave them the ability to efficiently handle local challenges by giving them financial, administrative, and planning authority.
  • Elections: To promote democratic representation and accountability, the committee advised PRIs to hold periodical elections. In order to foster social inclusion, it was suggested that elections be conducted every five years and that seats be set aside for underrepresented groups.
  • Fiscal Autonomy: The committee proposed that PRIs should have control over a portion of state income and the authority to levy and collect taxes, fees, and other charges within their jurisdiction in order to make them financially self-sufficient.
  • Planning and Execution: The committee favored decentralized planning, with PRIs having a key role in developing and carrying out plans at the local level. This would make it possible for local communities to identify and prioritize their unique developmental requirements.
  • Building capacity: The committee proposed the creation of training centers and support systems to provide elected representatives and officials at all levels more authority, realizing the need to increase the ability of PRIs.

Effect and Application

The Ashok Mehta Committee’s suggestions had a significant influence on India’s rural government system. The important results and difficulties in putting these recommendations into practice are covered in the following sections.

  • Constitutional standing: The adoption of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, which gave PRIs constitutional standing, was the most important result of the committee’s recommendations. Their existence and independence were guaranteed by this constitutional legitimacy, which also gave their operations a legal foundation.
  • Three-Tier Structure: The three-tier PRI structure was adopted, which allowed for a more structured and hierarchical method of rural control. It enabled a distinct separation of duties and guaranteed representation at various levels of governance.
  • Devolution of Powers: Although the idea of giving PRIs more authority was supported in theory, different states and districts actually implemented the idea in different ways. While some states suffered with political opposition and administrative difficulties, others achieved tremendous progress in the devolution of authority.
  • Elections and Reservation: The regular holding of elections for PRIs became the norm, fostering democratic representation at the local level. The reservation of seats for women, members of Scheduled Castes, and members of Scheduled Tribes significantly increased their involvement in rural government.
  • Financial Autonomy: It was difficult to provide PRIs financial autonomy. Despite the fact that some governments did provide funding for PRIs, the amount was sometimes insufficient to fulfill regional requirements. Financial dependence on state governments remained a serious problem.
  • Planning and Implementation: The implementation of decentralized planning was varied, with some governments making significant advancements in including PRIs in planning procedures while others persisted in using top-down planning techniques.
  • Building capacity: Through training programs and support systems, elected officials’ capacities were aimed to be improved. The success of these programs varied, though, and capacity building remained a constant problem.

Criticisms and Obstacles

Despite the Ashok Mehta Committee’s recommendations leading to great progress in rural decentralization, a number of problems and critiques persisted:

  • Inadequate Financial Resources: PRIs frequently experienced financial difficulties as a result of weak revenue-generating abilities and limited funding from state governments. This hindered their capacity to carry out autonomous development projects.
  • Political interference: In several instances, local political involvement made it difficult for PRIs to operate effectively and act independently.
  • Uneven Implementation: States adopted and implemented the committee’s recommendations in very different ways, which resulted in differences in PRIs’ efficiency.
  • Capacity Constraints: Building the capacity of elected leaders and representatives remained difficult, particularly in isolated and underserved communities.
  • Gender and Social Inclusion: Although there were provisions for the reserve of seats for women and underrepresented groups, there were social and cultural hurdles to these groups’ full participation in PRIs.
  • Bureaucratic Resistance: Administrative bottlenecks were caused by bureaucratic resistance, which occurred among some administrative staff members.

The findings and recommendations of the Ashok Mehta Committee represented a crucial turning point in India’s history of rural government. The group attempted to strengthen grassroots democracy by pushing for a three-tiered structure, devolution of powers, and constitutional recognition of PRIs. Although there have been significant successes in putting these principles into practice, problems such a lack of funding, political meddling, and unequal implementation still exist.

The legacy of the Ashok Mehta Committee serves as a reminder of the significance of decentralized government and the continuous work necessary to enhance local self-governance organizations as India continues to develop and handle the varied demands of its rural people. The committee’s proposals offer a road map for achieving democratic decentralization and rural development with the ultimate objective of empowering communities and raising the standard of living in rural India.

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