ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Mahya Pradesh - Gram Swaraj: Experiment in Direct Democracy

The state government has initiated a bold experiment in local selfgovernment by amending the panchayat raj legislation to devolve powers to the village-level gram sabha. What does the new legislation envisage? How effective will it be in bridging the gap between people and structures of governance?

On January 21, 2001, Madhya Pradesh government amended the Madhya Pradesh Panchayat Raj Adhiniyam (Act), 1993, to rename it as the Madhya Pradesh Panchayat Raj (Sanshodhan) Adhiniyam, 2001. The citation of the amended act substituted the words ‘panchayat raj and gram swaraj’ in place of the words ‘panchayat raj’. The addition of words ‘gram swaraj’ in the citation of the amended act denotes a significant paradigmatic shift in the fundamental principles of governance in Madhya Pradesh. In fact, the new system of governance ‘gram swaraj’, enacted by the Madhya Pradesh Panchayat Raj (Sanshodhan) Adhiniyam 2001, and operationalised from January 26 is a significant experiment in the system of governance. The operationalisation of gram swaraj in Madhya Pradesh will herald the beginning of a new system of governance based on ‘direct democracy’ instead of indirect representative parliamentary democracy.

Madhya Pradesh took lead in implementing the panchayati raj system as envisaged in the 73rd amendment and was the first state to conduct elections to panchayats in 1994. The state government continuously devolved powers and authority to the panchayat institutions and initiated innovative measures to empower, strengthen and institutionalise the panchayat raj institutions. An analysis of six years of functioning of panchayati raj in the state clearly indicates that despite several attempts by the government, civil society and other concerned actors, panchayat raj institutions could not emerge as people’s institutions. Unfortunately, the distortions of the existing political systems at the state and union level were replicated at the panchayati level and a new class of elites and power centre led by the sarpanchs emerged within the panchayati system undermining the spirit of democratic decentralisation. The state government recognised the growing distortions in the panchayat system and it reflected in the open criticism of the existing panchayat system by the chief minister, Digvijay Singh. A comprehensive process of evaluation and assessment was initiated by the state government to look for possible solutions. The new system of gram swaraj is a result of this process.

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