PANCHAYATI RAJ INSTITUTIONS AND DEMOCRATIC DECENTRALIZATION IN INDIA

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International Research Journal of Humanities, Language and Literature Vol. 3, Issue 10, October 2016 IF- 3.558 ISSN: (2394-1642) © Associated Asia Research Foundation (AARF) Publication

Website: www.aarf.asia Email : editor@aarf.asia , editoraarf@gmail.com

PANCHAYATI RAJ INSTITUTIONS AND DEMOCRATIC

DECENTRALIZATION IN INDIA

Dr. Neena Chugh

Associate Professor,Head Department of Political Science, C.M.K. National Girls College, Sirsa

ABSTRACT

Democratic decentralization has been considered as one of the cardinal feature of Indian

Parliamentary Democratic System. India has set up a federal structure with multi-level

governance structure- at the national level, State level and local level to give real shape to

the concept of democratic decentralization. The participation of people at the grass root level

based on the small units of government enables people to participate in the decision making

and administrative process which creates a sense of responsibility and inculcate the values of

democracy among them. In India, the Panchayati Raj has been in existence since ancient

times in different forms but these traditional units were crushed during British rule. PRIs was

incorporated in the constitution in Article 40 under non-justiciable Directive Principles of

State Policy. Democratic Decentralization was institutionalized in India through the

establishment of PRIs in 1959. However, PRIs did not yield the desired results due to

empathic attitude of the successive governments. The government of India appointed many

committees and commissions to evaluate and to bring structural and functional reforms for

the local development. The recommendations of these committees were implemented half

heartedly. Keeping in view the need for decentralized governance system in the globalised

era, the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act 1993 (CAA) have been enacted. Many

provisions were incorporated under the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act with the intense

of making Panchayat self-governing institutions. The Amendment was regarded as a welcome

step yet it’s in depth analysis reveals some inherent ambiguities’. The Act has yet to exhibit a

qualitative improvement in the governance of PRIs in India. This paper is an attempt to seek

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far the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act proves effective in the establishment of

participatory democratic system in India. It aims at suggesting the corrective measures to

facilitate the PRI to function in such a way as to send signals of good governance to the rural

masses.

India deserves the credit for being the largest democracy in the world. Democratic institutions

can succeed only in the country if mass of the population possess the right to share in the

exercise of sovereign power and makes effective participation in the governance of the

country. To ensure the participation of people in the governance of the system, decentralized

democratic system with multilevel governance at the national, state and local level has been

set up in India. Local level administration (rural and urban) is considered as the foundation of

democracy that gives real shape to the concept of democratic decentralization. In this

administration, the elected bodies or the people representing village, city etc. meet the local

needs of the inhabitants of the area and easily find out a viable solution of their problems.

Peoples‟ not only get an opportunity to participate in the decision making and administrative

process at the local level but also associate with the affairs of the country which create a

sense of responsibility among them.

It is a matter of fact that rural local bodies are described in the Indian context as the

institutions of Panchayati Raj (PRIs) or democratic decentralization. Panchayats provide the

institutional frame work to the concept of democratic decentralization. These institutions of

PR have always been an integral and indispensable part of our democratic process because of

the rural character of India. However, its indispensability has assumed special significance in

the present changed national and international scenario because of its close proximity with

the people which provides the foundation to the democratic system by the participation of the

people in the decision making and administrative process and ensures people faith in the

efficacy of the administration. PRIs makes the government more responsible, transparent and

accountable. It creates a sense of responsibility among people and inculcates democratic

values. It also ensures overall balanced development of the country through the effectiveness

of local development by the participation of people at the grass root level.1

Keeping this in view, an attempt has been made in this article to assess, how far the PRIs

proves as an instrument of democratic decentralization. The paper discusses the concept and

meaning of democratic decentralization and proceeds to its evolutionary process. The focus

of the paper is to explore how far the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act proves effective in

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process of democratic decentralization in India. It aims at suggesting the corrective measures

to facilitate the PRIs to function in such a way as to send signals of good governance in the

real sense.

Concept of Democratic Decentralization

Democratic decentralization has been derived from two words- Democratic and

decentralization. The word democracy has different doctrines in different people‟s mind, as

with the change of ideas, content of the word democracy also changes in people‟s mind. We

generally defined democracy, a government of the people, by the people and for the people. It

means that form of government in which the ruling power of a state is legally vested, not in a

particular class or classes, but in the members of a community as a whole. In the democratic

system, the community as a whole possesses sovereign authority, maintains ultimate control

over affairs and determines what sort of government machinery shall be set up.2

Decentralization is a twin process of de-concentration and devolution. In de-concentration, a

superior officer, merely delegates to his subordinate officer the capacity or the power to act in

his name without transferring the authority he/ she enjoys. Whereas devolution implies

disbursal of authority i.e. legislative, judicial or administrative from a higher level of

government to a lower one. It means transferring decision making powers and functions from

the central or State government to local bodies with a view of local development. It provides

a foundation for a healthy democratic society. Decentralization both political and

administrative promotes people participation and co-operation in the process of democratic

development. Democracy, decentralization and development are inter-related and inseparable

from one another, hence decentralization becomes an effective means of overall development

of local areas. It makes the government more participatory, responsive, transparent and

accountable. Therefore, it is instrumental in removing the regional disparities through

institutionalized participation of citizens in development planning and management.

Therefore, it can lead to a more flexible, innovative and creative administration.3

Historical Perspective

In order to understand the process of democratic decentralization in India, one has to keep

into the historical development in this regard. The traditions of democracy at grass root level

or Panchayati Raj is not a new concept in India. It may be traced from the ancient times in

Vedic age, the village was looked after by a person who is known as Gramin. In the period of

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provided a systematically base to the PR System. During the Mughal periods, Panchayats

used to perform the police and judicial functions and these traditional institutions of local

governance continued to have considerable authority and autonomy during the pre-colonial

period.4 However, during the British rule, the institutions lost their importance and identity as

British had created the offices of Zaildar, Nambardar and Chowkidar for the management of

villages. Besides, they also created elaborate police and revenue administration. Later on,

Britishers realized the need of the local self government institutions for the development of

rural areas and introduced the statutory local governance for reducing the financial burden of

the provincial government through the Mayo Resolution of 1870. To revive local self

government in India as an instrument of political and popular education, British introduced

Lord Rippon‟s Resolution 1882. Further attempts were made to improve and strengthen local

governments through the Indian council Acts of 1909, 1919 and 1935 on account of

increasing attention from the Indian leaders to revive these local self governments. It is a

matter of fact that these institutions of local government could not, in the real sense, be

established for decentralization of power during British regime. It was merely an arrangement

to meet out their imperial requirements.4

Panchayati Raj was an important component in Gandhi‟s vision of future India and during the

independence movement, Gandhiji stressed on Republic of villages or power to people to

make the villages self-reliant, economically and politically as he knew that India lives in

villages. He was committed to set up Panchayati Raj to provide „Real Swaraj‟ to the people

of rural areas. But Gandhiji vision of „Real Swaraj‟ could not take shape as was desired by

him, however, has found place in the constitution of India in the non justice able Directive

Principles of State Policy under article 40 that provides “the state shall take steps to organize

village Panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to

enable them to function as unit of self government”. The Government of India launched an

ambitious country-wise programme of Community Development (CDP) and National

Extension Service to bring about socio-economic development of rural India. But these could

not deliver much for lack of people‟s participation and devolution of resources and

administrative and political authority from higher to lower level representative bodies.

Consequently, government appointed Balwant Ray Mehta study team to regenerate and to

review the working of CDP. The main recommendation of the committee was the

establishment of three tier systems of PRIs- The Gram Panchayat at the village level,

Panchayati Smiti at the block level and Zila Parishad at the district level to extend democracy

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institutionalized in India in 1959 at Nagore, in Rajasthan. The powerful support to these by

then, the Prime Minister of India, Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru led to the rapid development of

these institutions of decentralized rural governance. But, these gradually lost their shine after

the demise of Pt. Nehru in 1964, because Nehru‟s successes did not show their faith in

democratic decentralization as they considered these bodies as a threat to their power.

Besides, illiteracy, castism, factionalism, lack of political awareness and many other factors

were also responsible for the decline of PRIs. Even the recommendations of the high powered

committees to strengthen Panchayati Raj, popularly known as Ashok Mehta Committee

(1978) and L.M. Singhvi Committee (1986) too failed to improve the health of the PRIs, as

recommendation of these committees were implemented half heartedly.5

In the era of globalization, there has emerged a need to understand the imperatives of

decentralized governance. Therefore, the Centre Government convened series of workshop of

senior administrations concerned with Panchayati Raj affairs to express their views about

reinforcing and reorientating Panchayati Raj for undertaking increasing responsibility for

management of local development and local affairs. With a view to strengthening the PRIs

and making them a vibrant instrument of local Self Government, late Rajiv Gandhi, Prime

Minister of India moved the 64th Constitutional Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha in 1989

but, it could not be passed for want of adequate political support in the Rajya Sabha. Another

attempt was made by National Front Government in 1990 through the 74th Constitutional

Amendment Bill, but lapsed un-discussed due to dissolution of Lok Sabha in May, 1991.

However, the need to strengthen the Institutions of self governance remained at the

centre-stage, because of emergence of processes of modernization, liberalization, globalization and

political awakening. The mission to make the local bodies as self governing institutions was

completed in 1993 by the enactment of 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments which

according constitutional status to rural and urban local bodies.

The basic philosophy behind the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA) was to extend

democracy at grass root level and to ensure people participation in the development process

and activities to change socio-economic scenario of rural India. The democratic

decentralization was looked upon as an attempt to transfer power in the hands of people. It

was hoped that it would strengthen the democracy in the country and fulfill the dream of

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73rd Constitutional Amendment Act and Democratic Decenralization

The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA) has been hailed as a major landmark in the

history of democratic decentralization in India. The Act has accorded constitutional status to

PRIs and transformed representative democracy into participatory one. The Act was

institutionalized by the Centre Government in 1993 and had got conformity in the legislation

of state‟s government in 1994. This Act has laid down certain mandatory provisions for

structural organization of PRIs. It has provided uniform structure of Panchayati Raj by

establishing three tier structures with the Zila Parishad at the top, Panchayati Samiti at the

block level and Gram Panchayat at the village level. However, small states with population

below 20 Lakh will have the option not to have intermediate level Panchayats. Gram Sabha

has been assigned a significant role of approving the budget and development scheme of

Panchayats. The provision of direct elections after five years for seats in Panchayats at all the

three levels except the election of chairperson and vice-chairperson at intermediately and a

district levels has been made. Besides, the provision for the constitution of an independent

Election Commission at state level has been made to ensure free and fair elections to the local

bodies. To ensure financial devolution, which always remains the basic problem, it becomes

obligatory for the Governor of the state to constitute Finance Commission. However, the

authority to decide on the power etc. of the Finance Commission has been given to the state

legislature, yet the 73rd CAA has mentioned the functions to be performed by the Finance

Commission. By this Act one third of seats are reserved for women (including the number of

seats reserved for women belonging to schedule caste/schedule tribes (SC/ST). The Act has

also made reservation of seats for the SCs/STs in proportion to their population. The

Amendment has assigned the Panchayats the role of making and implementing the plans of

economic development and social justice on those of the 29 subjects listed in the 11th

schedule that are devolved on the Panchayats by the State Legislature.7

The Act brought about a revolutionary change in the structural organization of PRIs. To give

effect to the Amendment, all the states began to incorporate enthusiastically its provisions by

enacting fresh legislation to strengthen the institutions of Panchayati Raj. Election

Commission has been setup and elections have been held with one third reservation for

women under the supervision of the State Election Commission. An effort was made to

revamp the Gram Sabha by accorded it a constitutional status. In other words, it could be said

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Consequently, Panchayat Raj bodies came into existence throughout the country in the true

spirit of democratic decentralization. The purpose of the Amendment was to bring good

governance at the rural local level and to fulfill the commitment of democratic

decentralization. The spirit of the Amendment envisages that the Panchayats be made

self-governing bodies. It is a landmark step in the transition of political power at the grass root

level and transforming representative democracy in to real participatory. The act has

developed political consciousness among the people and has enhanced peoples‟ participation

in local bodies. It has created a new political environment and broadened the social base of

Indian democracy. The issues of good governance, community participation, legitimacy,

transparency, accountability, competence for law and human rights have gained momentum.

Young educated people, women and other marginalized groups has come further to contest

elections and participate in the decision making process which has broken the strong hold of

traditional dominant groups.8

Though, the Amendment has been regarded as a welcome step yet its indepth analysis reveals

that the self governance continues to be mirage for the PRIs even twenty years after the

implementation of 73rd CAA. It is a matter of fact that mandatory provisions regarding

structural changes in the PRIs have been incorporated by most of the states while on the

voluntary front dealing with devolution of 3fs- Funds, functions and functionaries,

implementation varies from state to state and considerable gaps have been noticed. Field

study reveals that the workings of the PRIs in two decades remain unsatisfactory and failed to

increase the efficiency and effectiveness of PRIs as was wished due to many disturbing

aspects which came in the way of transferring powers to common man or establishment of

„real swaraj‟.

Constraints and Suggestions

The first, main constant is the non devolution of powers, functions and authority to these

bodies in the real sense. The dissolution of powers has been left to the state legislature or

state government. In reality, The Centre Government and the state government continue to

experience powers of making planning because of a system of centralized planning in India

and the Panchayats do not enjoy autonomy- financial or administrative to work as institutions

of self-governance. It is a matter of fact that a nature of decentralization depends on what

functions, responsibilities and powers, a state government gives to local bodies. In the 73rd

Amendment Act, what functions and powers would be given to these bodies have been left to

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lawful functions allocated to them. Besides, some states have devolved more powers to

district or intermediate Panchayats where as some states have ignored district Panchayats and

transferred powers to only Gram Panchayat and intermediate Panchayat. In many states, the

government department are formulating and implementing the functions of the PRIs and PRIs

are working as the agencies of Central and the state governments for implementing their rural

development and social welfare programme. Haryana government has given 16 subjects to

the PRIs. The Zila Parishad have supervisory, Co-ordination and advisory role, where in

Uttar Pradesh, the Zila Parishad have not been assigned specific roles for important subjects.

In Andhra Pradesh wide ranging functions have been conferred upon the lower and

intermediate tier but sufficient powers and resources have not been devolved on these bodies.

The result is that there is wide discrepancy in the language and substance of the state

legislature.

Therefore, to make it self-reliant, all the functions enlisted in 11th schedule should be given to

the PRIs with proper local level planning. Moreover, the delegated functions to the PRIs

should also be accompanied by adequate and smooth supply of finance.9

Another obstacle before the PRIs is inadequacy of funds which has always stood in the way

of successful working of PRIs. The Panchayat bodies have limited powers of imposing taxes

and ceases. They have very little funds doled out to them by the state government. They have

not been given powers to mobilize their internal resources. Among the three-tiers of

Panchayats, the Gram Panchayats are comparatively in a better position as these have some

taxing power of their own, while the other two tiers are dependent only on tolls, fees and

non-taxes revenue for generating internal resources. It is a matter of fact that financial position of

the PRIs is very poor and at present these are principally grant-fed and are dependent upon

the state government even for carrying out their routine functions. The government did not

give them sufficient grant. Moreover, Panchayats have no control over expenditure priorities.

The role of Panchayats in Centrally sponsored schemes is restricted to the identification of

beneficiaries of the schemes, thus reducing these bodies as mere agents of Central and State

Government.

However, article 243 H has enabling provisions to give authority to the state legislature to

authorize the Panchayat in respect of levy, collection and appropriation of taxes, duties, fees

and tolls as well as for the creation of a fund with in the Panchayat institutions to regularize

the central inflow and outflow of financial resources. But the state governments are reluctant

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All the states have, however, constituted their own Financial Commission in conformity with

the constitutional requirements but a few of the state governments like Kerala, west Bengal,

Punjab, Tamilnadu, Assam, Madya Pradesh, Haryana and Karnatka have accepted several of

the recommendations, but in others noting has happened.

M.N. Venkatachaliah Commission set up in 2000 for suggesting possible amendments to the

constitution of India recommended that the only way out to give fiscal autonomy to the local

self-institution is to introduce the concept of a separate tax domain. It is desirable that state

government should motivate PRIs to levy taxes and to generate their resources for

development of their area.10

Another problem which has been observed regarding finance is the tendency of

misappropriation of public resources and reluctance of government concerned to book the

offenders. Datareveals that Over 2 crore ineligible BPL cards were identified all over the

country in 2013 but owing to vote bank politics, hardly any step was taken against the

culprits. Admonishing the State of Haryana for dragging its feet on the BPL card scam

allegedly involving government functionaries, the Punjab & Haryana High Court minced no

words to say, “This court is prima facie of the view that the entire matter needs to be referred

to the CBI to find out the involvement of the beneficiaries and officials in the entire process.

Among the total BPL cards available in the urban areas issued up to 2009, about one third

were found to be ineligible. Even in the rural areas 83,062 cards holders were found to be

ineligible. No doubt, the tendency of mis-appropriation of public resources is higher in urban

areas as compared to rural but the prevailing situation of corruption in rural areas in the

development and welfare programs, cannot be overlooked. Not only in Haryana but other

parts of the country are more or less presents the same situation. Thus utmost sincerity,

accountability, economy and transparency are required in utilizing public resources. The

Eleventh Commission suggests that centrally sponsored schemes or the state schemes for

improving civil services have not been transferred to the local bodies.11

The substantial role of the middle and district level Panchayat and lack of coordination

between the three tier of the PRIs as well as poor coordination and co-operation among the

members of local bodies and government officials are other disturbing factor on the path of

making. PRIs more effective means of decentralization. There is an utmost for coordination

among the Panchayats and also need continued support from the state government. In this

direction, the state of Gujrat, Orisa and Karnatka Acts has provided a Coordination Body for

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chairmanship of the Chief Minister should be constituted to provide a consensual approach to

the development of Panchayats as fully democratic, efficient and responsible institutions.12

The acute shortage of functionaries in these bodies is a hard fact which needs to be addressed

at the earliest by creating separate cadre for the PRIs. The need for the capacity building and

systematic training of elected representative and functionaries of the PRIs has become more

important because of reservation of seats for women and SC/ST. The first time elected

representatives, especially from reserved categories have no experience of performing the

functions of PRIs and therefore they feel handicapped in exercising their powers and

performing their duties. Therefore, proper training at intervals to teach the basic functions

and enhancing the basic skill of elected representative and officials of PRIs for making

planning and implementation of development programme of Central and State

Governments.13

Another hindrance which has posed a challenge in front of the PRIs is lack of education and

basic computer skill among elected representative which is essential for operating special

software developed for Panchayats keeping in view to enhance the efficiency of the PRIs, the

BJP led state government amended the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act 1994 and made it

essential a minimum qualification of passing 10th class for general category candidates and 8th

class for SC and women and class V for SC women. No doubt, the Act has debarred a large

chunk of rural population from contesting Panchayati Raj elections hence, curtail their

fundamental right. It is reported that in Haryana alone, 68 percent SC women and 41 percent

SC men cannot contest the Panchayat polls.14 Besides, the complaints of getting fake

certificates by the participating candidates are also reported.15 But it is for hoped that in

future it will prove beneficial for the development of rural areas.

Besides, the performance of PRIs has been vitiated by many other factors such as political

cum caste, factionalism, corruption, petty politics, rising expenditure on elections, political

interference, decline of ethics and moral values in rural community, power concentration

instead of true service mentality, parochial loyalties and decay of social harmony etc. In order

to make PRIs, in the real sense, the institutions of democratic decentralization, the Panchayats

elections should be contest completely free from caste politics. Expenditure ceiling in PRIs

elections should be strictly adhered to curb corruption and sustain ethics and moral values.16

No doubt, reservation of seats for women and SC/ST is a healthy symbol of political

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they have come forward and became members of these bodies, raised issues and initiated

resolutions and worked for socio-economic development but the number of such segments of

society is very few. In fact, most of the states, the representation of women is merely lip

service. In Haryana men rule the roost in village Panchayat. This is evident from the fact that

practically in villages, the male member of the family handles the Panchayat work and

women merely do the work of signing the letters and attending compulsory meeting only by

accompanying their counterparts.17

The 73rd Amendment has made the provision of Gram Sabha, with the intention to promote

democracy at grass root level. The study of Andhra Pardesh and Madhya Pardesh reveals that

a significant percentage of people attend meetings of Gram Sabha and discuss the issues

related to unity and harmony among all sections of the village, prohibiting liquor production,

consumption of midday meal programme, supply of drinking water etc. Although awareness

has been found in some parts of the country but in reality, the meetings of Gram Sabha are

rarely held and poorly attended and postponed as the will of the Sarpanch.18

The case study of the meetings of Gram Sabha of 12 Gram Panchayats in Haryana conducted

by Krishan Kumar Mor in 2007 reveals that these have virtually became dysfunctional due to

lack of awareness among people, unwillingness of the Sarpanch for convening these, lack of

publicity and communication gap, power lessness of Gram Sabha and non attendance of

government officials and elected representative. To make remarkable impact on the

governance of rural bodies, there is an urgent need for an interdisciplinary in-depth study of

the contextual, structural and functional weaknesses of the institutions of Gram Sabha and to

remove it.19

Conclusion

In the end, it could be said that Indian government has been making continuous endeavour

since independence to achieve the process of democratic decentralization through Panchayati

Raj by empowering the common man in rural India. But tendencies of over decentralization

always remain dominant as politicians and bureaucrats were found reluctant to transfer

powers and adequate resources to PRIs and PRIs could not, in the real sense, work as the

institutions of democratization in villages. But 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act which has

provided a constitutional status to the PRIs is marked as a landslide in the history of

democratic decentralization in India. In this direction, uniformity in their structural aspects

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of powers and finance to PRIs. Gram Sabha should be made an effective body and Gram

Panchayat should be accountable to Gram Sabha. Panchayats elections are still a game of

pressure groups based on traditional motifs of caste, gender, religion. However, some states

like Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Rajasthan, Gujarat etc. are doing well in the direction of

development of villages but the states like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Bihar etc are

lagging behind in the process of democratic decentralization where the PRIs are more or less

confined just to paper work and their real empowerment is a far away. No doubt, we are

moving towards an enriched democracy and a pattern of nation building process emerged

from grass roots level after the 73rd Amendment. It marked a paradigm shift in the direction

of real democracy by establishing a new system which would enable the rural people to stand

on their own feet and to make them participant in formulating and implementing plans for

their own welfare.

However, prevailing scenario of the position of the PRIs reveals that we have travelled a

significant distance, yet there are several silver linings in the clouds in terms of

empowerment of common man. So, what is required is that corrective measures must be

taken immediately to facilitate the PRIs to function in such a way to send signals of good

governance to the rural masses.

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12. Mahapatra, Bishudutta, Opcit., P.158

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14. The Tribune, Chandigarh, 30 April, 2016.

15. The Tribune, Chandigarh, 2 May, 2016

16. Mahapatra, Bishudutta, Opcit., PP.155-156

17. The Tribune, Chandigarh, 3 May, 2016

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Decentralization : An Indian Experience, National Publishing House, Jaipur, 2007,

P.522

19. Singh, Ranbir and Singh Preetpal, “Studies of Gram Panchayat in Haryana : A

Review Article”, Presented in National seminar Two Decades of 73rd Constitutional

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