Composition, Functions and Sources of Revenue of West Bengal Zilla Parishad
Like the other states of India, West Bengal too has developed the rural Self-Government Institution, better known as the Panchayat system. The first Panchayat Law was enacted in 1957 to build a strong and well organized rural self- government institution following which a two-tier system village administrative set up was organized.
These two tiers were:
- the Village Panchayat at the village level and
- the Anchal Panchayat at the formerly Union Board level.
Later on, in 1963 the Zilla Parishad Act was enacted and following this Act a four-tier system of rural self-government was established. These four tires were:
- the Village Panchayat at the village level,
- the Anchal Panchayat at the Union Board level,
- the Anchalik Parishad at the block level and
- the Zilla Parishad at the district level.
However, in 1973 the Panchayat Act was further amended and the New West Bengal Panchayat Act 1973 was passed according to which the former Anchalik Parishad was abolished and instead, the three-tier system was introduced.
These three-tiers are:
- the Village Panchayat at the village level,
- the Panchayat Samity at the block level and
- the Zilla Parishad at the district level.
In fact, the earlier Balwantrai Mehta Committee had also recommended the establishment of such a three-tier system of local self-government following which the Rural Local Self-Government scheme or system was introduced in India.
Thus according to the West Bengal Panchayat Act of 1973 the Zilla Parishad is at the apex of the three-tier Panchayat system and the government of West Bengal has formed one Zilla Parishad in each of the districts except Darjeeling. As regards its composition the Zilla Parishad is composed of the following members;
- The Savapatis of the Panchayat Samities within the district are ex-officio members of the Zilla Parishad.
- From each bloc not more than two members are elected by the voters whose names are enlisted in the voters list for Assembly election residing in that bloc.
- As per the amended Panchayat Act of 1992, seats are preserved in the Zilla Parishad for the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes in accordance with their population ratio. It is also stated therein that at least one-third of the total membership of the Zilla Parishad must be kept reserved for the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes.
- As per the Amended Panchayat Act of 1992 again, at least one-third of the reserved seats for the Schedule Caste and other backward communities shall be kept reserved for the women of these communities. Moreover at least one-third of the total number of seats of a Zilla Parishad are always kept reserved for the women including the reserved seats of the women candidates of the Schedule Castes, Tribes and OBC’s.
- The members of the Lower House of the Parliament (Lok Sabha or the M.P.s.) and the members of the Legislative Assembly of the State (MLAs) elected from the district and who are not ministers either in the centre or in the state, are members of the Zilla Parishad. (6) The members of the Rajya Sabha who are not ministers and residing in the district are also the ex-officio members of the Zilla Parishad. The tenure of office of the members of the Zilla Parishad is five years, but if a member resigns from office, or removed or dies before the expiry of his tenure, the post remains vacant.
After each Panchayat election in the first meeting of the Zilla Parishad, the members elect a person from among themselves as the Chairman and the Deputy-Chairman of Zilla Parishad. The Chairman and the Deputy-Chairman of the Zilla Parishad are known as the Sabhadipati and Upa-Sabhadipati. After the amended Panchayat Act of 1992 the posts of Sabhadipati and the Upa-Sabhadipati have been made salaried post. As such before their election they are required to declare in writing that they will serve the Zilla Parishad as the whole time employees and will not do anything that may stand on the way or hinder their sincere and normal functioning in the said posts. The 1992 amended Panchayat Act has also reserved some posts in the Zilla Parishad for the women Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe representatives in addition to the reservation for the membership in the Parishad. It should he mentioned here that no member of the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha or the Bidhan Sabha (State Legislative Assembly) can be elected as the Sabhadipati or Upa-Sabhadipati of Zilla Parishad. Like the other members of the Parishad both Sabhadipati and Upa-Sabhadipati are elected for five years. They can be removed from their posts only if any proposal for the removal is accepted by the majority of members present and voting in a specially convened meeting of the Zilla Parishad for the said purpose of removal. The person against who, be he the Sabhadipati or the Upa-Sabhadipati, such proposal of removal has been raised, will not conduct the meeting of the Parishad. In 1994, the Government of West Bengal has also declared that the law of floor crossing or the Anti-Defection Law will also be implemented in case of the members of the Zilla Parishad.
There is an Executive Officer and an Additional Executive Officer to look after the day to day functions of the Zilla Parishad. These officers are appointed by the State Government. There is also a Secretary of the Zilla Parishad who is appointed by the Zilla Parishad itself. Apart from these three officials, each of the Zilla Parishad has a few permanent committees like.
- The Permanent committee for finance, development and planning,
- The permanent committee for public works and transport and communication,
- The permanent committee for agriculture, irrigation and co-operative etc. The Sabhadipati and the Upa-Sabhadipati are the ex-officio members of these permanent committees and apart from them, three to five members, elected by the Zilla Parishad members from among themselves, are also the members of these committees. The state government too appoints its own representatives or members of any registered institution and higher officials of any corporation to act as members of these committees. The tenure of office of these members of the permanent committees is five years. The member of each Permanent Standing Committee appoints a Chairman from among themselves. The Secretary of the Zilla Parishad also acts as the Secretary of these Standing Committees.
The New West Bengal Panchayat Act of 1973 has given enormous power to the Zilla Parishad. This democratic institution is the main centre on which the entire rural self-government system is standing. The Zilla Parishad has to do multifarious functions to ensure the community development as well as the socio-economic development of the people of the entire district. Its main function is to provide adequate money for the welfare activities in different fields like— agriculture, fisheries, khadi, cottage industry, co-operative movement, rural debt, water supply, irrigation public health, provisions for women and child development etc. It is also the duty of the Zilla Parishad to do those works which may be delegated on it by the state government or any other appropriate authority. The Zilla Parishad provides financial help or aids to the schools, public libraries etc. It also provides economic assistance to the social welfare institutions and centers. The acquisition and maintenance of the rural markets, providing adequate finance for water supply and for eradication of epidemic diseases, providing economic grants to the Panchayat Samities and Village Panchayats, to make arrangements for relief works specially in times of natural calamities: to make co-ordination among the development projects undertaken by the Panchayat Samities within the district, to provide the state government with necessary advices regarding the developmental activities undertaken by both the Panchayat Samities and the Village Panchayats, to issue the necessary licenses for any fair or exhibition scheduled to be held within the district etc. are the various other activities generally performed by the Zilla Parishad.
The Sabhadipati is the highest official of the Zilla Parishad. Naturally, being the head of the institution he appoints the subordinate staffs of the Zilla Parishad, supervises their works and enshoulders all the economic and administrative responsibilities of the Parishad. It is his duty to maintain and preserve all the important documents. He supervises and controls the activities of the other officials and staffs of the Zilla Parishad as well as those appointed by the state government in the said Parishad. He is also to do those other works which the Zilla Parishad may ask him to do or the state government may confer upon him the additional responsibilities to enshoulder.
The Zilla Parishad is the highest institution in the whole rural self-government set up. But its power and functions are not confined only in administrative activities; in fact, it is the duty of the Zilla Parishad to formulate all plans and project for various social-welfare activities to ensure different social economic and cultural development within the district. Thus on the basis of democratic decentralization and the scheme for popular participation in administrative activities, the Zilla Parishad has been entrusted with the duties of bringing all-round development within the district. But the Zilla Parishad has very limited source of income and hence it has to depend essentially on the grants given by the government to meet its expenses.
The West Bengal Panchayat Act of 1992 has enumerated some other functions of the Zilla Parishad as well. If the Zilla Parishad thinks that the works the Panchayat Samity or the Village Panchayat have undertaken to do is unnecessary it may raise objections against that. If the Zilla Parishad confers any duty or responsibility to any Panchayat Samity or any Village Panchayat and if the latter two fail to perform it properly then the Zilla Parishad can issue directives to that Panchayat Samity or the Village Panchayat to complete the work properly and within the given time. It can also direct the Panchayat Samity or the Village Panchayat to fix and collect the taxes, tariffs of duties properly in case they fail to fix and collect it properly. Moreover, if any of Panchayat Samities or its Standing Committees or the Village Panchayats do not hold their meetings regularly, the Zilla Parishad has the power to convene such meetings at anytime as it may deem fit.
Of course, the Zilla Parishad has some sources of revenue of its own. Generally from the following sources, the Zilla Parishad collects its own revenues viz. –
- It receives a part of the land revenue that is offered by the state government.
- It receives the grants-in-aid from both the central and the state government.
- Loans taken from both the central and the state government are it’s another source of revenue.
- The road taxes and taxes on public works imposed by the Zilla Parishad itself also serve as the other source of revenue for the Zilla Parishad.
- The revenue collected from the hospital houses and institutions controlled and conducted by the Zilla Parishad itself also becomes the revenue of the Parishad.
- The money it receives from the trustee or vocational institutes.
- The money collected from fines etc. (8) the surplus-money deposited to the District Magistrate as rewards to the Chowkidars etc. are also the sources of revenue for the Zilla Parishad. Each year the Zilla Parishad has to prepare a budget and to submit it to the state government for the latter’s approval on it. The State Planning Board and the District Planning Board are empowered to supervise evaluate the functions of the Zilla Parishad. Of course the state government can suspend any of the Zilla Parishads on charges of corruption, inefficiency or misuse of power.
The New Panchayat Amendment Act of 1992 has made provisions for the establishment of a Finance Commission to be formed by the state government. The Commission consists of the chairman and not more than five members. Its duty is to review the economic condition of the Zilla Parishad and make necessary recommendation thereof. If it feels so needed it may even recommend changing the structure of the Zilla Parishad. Following the recommendation of the Panchayat Amendment Act of 1992 the Government of West Bengal has already formed a three member Finance Commission on June 1st, 1994 and the said commission has already submitted a report to the Legislative Assembly of West Bengal.
The West Bengal Panchayat Amendment Act of 1994 again has recommended for the creation of a District Council in each district to examine the audits of all the Panchayat institutions within the district. It is almost a duplicate of the Public Accounts Committee in the state level. It is expected that the establishment of the Finance Commission and the District Council will help the Zilla Parishad to perform its duties smoothly and properly.