Organization, Power and Functions of Panchayat Samity in West Bengal
According to the West Bengal Panchayat Act of 1973 the Panchayat Samiti is the second layer of the three-tier Panchayat system. In fact, the Panchayat Samiti is the successor of the former Anchalik Parishad at the block level as per 1963 Panchayat Act. However, according to the new Act of 1973 each district is divided into a number of blocks and each block will consist of a number of adjoining villages. For each block again there is a Panchayat Samiti.
Composition of Panchayat Samiti
The Panchayat Samiti consists of the following members.
- First, all the Pradhans of the Village Panchayat within the block are the ex-officio members of the Panchayat Samiti.
- Secondly, all the elected members of Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assembly elected from the block and the members of the Rajya Sabha residing in the block automatically becomes the member of Panchayat Samity. However, no minister either of the central government or of the state government can become a member of the Panchayat Samiti.
There are not more than three representatives directly elected from each of the Village Panchayat areas within the block in the Panchayat Samity.
The West Bengal Panchayat Amendment Act of 1992 has also reserved some seats for the schedule caste, schedule tribes and the women in the Panchayat Samiti. The number of the reserved seats for these people will be fixed on the basis of the ratio between the total number of people residing within the area of the Panchayat Samiti and the number of the schedule castes and the schedule tribes residing therein. The new Act has also made it clear at least one-third of the total seats including that of the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes should be kept reserved for the women.
The members of the Zilla Parishad from each block excepting the Sabhadipati and the Saha-Sabhadipati will automatically be members of the Panchayat Samiti.
There are a good number of ex-officio members in the Panchayat Samiti. Excepting these members the tenure of office of all other members is 5 years. However under special circumstances the government may increase the tenure of the Panchayat Samiti for another six months. A member of the Pan
chayet Samiti can resign from his office or may be removed. Generally on some definite charges of characterlessness, involvement in any criminal offence, repeated absence in the meeting insanity or bankruptcy—a member of the Panchayat Samiti can be removed from his office. However it may be kept in mind that the anti-defection Act is also enforced in case of the membership of the Panchayat Samiti as well.
Disqualifications for Membership of Panchayat Samiti
The Amended West Bengal Panchayat Act of 1984 and 1985 respectively has also referred to some disqualifications for the membership of the Panchayat Samiti.
- No member of any municipality or any employee working under the central government or the state government or in the Village Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti or the Zilla Parishad can become a member of the Panchayat Samiti. However, the employees of any government undertaking company or in any company owned and runned by the government, various institutions and organizations sponsored by the government are that the central or the state employees of the other registered institutions, universities, banks, co-operatives or working under the private sector will not be considered as the Central or State Government Employees.
- Secondly, no person can become a member of the Panchayat Samiti within a period of five years if he is suspended or dismissed from service by the Central Government or by the State Government or by any co-operative society or corporation under any of these two governments or by any regional institution or any co-operative society on charge of corruption or misbehavior.
- Thirdly, any person having a direct or indirect relation with any agreement or shares that concern the interest of the Village Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti or Zilla Parishad will be considered qualified for the membership of the Panchayat Samiti. Fourthly, if any person is declared insane or bankrupt by the court of law, he cannot become a member of the Panchayat Samiti. Lastly, likewise if any person is convicted for more than six months imprisonment for corruption or any like offence he cannot become a member of the Panchayat Samiti within five years from such conviction.
In the first meeting of the Panchayat Samiti the members of the samiti elects from among themselves a Sabhapati and a Saha-Sabhapati through secret ballot. For such election at least one-fourth of the total members of the Panchayat Samiti must be present in that meeting. According to the Panchayat Act of 1973 no member of the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha or the State Legislative Assembly can become the Sabhapati or Saha-Sabhapati of the Panchayat Samiti. It should also be mentioned in this regard that there are reserve seats for the Schedule Castes, Schedule Tribes and women in the Panchayat Samiti, some posts are also reserved for them. According to the amended Panchayet Act of 1983, the Sabhapati and Saha-Sabhapati of Panchayat Samiti are elected for a period of five years. However, they can be removed from their post before the expiry of their tenure. To take the action of such removal a special meeting of the Panchayat Samiti is to be convened wherein if the proposal for such removal is accepted by a majority vote, they can be removed from their offices. Since the posts of Sabhapati and Saha-Sabhapati are all salaried posts they cannot hold any other office of profit, be that service or profession, while remaining in their respective positions. The monthly salaries of both Sabhapati and Saha-Sabhapati are paid from the fund of the Panchayat Samiti itself.
Functions of Panchayat Samiti
As regards the function of the Panchayat Samiti, it is the Sabhapati who enshoulders all the administrative and financial responsibilities of the Panchayat Samiti. It is his duty to maintain and preserve all the important documents and necessary papers of the Samity. The Sabhapati supervises and controls the activities of the members of the Samiti appointed by the state government. He may have to enshoulder any other special duty that the state government may entrust on him. During the absence of the Sabhapati the Saha-Sabhapati performs his duties. Of course the former can delegate some of his functions or can give some special duty in writing to the Saha-Sabhapati. Yet the Sabhapati is the Chief of the Panchayat Samiti and all activities of the Samiti are performed under his leadership. It is his duty to convene the meeting of the Samiti at least once in a month. However, after the West Bengal Panchayat Fourth Amendment Act of 1978. Such meeting may be convened once after three months. At least a seven days’ notice is to be given before convening such meeting and an emergency meeting may be convened on three days’ notice. In each meeting the date, time and place of the next meeting is fixed. The presence of at least one-fourth members will make the quorum. The Sabhapati enjoys the power of giving the casting vote in case of a tie in the meeting. Generally the Sabhapati presides over the meeting, though in his absence the responsibility is taken by the Saha-Sabhapati. If both the Sabhapati and the Saha-Sabhapati are absent at the time of the meeting the members elect one from among themselves to chair the meeting.
The Panchayat Samiti has an Executive Officer and by dint of his position the block development officer acts as that Executive Officer. Of course if the majority of the members of the Samiti take a resolution to remove the B.D.O. from the executive officer ship the government removes him from that position. The issue of removal has evoked controversy. To some exponents, such a removal process will invariably make the BDO a puppet in the hands of the influential political parties of that region, while the others welcome it as a positive step to check the bureaucratic mentality and establishment of the authority of the peoples’ representatives in rural self- government scheme. However the BDO who happens to be the executive officer of the Panchayat Samiti supervises and controls the activities of the subordinate staff of the samiti and can be present as well as take active part in the meeting of the samiti. The Panchayat Samiti has many other staff. There is a secretary and sometimes a joint BDO is also appointed to look after the daily functions of the Samiti. If so required the Samiti can appoint some other staffs as well but for that the prior permission of the government is necessary.
In order to enable the Panchayat Samiti to do its works perfectly and speedily a number of standing committees have been introduced under the Panchayat Amendment Act of 1992. At present there are ten standing committees attached to each of the Panchayat Samiti. There are—
- The economic development and planning standing committee,
- The standing committee on public health environment,
- The standing committee on public works and transportation,
- The agriculture, irrigation and co-operative standing committee,
- The standing committee of education, culture, information and sports,
- A standing committee on cottage industry and relief and rehabilitation,
- A standing committee on forest and land reforms,
- A standing committee on fisheries and animal husbandry,
- A standing committee on food and food supply, and
- A standing committee on electricity and non- conventional power.
The Panchayat Samiti can also create a few other standing committees in other sectors as well. But to create such standing committees the prior permission of the government is necessary.
Each of these Standing Committees consists of the following members. The Sabhapati of the Panchayat Samiti is an ex-officio member of each of these Standing Committees. For each of these Standing Committees the members of the Samiti elect from among themselves not more than three to five members and the state government nominates not more than three government employees to act as the members in each of these Standing Committees. The nominated members however, do not have the right to vote. The state government also nominates the extension officer of the Panchayat as a member of each of the Standing Committees. However, no other members excepting the Sabhapati and the Saha-Sabhapati can become member of more than two Standing Committees.
For each Standing Committee there is an elected secretary. However, the Sabhapati of the Samiti himself is the ex-officio secretary of the economic development and planning standing committee. It should be remembered that though the BDO controls and supervises the activities of all the officials and employees of the Panchayat Samiti, he has no right to dismiss suspend or revert an employee. To implement such suspension reversion or dismissal the BDO is to place a recommendation before the finance, development and planning standing committee of the Samiti and the Standing Committee submits in turn its own observation to the Panchayat Samiti. The Panchayat Samiti can however accept or refuse to accept such recommendations. If any person is punished thereby he can appeal to the Panchayat Samiti within a month from the date of such punishment order and even he can appeal to the Divisional Commissioner against the decision of the Panchayat Samiti.
Powers of Panchayat Samiti
As regards the power and function of the Panchayat Samiti it is the duty of the Samiti to adopt projects and render financial supports or assistance to various welfare activities like agriculture, fisheries, cottage industry, co-operative movement, rural debts, water supply irrigation, public health, establishment of hospitals and medical stores, primary and secondary education, welfare of the women and children within the block area. The Samiti also conducts and controls different social welfare activities like students’ welfare activities and provides financial assistances to the social welfare institutions, for founding the schools and other public institutions etc. within the block. It also has to enshoulder any other job that the Zilla Parishad or the state government may bestow upon it. The Panchayat Samiti also provides financial assistances to the projects taken by the municipalities within the block for water supply or to resist the spread of epidemic diseases. The Samity has to take steps to provide adequate reliefs to the victims of various natural calamities like cyclone, flood or earthquake, to co-ordinate the different developmental plans and projects adopted by the different Village Panchayats within the block, and to examine and approve the budgets submitted by the Village Panchayats within the block. Apart from these, the Panchayat Samiti has to enshoulder the responsibility of those projects that are spreaded in more than one village. It also creates a co-ordination committee to help Anchal Panchayats to perform their tasks smoothly and perfectly.
According to the Amended Panchayat Act of 1992 the state government may publish any development plan of any area that comes under the purview of the Panchayat Samiti in the government gazette for the cause of greater public interest. When this plan and programme is published no new structure or building can be erected in that notified area without the approval of the Panchayat Samiti. Of course the state government can appoint an officer to aid and advise the Panchayat Samiti in performing its functions. It can also advise the Samiti to give the money that it collects from various taxes and fees within its area of authority as aids to one or more than one Village Panchayats.
Sources of Revenue of the Panchayat Samiti
The main sources of revenue of the Panchayat Samiti are many. Each of the Panchayat Samities has a fund to their own. The sources of revenue are as follows. The main sources are the helps and grants received from the state government, the Zilla Parishad or any other local authority. The revenue received from the school, the hospital, the houses and building and from various other institutions, the taxes imposed on the individuals, animals and transports and conveyances, the money received as fines, the money received as donation or helps, the loan sanctioned by the central or the state governments the money received from any trustee, the loans received from the banks or other funding agencies, the taxes imposed for lighting the streets and supply of purified drinking water etc. are the other main sources of revenue of the Panchayat Samiti. Each of the Panchayat Samities has to prepare its yearly budget and submit it to the Zilla Parishad for the latter’s approval.
Co-ordination Committee of Panchayat Samiti
Each of the Panchayat Samiti has a co-ordination committee consisting of the Sabhapati, the Saha-Sabhapati, and the Secretaries of all the Standing Committees and the Executive Officer of the Panchayat Samiti. The Secretary of the Panchayat Samiti also acts as the Secretary of this co-ordination committee. Its main duty is to make co-ordination between the activities of the Panchayat Samiti and the other Standing Committees. Of course the co-ordination committee has to do such other works that may be entrusted upon it by the Panchayat Samiti.
Role of Panchayat Samiti
The role of the Panchayat Samiti in creating resources by implementing various developmental projects to foster economic development through democratic decentralization of power of the rural poverty stricken people cannot be underrated in any way. It has indeed done great works. Of course, it has some of its weaknesses. It has no economic resource of its own and has failed to collect enough money by itself to make it self-sufficient.
It has yet to depend much on the central and the state government’s financial helps. Neither it has been able to eradicate corruption and partition ship and group-ism from its arena as yet. Still it cannot be denied that the Panchayat Samiti has played and is playing a very positive and significant role in making the whole Panchayat Samiti successful in every respect.