Chapter 5

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Village as Basic Unit


As has been indicated earlier, Gandhiji desires that self-sufficient and self-governing villages should be the basic units of public administration in free India. Such a scheme would be in conformity with the time honoured traditions of the country. In case of small and neighbouring villages, a group of villages may constitute the basic unit of administration.

5.1 The Panchayat
Every village shall elect by the vote of all its adults a panchayat ordinarily of five persons. In the case of bigger villages, the number may vary from seven to eleven. The panchayat shall elect unanimously its president or sarpanch. If this unanimity is not possible, all the adults of the village shall elect the president directly out of the member of the panchayat.
 
The terms of the panchayat shall ordinarily be three years. There will be nothing to prevent the same member or members of the panchayat from being re-elected for the second or third terms, but not more. If, however, a certain member of the panchayat loses the confidence of village before the expiry of his usual terms, he shall be recalled by majority-vote of seventy-five per cent.
 
The village panchayat shall have the sole authority to appoint, suspend or dismiss the village servants like the choukidar, patwari and police officials.
 
The decisions of the panchayat shall be, as far as possible, unanimous specially in cases that affect the right of minorities.
 
5.2 Its Functions
Since the villages shall enjoy maximum local autonomy, the functions of the village panchayats shall be very wide and comprehensive, covering almost all aspects of social, economic and political life of the village community: They shall be:

1 Education
a. to run a primary or lower basic school through the medium of a productive craft, thus combining cultural and technical education.

b. to maintain a library and a reading room. Books in the library should be educative, having a direct bearing on the social, economic and political activities of the village.

c. to run a night school for adults.

2 Recreation
a. to provide for akhada, gymnasium and playgrounds. Swadeshi games and sports shall be encouraged.

b. to arrange art and craft exhibitions from time to time.

c. to celebrate collectively the important festivals of all communities

d. to organise seasonal fairs.

e. to conduct bhajan and kirtan mandals.

f. to encourage folk songs, folk dance and folk theatre.

3 Protection
a. to maintain village guardians for general protection of the village against thieves,dacoits and wild animals.

b. to impart regular training to all citizens in the technique of satyagraha or non-violent resistance and defence.

4 Agriculture
a. to assess the rent of each agricultural plot in the village

b. to collect rent from the landholders.

c. to encourage and organise consolidation of holdings and cooperative farming.

d. to make proper arrangements for irrigation.
 
e. to provide for good seeds and efficient implements through cooperative farming.
 
f. to see that, as far as possible, all the necessary food grains are produced in the village itself. The present system of commercial crops shall be discouraged.
 
g. to review, scrutinise and, if necessary, scale down the debts and regulate their rates of interest. Where possible, to organise cooperative credit banks.
 
h. to check soil erosion and reclaim wasteland through joint effort.

5 Industries
a. to organise the production of khadi for village consumption.

b. to organise other village industries on cooperative lines,

c. to run a cooperative dairy. The cow shall be encouraged in place of the buffalo.

d. to run a village tannery using the hides of dead animals.

6 Trade and commerce
a. to organise cooperative marketing of agricultural and industrial products.

b. to organise cooperative consumers’ societies.

c. to export only the surplus commodities and import only those necessities that cannot be produced in the village.

d. to maintain cooperative godowns.

e. to provide cheap credit facilitites to village artisans for essential purposes,

7 Sanitation & Medical Relief
a. to maintain good sanitation in the village through proper drainage system.

b. to prevent public nuisances and check and spread of epidemics.

c. to make adequate arrangements for healthy drinking water.

d. to maintain a village hospital and maternity-home providing free medical treatment. Indigenous systems of medicine, naturopathy and biochemistry shall be encouraged.

8 Justice

a. to provide cheap and speedy justice to villagers. The Panchayats shall have wide legal powers, both criminal and civil.

b. to make arrangement for free legal aid and information.

9 Finance & Taxation
a. to levy and collect village taxes for special purposes. Payments in kind and collective manual labour for village projects will be encouraged.

b. to collect private donations on social and religious occasions.

c. to see that project accounts of income and expenditure are maintained. These shall be open to public inspection and audit.

I have tried to make the list of functions fairly exhaustive in order to give to the reader an idea of the large measure of local autonomy that our villages shall enjoy.

EDITORIAL COMMENT
"Two Democracies —- Ancient India and Swiss"
A video film produced by Nalini Singh on behalf of Doordarshan
when Switzerland completed 700 years of democracy


The film begins with Switzerland and depicts that in Swiss villages, village councils are elected every year through secret ballot. When asked whether the people did not find annual elections cumbersome, a voter responds that they did not trust representatives for more than one year!

The Swiss village governments control all village resources including land, water system and forests. They elect a local professional to maintain land records. If he or she performs well, they re-elect him or her again. All changes in land-use, building activity and land transfers need approval of the village assembly.

The film then spans through ancient monuments of South India. The rules of gram panchayats are engraved on the outside of stone temples of Tamil Nadu so that all can read them. The rules declare that the gram sabha or village assembly consisting of all adult men and women is the supreme authority controlling all village resources, officials and decision-making. Thus, women in India have been franchised since ages whereas they got enfranchised in the West only in this century. The rules further provide that the sarpanch and panchs shall be elected every year by secret ballot and can be removed any time for misconduct. All village officials are appointed by the village assembly and are removable by it.
 
The film also shows that Buddhist scriptures of North India provide for similar rules for village panchayats. The villages in India thus functioned since ages as self-sustaining tiny republics. The village assembly gave land to families on village tenure system, that is, lease for defined purpose, on an annual tax usually in the form of share in the produce. All services such as those of carpenter and blacksmith were available in the village and the village assembly ensured that the needs of all were met.
 
Over India’s long civilisation, in parts of India, self-seeking priesthood has frozen distinction based on trade by division based on caste, and self-seeking feudal interests converted village tenure system to feudal tenancies. Yet, as described by Sir Charles Metcalfe, the then British Governor General of India in his minute recorded in 1830 (see page 24 ante), the institution of village panchayats was very much existent and vibrant in various parts of India in the nineteenth century. The colonial rule finally destroyed it by placing villages under the control of state governments through the district collector.
 
Gandhiji tried to re-connect India with its age-old democratic traditions that nurtured India’s spiritual philosophy, art forms, economy and social wellbeing. The people were with him, but the leadership chose not to heed his advice and instituted a centralised system based on exploitative colonial institutions. This perpetuated exploitation of the people and led to social, environmental and economic destruction of India.

—- PEOPLE FIRST

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