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
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:
a. to run a primary or lower basic school through the medium
of a productive craft, thus combining cultural and technical
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.
a. to provide for akhada,
gymnasium and playgrounds. Swadeshi games and sports shall be
b. to arrange art and craft exhibitions from time to time.
c. to celebrate collectively the important festivals of all
d. to organise seasonal fairs.
e. to conduct bhajan and kirtan mandals.
f. to encourage folk songs, folk dance and folk theatre.
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.
a. to assess the rent of each agricultural plot in the
b. to collect rent from the landholders.
c. to encourage and organise consolidation of holdings and
d. to make proper arrangements for irrigation.
e. to provide for good seeds and efficient implements through
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
a. to organise the production of khadi for village
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
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
7 Sanitation & Medical Relief
a. to maintain good sanitation in the village through proper
b. to prevent public nuisances and check and spread of
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.
a. to provide cheap and speedy justice to villagers. The
Panchayats shall have wide legal powers, both criminal and
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
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.
"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
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
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