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Pranab Jyoti Phukon


The word panchayat is derived from the word pancha panchasvanusthitah, has references in to the existence of Grama Sanghas or rural communities. The institution of Panchayati Raj is as old as Indian civilization itself. It was in existence since ancient periods, having an effective control over civil and judicial matters in the village community. The Rigveda, Manusamhita, Dharmashastras, Upanishads, Jatakas and others, refer extensively to local administration, i.e. the panchayat system of administration. In the Manusmriti and Shantiparva of Mahabharata, there are many references to the existence of Grama Sanghas or village councils.

The earliest reference to panchayat is derived from the word Pancha, that refers to an institution of the five (pancha panchasvanusthitah) is found in the Shanti-Parva of Mahabaratha, pancha and panchavanustitah are semantically close to panchayat. A description of these village councils are also found in Arthashastra of Kautilya who lived in 400 B.C. Arthashstra gives a comprehensive account of the system of village administration prevailing in his time.

Self-governing village communities characterized by agrarian economies existed in India from the earliest times. It is mentioned in Rigveda that dates from approximately 200 B.C. The village was the basic unit of administration in the Vedic period. The most remarkable feature of the early Vedic polity consisted in the institution of popular assemblies of which two namely 'Sabha', and the 'Samiti' deserve special mention.

In the course of time, village bodies took the form of panchayats that looked into the affairs of the village. They had the powers to enforce law and order. Customs and religion elevated them to the sacred position of authority.

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