One of the major issues in context with the PRIs was that it got dominated by the privileged section of the village society. In December 1977, the Janta Government appointed a 13 member committee which was headed by
Mr. Ashok Mehta. The committee was appointed for following:
What are the causes responsible for poor performance of the PRIs?.
What measures should be taken to improve performance of the PRIs?
The Ashok Mehta committee submitted its report in 1978 and made more than 130 recommendations. The essence of Ashok Mehta Committee recommendations is as follows:
3-tier should be replaced by the 2-tier system. The upper tier would be the Zila Parishad at the district level and lower tier should be the Mandal Panchayat, which should be a Panchayat of group of villages covering a population of 15000 to 20000.
The committee recommended that the base of the Panchayati Raj system should be a Mandal Panchayats. Each Mandal panchayat should contain 15 members directly elected by the people. The head of the Mandal Panchayat should be elected among the members themselves.
Zila Parishad should be the executive body and made responsible for planning at the district level. The Zila Parishad members should be elected as well as nominated. The MLA and MPs of the area should have the status of Ex-officio chairmen of the Zila Parishads. Development functions should be transferred to the Zila Parishad and all development staff should work under its control and supervision.
Thus, we see that the Ashok Mehta Committee recommended abolishing the middle trier i.e. Blocks as unit of administration. It recommended that the district should be the first point for decentralization under popular supervision below the state level.
In the matters of Finance, the committee said that compulsory items of taxation should be put under the jurisdictions of the Zila Parishads so that they are able to mobilize their own financial resources.
The committee recommended that there should be regular audit at the district level and a committee of legislatures should check whether the funds allotted for the vulnerable social and economic groups are actually spent on them.
One more important recommendation of this committee was that there should be Nyaya Panchayats as separate bodies from that of development Panchayats. The Nyaya Panchayats should be presided over by a qualified judge.
It was the Ashok Mehta Committee that recommended that there should be a minister for Panchayati Raj in the state council of ministers to look after the affairs of the Panchayati Raj institutions.
In summary, the democratic decentralization initiated by the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee were taken forward by the Ashok Mehta Committee. But before any action could be taken on the recommendations of this committee, the Janta Government collapsed. So, the zeal to implement the recommendations got wiped out. However, West Bengal and Karnataka were two states that took initiatives on the basis of recommendations of the Ashok Mehta Committee.
As per the recommendations the Karnataka Government passed the Karnataka Zilla Parishads, Taluk Panchayat Samitis, Mandal Panchayats and Nyaya Panchayats Act, 1983 (Karnataka Act 20 of 1985).
The Ashok Mehta committee noted that except the states of Maharastra and Gujarat, the PRIs were not given an opportunity to take up implementation at a satisfactory level. The Zila Parishads were not relevant in the
implantation of several Government programmes which ought to implement at the grass root level. This was – what should be the point of decentralization? Should it be a Tehsil / Taluka/ block or a District? If it is a district,
then what would be the relevancy of the middle tier of Panchayat Samitees? If it is to be a tehsil / Taluka/ block, then how the effective decentralization can take place looking at vastness of the country?Committee noted that
the bureaucracy was also responsible for the decline for particularly two reasons:
The officers felt that they are primarily accountable to the State Governments.
They were not able to adjust to the working under the supervision of the elected representatives.