The significant stage in the beginning of the post independence period was the passing of the Madras Village Panchayat Act, 1950. The Act was enacted in the implementation of Article 40 of the Constitution.
Throughout the Independence movement, Gandhiji had been advocating the revival of the Panchayati Raj Institutions with adequate powers so that the Villagers could have a real sense of ‘ Swaraj’. The insistence of Gandhiji resulted in the introduction of Article 40 ( Organisation of Village Panchayats) in the Constitution of India which reads as follows.
“ The State shall take steps to organise Village Panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government”.
The Madras Village Panchayats Act of 1950 provided for the creation of Village Panchayats in every Village or hamlet with a population of 500 and above. The Village Panchayats were entrusted with certain obligatory civic functions and a host of discretionary functions. But not all the villages were covered by the Panchayats.
Subsequently, with the launching of a nation-wide community development programme, the need for an effective institutional mechanism to involve the local communities in the process of development was felt. The study team on Community Development and Panchayati raj (popularly known as the Balwantrai Mehta Committee), constituted in the late fifties, recommended the establishment of a three-tier Panchayati raj. the middle tier, namely, the Panchayati Samiti (Panchayat Union in the case of Tamil Nadu), was the key level in the scheme of decentralization. The Panchayat Union’s jurisdiction was to be co-terminous with that of a Community Development Block. At the district level there was a Zilla Parishad, essentially an advisory body. The Village Panchayat would constitute the lowest level in the three tier structure.
The Tamil Nadu Panchayats Act, 1958 was enacted immediately following the Balwantrai Mehta Committee Report. This paved the way for the formation of Village Panchayats through the length and breadth of Tamil Nadu. About 12,600 such panchayats came into being. Villages which were acquiring urban character were classified as Town Panchayats. All the Village Panchayats and the Town Panchayats within a community development block were grouped together to form a Panchayat Union and 374 such Panchayat Unions were originally formed. Tamil Nadu did not go in for the third tier at the district level. Instead, a District Development Council was created under the Tamil Nadu District Development Councils Act, 1958 for each development district (bigger revenue Districts were formed into two Development Districts for the purposes of Development Administration) to review and advice on statutory matters and development activities in the district. The erstwhile District Boards ceased to function from then on.
The Tamil Nadu Panchayats Act, 1994 was enacted consequent to the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution of India, which has prescribed a three tier Panchayati Raj system: the Village Panchayats, the Panchayat Union and the District Panchayats.