What is a Zila Parishad?

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, we look at the top tier of India's raj panchayat system of local self-government, the zila parishad. Learn how members are chosen, their responsibilities, and how their membership ensures equal representation for women and minorities.

India Is Huge!

Have you ever been part of a group, such as a school club or other organization, that had a lot of members? If so, you might have noticed how difficult it is to organize so many people and accomplish tasks that really need to be done. Now imagine that on a scale of a billion people. That's what the government of India deals with every day. To make it even more difficult, the country covers more than a million square miles, so people are spaced out over vast distances.

System of Local Self-Government

With so many people scattered across such a wide area, it's hard for the central government to know what is going on in every community or how to serve the needs of the people. This is why they adopted a system of local self-government based on a pre-colonial tradition of village councils. This system, known as the raj panchayat, was officially added to the constitution of India in 1992 with the adoption of the 73rd Amendment.

The raj panchayat has three tiers of leadership, starting at the village level with the gram panchayat, then the block level that combines approximately ten villages with the panchayat samiti or block samiti, and ending with the zila parishad, the council representing an entire district within the state. The size and population of the state determine the number of districts, but each district will have a council tasked with meeting the needs of the population, serving as intermediaries between the people they represent and the state government, and maintaining the various types of infrastructure and human services in their district.

Raj Panchayat System
Raj Panchayat System

Forming the Zila Parishad

The zila parishad is the top tier of the raj panchayat system and represents an entire district. They work directly with the state government, but they are not part of the state government. Members serve for four to five years, depending on the way the district structures their councils. Interestingly, the council members are technically elected by the people, but not through a direct election process. See, it all starts at the village level, where all people age 18 and older vote for their gram panchayat, the village council. The number of seats depends on the population. This council selects which members will be their chairman and vice-chairman, called a pradhan and up-pradhan. These two are responsible for leading village meetings and servicing as council members at the next tier level.

So, the panchayat samiti, the block level council, is made up of pradhans and up-pradhans from all the villages in the block. These also select which members will be their chairman and vice chairman, sending them to represent their block at the next tier up. This means all the members of the zila parishad are leaders of their block councils as well as leaders of their village councils.

Duties of the Zila Parishad

As the top tier of panchayat system, they work directly with the state government to secure funds and other resources for development projects across their districts. They are required to create a comprehensive, five-year development plan for the district that incorporates the plans and needs of each block, and thus each village, into their program. They also have to continue the work of the last council's five-year plan, which often includes running programs during the transition from one council's tenure to the next. The duties included in each of these plans and their role as a council involve the following functions.

Infant care education programs are part of public welfare duties of the zila parishad.
Infant care

  • Development: They facilitate and monitor all development projects in the district.
  • Civic activities: They make sure public utilities, parks, and resources are maintained at the local levels.
  • Public welfare: They promote the development of local marketplaces, libraries, health centers, and disaster relief efforts.
  • Coordinating between the state and blocks: They help coordinate the work of each block in cooperative development programs and inform the state government of local development programs.
  • Finances for the district: They examine and approve the budgets for the panchayat samitis for their block, advance satisfactory grant proposals, and distribute funds from the state to the blocks.

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