The Mauryan emperors introduced the Gram Sabha system for the first time in Indian villages. This system is considered the base of administration in Indian villages since then. The Gram Sabha in Mauryan period comprised a Headman and a few other members. The Sabha used to take decision about any issues related to the village and they enjoyed several powers. The decision of Gram Sabha was considered Law and the villagers were bound to obey the Sabha's instructions.
Though the Gram Sabha enjoyed supreme power, the Headman and members of the Sabha had to take some other matters into consideration while taking any decision. The religious customs and beliefs were one of the foremost among them. The Gram Sabha could not take any decision that would violate the laws of religion. Apart from that, the Gram Sabha also had to take decisions considering the cultural aspects of the village life. As the caste system of Hinduism was strictly maintained during that period, the Brahmans used to enjoy most of the powers in Gram Sabha. There were no representatives from lower castes in the Sabha.
The administration in Indian villages witnessed the existence of the Gram Sabha for several centuries. With the course of time, the Gram Sabhas were started to be controlled by the Jamindars or Landlords. The Headman of the Gram Sabha was also bound to report to the Jamindars in certain occasions. During the medieval period, the administration in Indian villages saw the chiefdoms in existence. The Chiefdoms comprised the Gram Sabhas of a few villages and they were under total control of the Kingdom. The Mughals ruled India for a major part of the medieval period and hence, these changes were mainly brought upon by them. This administrative system continued to be in practice in the Indian villages till the end of the Mughal period, with little occasional changes.
Administration under British Rule and Post-Independence
However, the British rulers made some significant changes in the entire administration in Indian villages. The centuries old administration policy of Gram Sabha or local governance in India was demolished by the British rulers and they started to unite all the villages under one umbrella. They actually centralised the entire administrative system of India and hence, the Gram Sabhas or Panchayats gradually started to lose their importance. The British rulers also tried to introduce local self-governments in the villages. They implemented certain general laws for all the local self-governments in the villages.
After Independence, the administration in Indian villages partially went back to the administrative structure followed during the ancient period. The Government of India decided to implement the local self-government system in all the villages of India where the villages would be governed by a Panchayat Committee. This committee was somewhat identical to the Gram Sabha. The difference is that the members in the Panchayat Committee are elected democratically through general elections and the adult villagers cast their votes to put their favourite person into the Committee. The Panchayat Committee looks after all kinds of issues related to the village and also tries to establish law and order in the village. In contemporary India, the Panchayat Committees are constitutional bodies that enjoy autonomy in most of its activities. However, they are subjected to contact the State Governments in certain issues and they actually work under the supervision of the State Governments.
Administration in Indian villages is considered one of the most scientifically structured administrative systems of all time. The administration was planned in such a way that people from all strata of the village society could participate in the decision making process. The ancient concept of Gram Sabha is still in existence in the name of Panchayat in the Indian villages. However, the Panchayati Raj System is more democratic in nature compared to that of Gram Sabha system, as the common men elect the members of Gram Panchayat in modern India.