New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and NAC Chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Sunday emphasised the need to strengthen Gram Sabhas for effective participation of people in governance.

Addressing a function on National Panchayat Diwas here, Singh said the government was considering increasing the capacity of Panchayats to enable them to discharge their responsibilities effectively.

Referring to the 70 to 80 per cent turnout in the Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand a few days back, Prime Minister said, “The turnout reflects that people now want to decide their future themselves and so the timely elections of Panchayat is necessary.”

The Prime Minister said that though the idea of self-governance has got legal acceptance, there is still a ‘long way to go for bringing decentralisation.’

He said the Panchayati Raj had a special place in late Rajiv Gandhi's vision of a modern India and the 73rd Constitutional amendment in 1993 on Panchayati Raj led to decentralisation of political powers, giving many powers to the Panchayats.

There is greater transparency in implementation of government schemes at present due to social audit, he added.

Gandhi said the Gram Sabhas should have power for social audit of all schemes and it has a special role in the monitoring of MNREGS.

She said there was need to consider many options to strengthen the Panchayati Raj system. The meetings of Gram Sabhas should be held regularly and women and deprived sections must participate in them to place their views.

Noting that the UPA government has taken many steps for the social and economic development of the common man, she said full benefits of these programmes will reach people only when the Panchayati Raj institutions in the country are strengthened.

The UPA Chairperson said the main purpose of Panchayati Raj is self-governance, which is the last stage of democracy to which ‘we all are committed.’

Gandhi and Singh also distributed the Annual PEAIS awards to the best performing states under the Panchayat Empowerment and Accountability Incentive Scheme.

Maharashtra bagged the maximum number of awards. Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda personally received the award for his state.

Minister of Panchayati Raj Vilasrao Deshmukh said the Gram Sabhas need to be strengthened on the lines of Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha.