Rae Bareli (Agencies): Addressing a Panchayati Raj meet here on Saturday, Congress president Sonia Gandhi asked women panchayat representatives to prepare themselves to face challenges and overcome social hurdles while performing their duties.

"Panchayati Raj is the bedrock of democracy. As women representatives face various social hurdles, it was a major challenge before them to execute their responsibilities successfully," she told a Panchayati Raj meet at Kathwara block here.

She said that to strengthen the Panchayati Raj system in the country, the UPA government has taken a number of steps.

"A number of amendments have been carried out in the Panchayati Raj Act by the UPA government to empowering the local bodies chalk out basic development schemes and execute them," she said, adding that provision for direct devolution of funds in their accounts have also been made.

Pointing out that 50 per cent of the panchayat seats have been reserved for women, Gandhi said, "You have an important role to play in the development of a village and now this can be done as per the expectations of local residents."

The Congress president said it was their duty to ensure that benefits of ambitious schemes like Indira Awas Yojna reach the needy.

She said when Rajiv Gandhi realised that benefits of various schemes and development were not reaching the grassroots, he started the panchayati raj movement.

At the instance of the then Prime Minister, a law was enacted to decentralise power through panchayati raj system throughout the country, she said.