Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday expressed happiness over the large participation of voters in the Jammu and Kashmir panchayat polls - held after 10 years - saying it showed people "want to decide their fate themselves".
Addressing a function here to mark National Panchayat Diwas, the prime minister said Jharkhand and Kashmir "have held panchayat polls after many years and it is a matter of great happiness. People have voted in large numbers."
"70 to 85% polling shows that people want to decide their fate themselves and are capable to do so."
"Timely elections are a must for panchayats to function in a proper way," he said.
He also said there was still a long way to go for decentralisation of power at the grassroots and urged both states and the central government to work together in this direction.
"The idea of self-government has found constitutional and legal recognition but there is a long journey to be covered to bring about true decentralisation at the grassroots. Let us all resolve today that we will together work with greater vigour in this direction in future," he said.
He said 28 lakh elected representatives had a formal role in the country's democratic framework through Panchayati Raj institutions.
United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi said gram sabhas should be a forum for social audit of all government welfare schemes.
Gandhi said the benefit of social welfare schemes will reach all sections of society if Panchayati Raj Institutions were strong.
“Gram sabha should be a forum for social audit of all schemes,” Gandhi said.
Panchayati Raj structure enables self-governance by village communities and allows them a say in management of schools, hospitals and anganwadis, she said.
Recalling the efforts of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi towards decentralisation of power to villages, she said the panchayati raj structure was institutionalised in 1993 through the 73rd Amendment Act to the constitution.
Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi also gave away Panchayat Empowerment and Accountability Incentive Scheme (PEAIS) awards.