Daily Editorial Analysis for 21th January 2023

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  5. Daily Editorial Analysis for 21th January 2023

Autonomy at the panchayat level


A sarpanch from Telangana had taken out a loan to undertake development works in the village and was unable to bear the burden after the State government’s inordinate delay in releasing bill payments then he suicide.

Key Highlights

  • A few sarpanch resigned from office and voiced their anger at not receiving government funds for nearly a year
  • Sarpanch Alleged that this indebtedness has forced them to utilize either private resources or borrow large amounts to complete panchayat activities and meet various targets.
  • 73rd and 74th Amendment Acts, gave constitutional status to local governments, State governments the powers of local elected officials (such as these sarpanchs in Telangana) remain seriously circumscribed by State governments a znd local bureaucrats in multiple ways, thereby diluting the spirit of the constitutional amendments seeking to empower locally elected officials.

Evolution of Local Self Government

  • The framers of the Constitution of India included Article 40 among the Directive Principles: “The state shall organise village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government”. Four committees (between 1957 to 1986) conceptualised local self-government in India; Balwant Rai Mehta Committee (1957), the Ashok Mehta Committee (1977–1984), GVK Rao Committee (1985), and the LM Singhvi Committee (1986).
  • Eventually, the local Governance was given Constitutional Status with the 73rd/74th Constitutional Amendment Acts in 1992. The Amendment Acts of 1992 added two new parts IX and IX-A to the Constitution. Two new Schedules 11 and 12 were also added which contain the lists of functional items of Panchayats and Municipalities.

What are the roles of Panchayati Raj Institution (PRIs)/Local Governance Bodies?

PRIs play a crucial role in rural development and perform the following roles:

  • Administrative activities such as the maintenance of village records, the construction, maintenance, and repair of roads, tanks, wells, and so on;
  • Improving socio-economic welfare through the promotion of rural industries, health, education, women and child welfare, among others;
  • Judicial functions such as trying petty civil and criminal cases such as minor thefts and money disputes are also performed either by separate adalati or nyaya panchayats, or by gram panchayats.

The issue of funding

  • There are three sources of funds which are their own sources of revenue (local taxes, revenue from common property resources, etc.), grants in aid from the Centre and State governments, and discretionary or scheme­ based funds.
  • Their own sources of revenue (both tax and non­tax) constitute a tiny proportion of overall panchayat funds. For instance, in Telangana, less than a quarter of a panchayat’s revenue comes from its own sources of revenue.
  • Further, access to discretionary grants for panchayats remains contingent on political and bureaucratic connections.
  • An inordinate delay in transferring approved funds to panchayat accounts stalls local development.
  • In Telangana, this has forced sarpanchs to use private funds for panchayat activities to fulfil mandated targets and avoid public pressure.
  • Delays in the disbursement of funds by the local bureaucracy have led to pressure on sarpanchs leading some to end their life.

How panchayats can use the funds allocated to them

  • State governments often impose spending limits on various expenditures through panchayat funds.
  • This could include quotidian activities such as purchasing posters of national icons, refreshments for visiting dignitaries, or distributing sweets in a local school at national festivals.
  • In all States, there is a system of double authorisation for spending panchayat funds. Apart from sarpanchs, disbursal of payments requires bureaucratic concurrence. The sarpanch and the panchayat secretary, who reports to the Block Development Officer (BDO), must co­sign cheques issued for payments from panchayat funds.

The taxing process of seeking approvals

  • State governments also bind local governments’ through the local bureaucracy.
  • Approval for public works projects often requires technical approval (from the engineering department) and administrative approval from local officials of the rural development department, such as the block development officer, a tedious process for sarpanchs that requires paying multiple visits to government offices.
  • It is also not unusual to find higher­level politicians and bureaucrats intervening in selecting beneficiaries for government programmes and limiting the power of sarpanchs further.
  • We surveyed sarpanchs in Haryana’s Palwal district and found that they spend a substantial amount of time visiting government offices and meeting local bureaucrats, and waiting to be seen or heard.

Sarpanchs Discretaionary Power

  • They need to be in the “good books” of politicians and local bureaucrats if they wanted access to discretionary resources, timely disbursement of funds, and be able to successfully execute any project or programme in their village.
  • The ability of sarpanchs to exercise administrative control over local employees is also limited. In many States, the recruitment of local functionaries reporting to the panchayat, such as village watchmen or sweepers, is conducted at the district or block level.
  • Often the sarpanch does not even have the power to dismiss these local ­level employees.

The shadow of bureaucrats

  • Unlike elected officials at other levels, sarpanchs can be dismissed while in office.
  • Gram Panchayat Acts in many States have empowered district ­level bureaucrats, mostly district Collectors, to act against sarpanchs for official misconduct.
  • For instance, Section 37 of the Telangana Gram Panchayat Act allows District Collectors to suspend and dismiss incumbent ssarpanchs.
  • On what grounds can Collectors act against sarpanchs?
  • Apart from abuse of power, embezzlement, or misconduct, the conditions include mere refusal to “carry out the orders of the District Collector or Commissioner or Government for the proper working of the concerned Gram Panchayat”. This is not merely a legal provision. Across the country, there are regular instances of bureaucrats deciding to dismiss sarpanchs from office.
  • In Telangana, more than 100 sarpanchs have been dismissed from office in recent years. In one such case, the official reason was a protest (by boycotting an official programme) against the denial of land for an electric substation.
  • The situation in Telangana is a reminder for State governments to re­examine the provisions of their respective Gram Panchayat laws and consider greater devolution of funds, functions, and functionaries to local governments.


State Level politicians and government officials resist giving sarpanchs power because they feel that sarpanchs will misuse funds allocated to a village. This is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. India has limited decentralization because if local governments get genuine autonomy to allocate the monies, power will shift from the MLAs and State government controlled bureaucracy to the sarpanch.There is an urgent need to reform local self government.

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