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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : There is hardly any autonomy at the panchayat level


Source: The Hindu


  • Prelims: Parliament-Structure, organization and functioning, article 340, tribes, 73rd and 74th amendment etc
  • Mains GS Paper II: Parliament- structure, functioning and conduct of Business etc



  • An up-sarpanch in Telangana died by suicide due to indebtedness.
    • He had taken out a loan to undertake development works in the village and was unable to bear the burden.




73rd and 74th Constitutional amendment Act:


Challenges faced by Panchayats:

  • Failure of the State government to release funds in time: It forces them to utilize either private resources or borrow large amounts to complete panchayat activities and meet various targets.
  • State governments: through the local bureaucracy, continue to exercise considerable discretionary authority and influence over panchayats.
  • Gram panchayats remain fiscally dependent on grants (both discretionary and non-discretionary grants) from the State and the Centre for everyday activities.
  • Their own sources of revenue (both tax and non-tax): They constitute a tiny proportion of overall panchayat funds.
    • For example: In Telangana, less than a quarter of a panchayat’s revenue comes from its own sources of revenue.
  • 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.
    • Delays in the disbursement of funds by the local bureaucracy have led to pressure on sarpanches leading some to end their life.
  • 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
  • Higher-level politicians and bureaucrats intervening in selecting beneficiaries for government programmes and limiting the power of sarpanches further.
  • The ability of sarpanches 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.
  • Sarpanch does not have the power to dismiss these local-level employees.
  • 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 sarpanches for official misconduct.
    • For example: Section 37 of the Telangana Gram Panchayat Act allows District Collectors to suspend and dismiss incumbent sarpanches.


Grounds can Collectors act against sarpanchs:

  • Abuse of power, embezzlement, or misconduct
  • Refusal to “carry out the orders of the District Collector or Commissioner or Government for the proper working of the concerned Gram Panchayat”.


Case Study:(Political intervention)

  • Survey of sarpanches in Haryana’s Palwal district:
    • They spend a substantial amount of time visiting government offices and meeting local bureaucrats, and waiting to be seen or heard.
    • Sarpanchs reported that they need to be in the “good books” of politicians and local bureaucrats if they wanted:
      • access to discretionary resources
      • timely disbursement of funds
      • able to successfully execute any project or programme in their village.


Constraints on how panchayats can use the funds allocated to them:

  • State governments often impose spending limits on various expenditures through panchayat funds.
    • This could include activities such as purchasing posters of national icons, refreshments for visiting dignitaries etc
  • In almost all States, there is a system of double authorisation for spending panchayat funds.
    • Apart from sarpanchs, disbursal of payments requires bureaucratic concurrence.


Sources of funds for Panchayats:

  • Their own sources of revenue: local taxes, revenue from common property resources, etc.
  • Grants in aid from the Centre and State governments
  • Discretionary or scheme-based funds.


Way Forward

  • Sarpanchs need to have administrative or financial autonomy for meaningful decentralization.
  • The situation in Telangana is a reminder for State governments to re-examine the provisions of their respective Gram Panchayat laws and consider greater devolution of funds, functions, and functionaries to local governments.
  • 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.
  • The role and responsibilities of local governments should be foregrounded by normative values which have found expression, at least in some regard, in the Constitution.
  • As India is undergoing a centralizing shift in its politics, economy, and culture, there’s also been a renewed assertion of federalism.



Q. To what extent, in your opinion, has the decentralization of power in India changed the governance landscape at the grassroots?(UPSC 2022) (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)