General Studies Paper 2
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.
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 controlover 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.
- 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.