Source– The post is based on the article “There is hardly any autonomy at the panchayat level” published in The Hindu on 21th January 2023.
Syllabus: GS2- Devolution of Powers and Finances up to Local Levels and Challenges Therein
Relevance– Issues related to implementation of 73rd and 74th amendment act
News– The article explains the issue of state government control over functioning of panchayats.
Recently, an up-sarpanch in Telangana’s committed suicide due to indebtedness. He had taken out a loan to undertake development works in the village and was unable to pay after the State government’s inordinate delay in releasing bill payments.
How State governments exercise considerable discretionary authority and influence over panchayats?
Issue of funding– Gram panchayats remain fiscally dependent on grants from the State and the Centre for everyday activities. Broadly, panchayats have three main sources of funds — their own sources of revenue, grants in aid, and discretionary or scheme-based funds.
Their own sources of revenue constitute a tiny proportion of overall panchayat funds. 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 dependent on political and bureaucratic connections.
Even when higher levels of government allocate funds to local governments, sarpanchs need help in accessing them. An inordinate delay in transferring approved funds to panchayat accounts stalls local development.
There are also severe constraints on panchayats for using the funds allocated to them. State governments often impose spending limits on various expenditures through panchayat funds. In almost all States, there is a system of double authorisation for spending panchayat funds. Apart from sarpanchs, disbursal of payments requires bureaucratic concurrence.
Interference of higher authorities– 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.
Higher-level politicians and bureaucrats often intervene in selecting beneficiaries for government programmes and limiting the power of sarpanches further.
Sarpanchs need to have good relationships with politicians and local bureaucrats if they want access to discretionary resources, timely disbursement of funds.
The ability of sarpanches to exercise administrative control over local employees is also limited. In many States, the recruitment of local functionaries is conducted at the district or block level. Often the sarpanch does not even have the power to dismiss these local-level employees.
Dismissal process– 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.
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.