(GS2- Devolution of Powers and Finances up to Local Levels and Challenges Therein)
Recently, an up-sarpanch in Telangana’s committed suicide due to indebtedness.
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.
- Constraints on panchayats for using the funds allocated: 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–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.
- Limited control: 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– Sarpanch can be dismissed while in office. Gram Panchayat Acts in many States have empowered district-level bureaucrats, mostly district Collectors, to act against sarpanch for official misconduct.
- Sarpanch 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.