Throttled at the grass roots (The
Mains Paper 2: Polity
Prelims level: 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments
Mains level: Various constitutional amendments and their mandate
- Over 25 years after the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments, very
little actual progress has been made in this direction.
- Local governments remain hamstrung and ineffective; mere agents to do
the bidding of higher-level governments.
- About 32 lakh peoples’ representatives are elected every five years to
the local bodies.
- Devolution is not mere delegation. It implies that governance functions
are assigned by law to local governments, along with adequate transfer of
financial grants, taxes, and staff so that they carry out their
- Local governments are to report primarily to their voters, and not so
much to higher-level departments.
- The Constitution mandates that panchayats and municipalities shall be
elected every five years.
- States are mandated to devolve functions and responsibilities to them
- Given diverse habitation patterns, political and social history, it
makes sense to mandate States to assign functions to local governments.
- A study for the 14th FC by the Centre for Policy Research shows that all
States have formally devolved powers with respect to five core functions of
water supply, sanitation, roads and communication, streetlight provision and
the management of community assets to the gram panchayats.
Issues remain – Finance
- The volume of money set apart for them is inadequate to meet their basic
- Much of the money given is inflexible; even in the case of untied grants
mandated by the Union and State Finance Commissions, their use is
constrained through the imposition of several conditions.
- There is little investment in enabling and strengthening local
governments to raise their own taxes and user charges.
- Local governments do not have the staff to perform even basic tasks.
- As most staff are hired by higher-level departments and placed with
local governments on deputation, they do not feel responsible for the
latter; they function as part of a vertically integrated departmental
- In violation of the constitutional mandate of five-yearly elections to
local governments, States have often postponed them.
- In 2005, when the Gujarat government postponed the Ahmedabad corporation
elections, a Supreme Court constitutional bench held that under no
circumstances can such postponements be allowed.
- Supreme Court rejected other alibis for election postponements, such as
delays in determining the seat reservation matrix, or fresh delimitation of
local government boundaries.
- In Tamil Nadu, panchayat elections have not been held for over two years
now, resulting in the State losing finance commission grants from the Union
- Criminal elements and contractors are attracted to local government
elections, tempted by the large sums of money now flowing to them. They win
elections through bribing voters and striking deals with different groups
- Higher officers posted at the behest of MLAs extract bribes from local
governments for plan clearances, approving estimates and payments.
- There is no evidence to show that corruption has increased due to
decentralisation. Decentralised corruption tends to get exposed faster than
national or State-level corruption.
Problems with centralisation
- The current Union government has centralised service delivery by using
technology, and panchayats are nothing more than front offices for several
Union government programs.
- The ‘Smart City’ program does not devolve its funds to the
municipalities; States have been forced to constitute ‘special purpose
vehicles’ to ring-fence these grants.
- Gram sabhas and wards committees in urban areas have to be revitalised.
- Consultations with the grama sabha could be organised through smaller
discussions where everybody can really participate.
- Even new systems of Short Message Services or social media groups could
be used for facilitating discussions between members of grama sabha.
- Local government organisational structures have to be strengthened.
Panchayats are burdened with a huge amount of work that other departments
thrust on them, without being compensated for the extra administrative
- Local governments must be enabled to hold State departments accountable
and to provide quality, corruption-free service to them, through
- We cannot have accountable GPs, without local taxation. Local
governments are reluctant to collect property taxes and user charges fully.
They are happy to implement top-down programs because they know that if they
collect taxes, their voters will never forgive them for misusing their
Q.1) Consider the following statements about Palani temple:
1. The temple is located in Kerala.
2. The famous Palani panchamirtham, given as ‘prasadam’ at the Murugan temple
there, has been granted the Geographical Indication (GI) tag.
A. 1 only
B. 2 only
C. All the above
Q.1) How local governments remain hamstrung and ineffective to mere agents to do
the bidding of higher level governments? Analyse the statement.