Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

Supreme Court asks NGO to move govt against Sarpanch-Patism


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Read the attached story

Mains level: Proxy politicians


Central Idea

  • The Supreme Court of India has stated that the government, rather than the judiciary, should address the issue of men exerting power behind elected women who remain “faceless wives and daughters-in-law” in grassroots politics.
  • The court’s remarks came in response to a petition filed by an NGO which highlighted the phenomenon of unelected male relatives wielding political influence, undermining the spirit of women’s reservation in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs).

Women in PRIs: Legal Aspects

(a) 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992:

  • Mandates 33.3% reservation for women in PRIs across the country.
  • Recognizes the Gram Sabha as the foundation of the Panchayat Raj System, empowering it to perform functions and exercise powers entrusted by the State Legislatures.
  • Some states have increased the reservation to 50%, including Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, etc.
  • Out of the 30.41 lakh elected representatives in PRIs, 13.74 lakh (45.2%) are women.

(b) Article 15(3) of the Constitution:

  • Empowers the State to make special provisions for women.
  • Allows the government to introduce measures to ensure gender equality and promote the interests of women.

(c) Article 243D:

  • Provides for the reservation of one-third of the total number of seats and offices of Chairpersons in PRIs for women.
  • The reserved seats and offices are allocated through rotation to different constituencies within a Panchayat.
  • These reservations for women are in addition to the reservations for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in all three tiers of PRIs.

(d) Intersectional Reservations:

  • The reservation of seats and offices for women in PRIs also falls within the overall reservations for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in all three tiers of PRIs.
  • This provision aims to address the intersecting disadvantages faced by women from marginalized communities.

(e) Proposed 110th Constitution Amendment Bill:

  • Introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2009 to bring about 50% reservation for women in Panchayats across all states.
  • The bill aimed to increase the reservation beyond the existing 33.3% mandated by the 73rd Amendment Act.
  • Despite multiple tabled attempts, the bill was not passed into law.

Proxy Sarpanchs in India

  • It is generally observed where an elected lady Sarpanch (the head of a Panchayat) delegates their powers and responsibilities to someone else, typically a family member or a trusted individual.
  • This proxy then acts as a representative or substitute for the Sarpanch in carrying out their duties.
  • Quite often, this delegation is forcefully acquired from women.

Reasons behind Panchayat Pati syndrome

  • Gender Inequality: Deep-rooted gender inequalities prevalent in Indian society play a significant role in perpetuating the Panchayat Pati syndrome. Patriarchal norms and cultural beliefs that prioritize male authority and decision-making often restrict women’s agency and participation in public affairs.
  • Social Norms and Expectations: Traditional gender roles and societal expectations define women’s primary role as homemakers and caretakers. This perception often results in women being considered unfit or inexperienced in matters of governance
  • Lack of Awareness and Education: Limited access to education and awareness about women’s rights and the importance of their participation in local governance can contribute to the prevalence of Panchayat Pati. Lack of awareness among women themselves, as well as their families and communities, can lead to the perpetuation of discriminatory practices.
  • Male Domination and Resistance to Change: Male dominance in politics and resistance to gender equality can also contribute to the Panchayat Pati syndrome.
  • Political Dynamics and Power Struggles: In some cases, male family members or influential community leaders may strategically use the Panchayat Pati practice to retain power and influence. By controlling women’s decision-making, they can ensure their interests are protected and continue to exert control over the local governance processes.

Impact of Panchayat Pati syndrome

      1. Economic Impact:

  • The practice of Panchayat Pati limits the active participation of women in decision-making processes within the panchayat.
  • This exclusion can hinder the effective utilization of resources and allocation of funds, potentially leading to suboptimal economic outcomes for the community.
  • Women’s perspectives and needs may not be adequately represented, and projects or initiatives that could benefit women, such as those related to education, healthcare, or livelihood opportunities, may not receive sufficient attention or support.

      2. Social Impact:

  • Panchayat Pati reinforces gender inequalities and perpetuates traditional gender roles within communities.
  • It hampers women’s ability to exercise agency and engage in community development activities. it diminishes their self-esteem and status within the community.

     3. Political Impact:

  • The practice of Panchayat Pati undermines the principles of democratic representation and participatory governance.
  • It restricts the political agency of women and denies them the opportunity to actively contribute to decision-making processes.
  • Women’s perspectives and priorities often differ from those of men, and their exclusion diminishes the diversity of voices and perspectives in local governance. This can lead to policy decisions that may not adequately address the needs and concerns of women and other marginalized groups.

Court’s Response

  • Not an Executive Authority: The court acknowledged the issue but emphasized that it is not the role of the judiciary to create a spirit of empowerment.
  • Focus on women empowerment: The court pointed out that preventing influential individuals’ wives from contesting elections is not feasible, and empowering women requires an evolutionary process.
  • Government’s Responsibility: The court highlighted that the Ministry of Panchayati Raj should address the petitioner’s grievance and explore better mechanisms to implement the objectives of women’s reservation.
  • Expert Committee and Support Mechanism: The petitioner suggested the formation of an expert committee and the provision of the right support mechanism for women. However, the court deemed this an unrealistic expectation from the judiciary.

Way forward

  • Engage Men as Allies: Promote male allies in supporting women’s representation in PRIs. Encourage men to actively advocate for gender equality, challenge patriarchal norms, and work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable political environment.
  • Capacity Building and Leadership Development: Provide training and capacity-building programs for women elected representatives in PRIs.
  • Political Awareness and Participation: Conduct awareness campaigns to educate women about their rights, the importance of political participation, and the impact of their involvement in PRIs.
  • Inter-Gender Dialogues: Organize inter-generational dialogues where older leaders and women can exchange knowledge, experiences, and perspectives. This can help bridge the generation gap, promote inter-generational collaboration, and strengthen the collective power of women in PRIs.


  • It is the responsibility of the executive authority to find suitable solutions and ensure the effective implementation of women’s reservations in panchayat governance.

Mains Mark enhancer: Successful Women Sarpanch in India

  • Kali Bein Panchayat, Punjab: Kali Bein Panchayat in Punjab gained recognition for its all-women panchayat led by Sarpanch Bibi Jagir Kaur. Under her leadership, the panchayat focused on various development initiatives, including infrastructure development, water conservation, and women empowerment programs.
  • Mawlynnong, Meghalaya: Mawlynnong, a village in Meghalaya, is known for its clean and well-maintained environment. The village achieved this feat under the leadership of women panchayat leaders who implemented strict cleanliness and waste management measures, making it one of the cleanest villages in Asia.
  • Devdungri, Rajasthan: Devdungri village in Rajasthan is an exemplary case of women’s leadership in panchayats. Women panchayat members successfully implemented initiatives to address issues such as child marriage, female foeticide, and women’s education. Their efforts resulted in significant positive changes in the community.


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