Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

Taking care of finances of local governments

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Local bodies.

Mains level : Paper 2- Issues with fiscal independence of the local bodies.

This article makes some suggestions to improve local finance and argues that the extant fiscal illusion is a great deterrent to mobilisation.

Advantageous position in handling disasters

  • In terms of information, monitoring and immediate action, local governments are at an advantage, and eminently, to meet any disaster such as COVID-19.
  • While increasing the borrowing limits of the state form 3.5% of GDP to 5%, there was a recognition that local governments should be fiscally empowered immediately.
  • This is a valid signal for the future of local governance.

4 challenges posed by Covid and addressing them collectively

  • COVID-19 has raised home four major challenges:1) economic, 2) health, 3) welfare/livelihood 4) resource mobilisation.
  • These challenges have to be addressed by all tiers of government in the federal polity, jointly and severally.

Local government empowerment: 5 critical areas

  • 1) Own revenue is the critical lever of local government empowerment.
  • But the several lacunae that continue to bedevil local governance have to be simultaneously addressed.
  • 2) The new normal demands a paradigm shift in the delivery of health care at the cutting edge level.
  • 3) The parallel bodies that have come up after the 73rd/74th Constitutional Amendments have considerably distorted the functions-fund flow matrix at the lower level of governance.
  • 4) There is yet no clarity in the assignment of functions, functionaries and financial responsibilities to local governments.
  • Functional mapping and responsibilities continue to be ambiguous in many States.
  • Instructively, Kerala attempted even responsibility mapping besides activity mapping.
  • 5) The critical role of local governments will have to be recognised by all.

Let’s look into resource mobilisation issue: 3 Heads

  • A few suggestions for resource mobilisation are given under three heads: 1) local finance, 2) Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme-MPLADs, 3) the Fifteenth Finance Commission (FFC).

1. Local finance

  • Property tax collection with appropriate exemptions should be a compulsory levy and preferably must cover land.
  • The Economic Survey 2017-18 points out that urban local governments, or ULGs, generate about 44% of their revenue from own sources as against only 5% by rural local governments, or RLGs.
  • Per capita own revenue collected by ULGs is about 3% of urban per capita income while the corresponding figure is only 0.1% for RLGs.
  • There is a yawning gap between tax potential and actual collection, resulting in colossal underperformance.
  • When they are not taxed, people remain indifferent.
  • LGs, States and people seem to labour under a fiscal illusion.
  • In States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand, local tax collection at the panchayat level is next to nil.
  • Property tax forms the major source of local revenue throughout the world.
  • All States should take steps to enhance and rationalise property tax regime.
  • A recent study by Professor O.P. Mathur shows that the share of property tax in GDP has been declining since 2002-03.
  •  The share of property tax in India in 2017-18 is only 0.14% of GDP as against 2.1% in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
  • If property tax covers land, that will hugely enhance the yield from this source even without any increase in rates.

Other 2 options for raising finances

  • 1) Land monetisation and betterment levy may be tried in the context of COVID-19 in India. To be sure, land values have to be unbundled for socially relevant purposes.
  • 2) Municipalities and even suburban panchayats can issue a corona containment bond for a period of say 10 years.
  • We are appealing to the patriotic sentiments of non-resident Indians and rich citizens.
  • Needless to say, credit rating is not to be the weighing consideration.
  • That the Resurgent India Bond of 1998 could mobilise over $4 billion in a few days encourages us to try this option.

2) MPLADS

  • The suspension of MPLADS by the Union government for two years is a welcome measure. The annual budget was around ₹4,000 crore.
  • The Union government has appropriated the entire allocation along with the huge non-lapseable arrears.
  • MPLADs, which was avowedly earmarked for local area development, must be assigned to local governments, preferably to panchayats on the basis of well-defined criteria.

3) Fifteenth finance commission-FFC

  • A special COVID-19 containment grant to the LGs by the FFC to be distributed on the basis of SFC-laid criteria is the need of the hour.
  • The commission may do well to consider this.
  • The local government grant of ₹90,000 crore for 2020-2021 by the FFC is only 3% higher than that recommended by the Fourteenth Finance Commission.
  • Building health infrastructure and disease control strategies at the local level find no mention in the five tranches of the packages announced by the Union Finance Minister.

Suggestions related to grants

  • The ratio of basic (i.e. with no conditions) to tied (with condition)grant is fixed at 50:50 by the commission.
  • In the context of the crisis under way, all grants must be untied  for freely evolving proper COVID-19 containment strategies locally.
  • The 13th Finance Commission’s recommendation to tie local grants to the union divisible pool of taxes to ensure a buoyant and predictable source of revenue to LGs (accepted by the then Union government) must be restored by the commission.

Consider the question “The stable source of revenue for the local government bodies whether from their own sources or in the form of grants should lie at the heart of efforts to empower them. Comment.”

 Conclusion

COVID-19 has woken us up to the reality that local governments must be equipped and empowered. Relevant action is the critical need.

B2BASICS:

73rd and 74th Amendment Acts, 1993

  • It’s been 25 years since decentralized democratic governance was introduced in India by the 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendments, which came into force on April 24 and June 1, 1993, respectively.
  • The 73rd Amendment to the Constitution (Part IX) has given constitutional status to the Panchayats, and has provided it with a substantial framework. It envisions the Panchayats as the institutions of local self-governance and also the universal platforms for planning and implementing programmes for economic
    development and social justice.
  • The creation of lakhs of “self-governing” village panchayats and gram sabhas, with over three million elected representatives mandated to manage local development, was a unique democratic experiment.
  • Article 243A gives constitutional recognition to the Gram Sabha as a body consisting of persons registered in the electoral rolls relating to a village comprised within the area of the Panchayat at the village level.
  • The 74th Amendment Act provided for the constitution (Part IXA) of three types of municipalities in urban areas depending upon the size and area.
  • The Constitution provides for a complete institutional mechanism including reservation for women and formation of State Finance Commissions (SFCs) for local democracy.

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

Opportunity to strengthen the 73rd and 74th amendment

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments

Mains level : Paper 2- Need for strengthening the panchayat raj institutions in the letter and spirit enshrined in the Constitution.

The article brings to the fore untapped potential held by the panchayats and municipalities. However, there is a need for devolution in letter and spirit by the states to tap this potential. The article explains how the panchayats and municipalities could contribute effectively in the fight against Covid-19.

Cooperative federalism amid COVID-19

  • An unintended but welcome consequence of the struggle against COVID-19 is that the “confrontational federalism” is on the decline with the revival of “cooperative federalism”.
  • There is a realisation that there is no way the COVID-19 situation can be tackled except through a measure of cooperation between the Centre and the states.
  • Consultative process: The Centre is offering flexibility to states to adopt guidelines to their respective circumstances and states are accepting guidelines from the Centre.
  • A principal reason for Kerala’s amazing performance in “flattening the curve” is their robust system of effective devolution. Such devolution helped the Kudumbashree programme to function in association with the panchayats.

The concept of 3 tier devolution: Centre-State-Panchayats

  • Article 243G provides that state legislatures “may, by law, endow the Panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government”. 
  • This means state governments cannot and must not treat panchayats as extensions of the state government but as “institutions of (local) self-government”.
  • The logic of “cooperative federalism” is that states must function not as implementation arms of the central government but as autonomous units within the federation.
  • By the same logic panchayats too must be conceived not as an extension of state governments but as “units of self-government”. 
  • It is thus that panchayats need to be brought into the three-tier devolution system envisaged in the Constitution: Centre-State-Panchayats (and municipalities).

How could devolution help in the fight against Covid-19?

  • In line with the rising cooperation between the Centre and the states, the focus should be on further devolution in keeping with the constitutional obligations under the 73rd and 74th amendments.
  • The starting point could best be Entry 23 of the Eleventh Schedule that reads, “Health, sanitation, including hospitals, primary health centres and dispensaries”
  • Entry 23 is among the list of 29 subjects illustratively set out for devolution to the panchayats, subject to conformity legislation being enacted by state legislatures.
  • All state legislation has included this subject for devolution.
  • Therefore, empowering the panchayats in this regard with functions, finances and functionaries is now a statutory obligation under state law under Article 243G.
  • With the migrant workers returning to their native villages, it is important to fully involve village panchayats and municipalities as “institutions of self-government” – 243W in the anti-COVID-19 campaign.
  • Entry 28 of the Eleventh Schedule mentions the “public distribution system” as among the subjects for devolution.
  • There are many other entries in the Schedule that are relevant to this exercise.
  • There is an army of 32 lakh elected representatives in the panchayats and about two lakh more in the municipalities to contribute in the fight against Covid-19.
  • Well over a third of them, some 10-12 lakh, are drawn from the Scheduled Castes and Tribes and, therefore, in touch with the most destitute in every village and town.
  • There are some 14 lakh women who have established themselves by election as village leaders. 
  • Imagine a constructive role such women can play as “front-line workers” in the battle against the coronavirus.
  • The most important requirement is planning to receive the migrant labour influx.
  • Last-mile delivery can only be comprehensively ensured by empowered panchayats and municipalities reporting to their respective gram sabhas and ward sabhas mandated under Articles 243 A and 243 S.
  • Planning for withstanding the ingress of COVID-19 requires the full deployment of the mechanisms for district planning envisaged in Article 243 ZD.

Consider the question asked by the UPSC in 2018-“Assess the importance of the Panchayat system in India as a part of local government. Apart from government grants, what sources the Panchayat can look out for financing developmental projects?”

Conclusion

As the cooperative federalism underlines India’s fight against Covid-19, devolution to the third tier –panchayats and municipalities would give a much needed fillip to the fight against Covid-19.


Back2Basics: 73rd and 74th Amendments

  • 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments were passed by Parliament in December, 1992.
  • Through these amendments local self-governance was introduced in rural and urban India.
  • The Acts came into force as the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 on April 24, 1993 and the Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992 on June 1, 1993.
  • These amendments added two new parts to the Constitution, namely, 73rd Amendment added Part IX titled “The Panchayats” and 74th Amendment added Part IXA titled “The Municipalities”.
  • The Local bodies–‘Panchayats’ and ‘Municipalities’ came under Part IX and IXA of the Constitution after 43 years of India becoming a republic.

Salient Features

  • Basic units of democratic system-Gram Sabhas (villages) and Ward Committees (Municipalities) comprising all the adult members registered as voters.
  • Three-tier system of panchayats at village, intermediate block/taluk/mandal and district levels except in States with population is below 20 lakhs (Article 243B).
  • Seats at all levels to be filled by direct elections [Article 243C (2)].
  • Seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) and chairpersons of the Panchayats at all levels also shall be reserved for SCs and STs in proportion to their population.
  • One-third of the total number of seats to be reserved for women. Onethird of the seats reserved for SCs and STs also reserved for women. One-third offices of chairpersons at all levels reserved for women (Article 243D)
  • Uniform five year term and elections to constitute new bodies to be completed before the expiry of the term. In the event of dissolution, elections compulsorily within six months (Article 243E).

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

Removal of AP State Election Commissioner by ordinance route

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Appointment, removal, change in the conditions of service of the SEC.

Mains level : Paper 2- Power of the state governments to change the tenure of the SEC can affect the independence of the body in conducting free and fair elections.

The removal of the SEC by the ordinance route raises the question over the legality of the move. And if it passes the judicial scrutiny it would harm the independence of the body.

The legality of the removal and its implication for free and fair elections

  • The fact that it was the culmination of an open conflict between the Election Commissioner and Chief Minister makes it a glaring instance of misuse of power.
  • The State government got the Governor to issue an ordinance to cut the SEC’s tenure from five to three years.
  • The ordinance also amended the criterion for holding that office from being an officer of the rank of Principal Secretary and above to one who had served as a High Court judge.
  • This automatically rendered the SEC’s continuance invalid.
  • Last month, just days before the local body polls were to be held, the SEC postponed the elections, citing the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • The State government approached the Supreme Court, but the court declined to interfere.
  • Having exhausted its legal remedy, the government should have waited for the ongoing fight against the disease to be over.
  • The Chief Minister has no legal right to terminate the SEC’s tenure.
  • The Constitution makes the holder of that post removable only in the same manner as a High Court judge.
  • If courts uphold this means of dislodging the head of an independent election body, it would mark the end of free and fair elections.

Past judgements on the issue

  • The State government seems to have gone by legal opinion that citedAparmita Prasad Singh vs. State of U.P. (2007).
  • Cessation of term vs. removal: In that judgement the Allahabad High Court ruled that cessation of tenure does not amount to removal, and upheld the State Election Commissioner’s term being cut short.
  • The Supreme Court, while dismissing an appeal against the order, kept open the legal questions arising from the case.

UPSC can frame the question based on the judgement in case by the SC and its implication for the independence of the body in conducting the fair, free and impartial election.

Issues arising out of the past judgements

  • The judgment seems erroneous, as it gives freedom to the State government to remove an inconvenient election authority by merely changing the tenure or retirement age.
  • This was surely not what was envisioned by Parliament, which wrote into the Constitution provisions to safeguard the independence of the State Election Commission.
  • It is a well-settled principle in law that what cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly.
  • Therefore, the removal of an incumbent SEC through the subterfuge of changing the eligibility norms for an appointment may not survive judicial scrutiny.
  • Prohibition on the variation of condition of service: Further, the Constitution, under Article 243K, prohibits the variation of any condition of service to the detriment of any incumbent.
  • Even if the State government argues that a change of tenure does not amount to varying the conditions of service, the new norm can only apply to the successor SEC, and not the one holding the office now.

Conclusion

In order to ensure the independence of the SEC and free and fair elections, legality of the move should not pass the legal scrutiny. Even if it passes the legal scrutiny the government should amend this provision avoid such instances in the future.

 

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

[pib] Bhuvan Panchayat V 3.0

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bhuvan Panchayat V 3.0, SISDP Project

Mains level : Utility of geospatial data in governance

The Bhuvan Panchayat V 3.0 web portal was recently launched.

Bhuvan Panchayat Version 3.0

  • For better planning and monitoring of government projects, the ISRO has launched the Bhuvan Panchayat web portal’s version 3.0.
  • For the first time, a thematic data base on a 1:1000 scale for the entire country is available with integrated high resolution satellite data for planning.
  • In the project that will last for at least two years, ISRO will collaborate with the gram panchayat members and stakeholders to understand their data requirements.
  • The third version of the portal will provide database visualisation and services for the benefit of panchayat members, among others.
  • The project is meant to provide geo-spatial services to aid gram panchayat development planning process of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj.
  • The targeted audiences for this portal are Public, PRIs and different stakeholders belonging to the gram panchayats.

About SISDP Project

  • Space based Information Support for Decentralised Planning at Panchyayat level (SIS-DP) is a national initiative of preparing basic spatial layers useful in planning process for local self governance.
  • ISRO launched SISDP project to assist Gram Panchayats at grassroot level with basic planning inputs derived from satellite data for preparing developmental plans, its implementation and monitoring the activities.
  • The National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) is the lead centre to execute the project in collaboration with various State Remote Sensing Centres.
  • SISDP phase I Project was successfully concluded in the year 2016-17.
  • Under Phase II, this project shall be implemented shortly with a enhanced scope of updating geodatabase with latest high resolution remote sensing data and spatial data analytics.
  • For the first time, thematic database on 1:10,000 scale for the entire country is available with high integrated High Resolution satellite data for planning.

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

[op-ed snap] Trampling on grassroots: On T.N. local body polls

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Periodic elections to local bodies

Context

Three years the due date in 2016, rural local bodies in Tamil Nadu will witness elections in the last week of this month. Urban local bodies are also likely to have elected representatives next year. 

Travesty of law

  • It is a travesty of the law that these elections have been delayed. 
  • Cities, towns and villages have been under the rule of unelected officials for too long. 
  • Under a Supreme Court order, polls for all local bodies will have to be held.
  • The exception is only to those districts that have been divided recently to create new ones. 

Issues

  • Administrative lapses and political litigation over ward delimitation in various local bodies as per latest population figures in the 2011 Census resulted in the unprecedented delay. 
  • Originally announced on time in 2016, the notification was cancelled by the Madras High Court, citing irregularities in it. 
  • Since then, the issue of delimitation, the announcement of new districts and occasional litigation have contributed to the delay in elections.

Urban Local Bodies

  • There have been frequent changes in the mode of electing mayors of city corporations and chairpersons of municipalities. 
  • Originally, direct elections were held, but it was changed to an indirect mode in 2006. 
  • In 2016, the Jayalalithaa regime opted for indirect elections, that is, only ward councillors would be elected by the people and these representatives would elect mayors and municipal chairpersons. 
  • The current government reversed the decision and chose the direct election model. 
  • Recently, it once again changed its mind and restored the system of indirect election, citing “better accountability and collective responsibility”. 
  • It claimed that there was scope for conflict between a directly elected head and the councillors, and it would be eliminated if councillors themselves elected the mayor or chairperson. 

Other challenges

  • The attitude of the two main parties towards the importance of local bodies has been quite lukewarm. 
  • The posts of the heads of various local bodies are politicised. This hampers devolution of funds and letting the various tiers work independently. 
  • District panchayats frequently undermined as most parties consider them as a redundant third tier among Panchayati raj institutions. 
  • Including local self-government bodies as partners in development is still a far cry.

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

Rules for the Conduct of Business

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Rules for the Conduct of Business

Mains level : Conduct of Business in Parliament

The suspension of two members by Lok Sabha Speaker after unruly scenes in the House has brought back focus on the conduct of MPs, and related issues.

How are MP’s suspended?

  • Rule 378 of the Rules for the Conduct of Business states: “The Speaker shall preserve order and shall have all powers necessary for the purpose of enforcing own decisions.”
  • Rule 373 says: The Speaker, if is of the opinion that the conduct of any member is grossly disorderly, may direct such member to withdraw immediately from the House.
  • And any member so ordered to withdraw shall do so forthwith and shall remain absent during the remainder of the day’s sitting.

For recalcitrant members

For obstinately uncooperative attitude of MPs, Rule 374 says:

  • The Speaker may, if deems it necessary, name a member who disregards the authority of the Chair or abuses the rules of the House by persistently and willfully obstructing the business thereof.
  • If a member is so named by the Speaker, the Speaker shall, on a motion being made forthwith put the question that the member be suspended from the service of the House for a period not exceeding the remainder of the session: Provided that the House may, at any time, on a motion being made, resolve that such suspension be terminated.
  • A member suspended under this rule shall forthwith withdraw from the precincts of the House.

The business usual

  • In December 2018, Lok Sabha’s Rules Committee recommended automatic suspension of members who entered the well of the House or wilfully obstructed business by shouting slogans despite being repeatedly warned by the Chair.
  • However, rules aside, it is often expediency rather than principles, which shapes the stand of a party on the issue.
  • The ruling party of the day invariably insists on the maintenance of discipline, and the opposition on its right to protest.

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

Explained: Why Lok Sabha strength is still 543

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Strength of Lok Sabha, Delimitation

Mains level : Strength of Lok Sabha

  • Last week, former Union Minister has said that the number of Lok Sabha seats should be rationalized on the basis of population.
  • The composition of the Lower House has remained more or less the same for four decades.

Strength of Lok Sabha

  • Article 81 of the Constitution defines the composition of the House of the People or Lok Sabha.
  • It states that the House shall not consist of more than 550 elected members of whom not more than 20 will represent UTs.
  • Under Article 331, the President can nominate up to two Anglo-Indians if he/she feels the community is inadequately represented in the House.
  • At present, the strength of the Lok Sabha is 543, of which 530 have been allocated to the states and the rest to the UTs.

In proportion to population

  • Article 81 also mandates that the number of Lok Sabha seats allotted to a state would be such that the ratio between that number and the population of the state is, as far as possible, the same for all states.
  • This is to ensure that every state is equally represented. However, this logic does not apply to small states whose population is not more than 60 lakh.
  • So, at least one seat is allocated to every state even if it means that its population-to-seat-ratio is not enough to qualify it for that seat.
  • As per Clause 3 of Article 81, population, for the purpose of allocation of seats, means “population as ascertained at the last preceding census of which the relevant figures have been published”.
  • In other words, the last published Census.
  • But, by an amendment to this Clause in 2003, the population now means population as per the 1971 Census, until the first Census taken after 2026.

543 wasn’t there from beginning

  • Originally Article 81 provided that the Lok Sabha shall not have more than 500 members. The first House constituted in 1952 had 497.
  • Since the Constitution provides for population as the basis of determining allocation of seats, the lower House’s composition has also changed with each Census up to 1971.
  • A temporary freeze was imposed in 1976 on ‘Delimitation’ until 2001.
  • Delimitation is the process of redrawing boundaries of Lok Sabha and state Assembly seats to represent changes in the population.
  • However, the composition of the House did not change only with delimitation exercises in 1952, 1963, 1973 and 2002.
  • There were other circumstances as well. For instance, the first change in the composition of Lok Sabha happened in 1953 after the reorganization of the state of Madras.

When it was changed

  • With a new state of Andhra Pradesh carved out, 28 of Madras’s 75 seats went to Andhra Pradesh. The total strength of the House (497) did not change.
  • The first major change took place after the overall reorganization of states in 1956, which divided the country into 14 states and six UTs.
  • This meant subsequent changes in the boundaries of existing states and hence, a change in the allocation of seats to the states and UTs.
  • So with reorganization the government also amended the Constitution by which the maximum number of seats allocated to the states remained 500, but an additional 20 seats (also maximum limit) were added to represent the six UTs.
  • So the second Lok Sabha elected in 1957 had 503 members.
  • Further down the years, the lower House’s composition also changed when the state of Haryana was carved out of Punjab in 1966 and when Goa and Daman and Diu were liberated.

When it was frozen, and why

  • As per Article 81, the composition of the Lok Sabha should represent changes in population. But it has remained more or less the same since the delimitation carried out based on the 1971 Census.
  • The population-to-seat ratio, as mandated under Article 81, should be the same for all states.
  • Although unintended, this implied that states that took little interest in population control could end up with a greater number of seats in Parliament.
  • The southern states that promoted family planning faced the possibility of having their seats reduced.
  • To allay these fears, the Constitution was amended during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency rule in 1976 to suspend delimitation until 2001.

Postponed till 2026

  • Although the freeze on the number of seats in Lok Sabha and Assemblies should have been lifted after the Census of 2001, another amendment postponed this until 2026.
  • This was justified on the ground that a uniform population growth rate would be achieved throughout the country by 2026.
  • So, the last delimitation exercise – started in July 2002 and finished on May 31, 2008 was conducted on the basis of the 2001 Census and only readjusted boundaries of existing LS and Assembly seats and reworked the number of seats reserved for SCs and STs.

What next?

  • With the total seats remaining the same since the 1970s, it is felt that states in north India, whose population has increased faster than the rest of the country, are now underrepresented in the Parliament.
  • It is frequently argued that had the original provision of Article 81 been implemented today, then states like UP, Bihar and MP would have gained seats and those in the south would have lost some.

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

Village Secretariat Programme in AP

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Village Secretariat Programme

Mains level : Strengthening Panchayat Raj enforcement


  • The Andhra Pradesh government launched its Village Secretariat programme, under which 1.26 lakh new government employees will begin working.

Village Secretariat Programme

  • Under the new system, the AP government, one Village Secretariat has been set up for every population of 2,000, with each one comprising close to a dozen village officials from various departments like police, revenue, etc.
  • The idea behind it is to ensure that its services reach people on the ground, and also to strengthen the existing Panchayat Raj system.
  • The cost of hiring about 1.26 lakh new employees is going to be roughly about ₹2,200 crore a year for the AP government.
  • Aside from this, the state has also hired another two lakh Village Volunteers, with each of them being paid ₹5,000 per month.
  • Their job will to assist people in availing government services (each volunteer to look after 50 households).

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

[op-ed snap] Throttled at the grass roots

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Empowering Local Bodies

CONTEXT

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. 

Facts

  • 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 responsibilities.
  • 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 through law. 
  • 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 requirements. 
  • 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.

Functionaries

  • 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 system.

Elections

  • 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 government.
  • 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.

Way ahead

  • 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 costs. 
  • Local governments must be enabled to hold State departments accountable and to provide quality, corruption-free service to them, through service-level agreements.
  • 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 funds. 

Decentralisation

A decentralisation is always a messy form of democracy, but it is far better than the operation of criminal politicians at a higher level. We can keep track of corrupt local government representatives; at a higher level, we will never know the extent of dirty deals that happen.

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

Explained: Privilege Motion

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Privileges Motion

Mains level : Breach of Privileges of Parliamentarians

  • A MP from West Bengal has moved a breach of privilege motion in the Lok Sabha against a private news channel and its editor.

What is a privilege motion?

  • Parliamentary privileges are certain rights and immunities enjoyed by members of Parliament, individually and collectively, so that they can “effectively discharge their functions”.
  • When any of these rights and immunities are disregarded, the offence is called a breach of privilege and is punishable under law of Parliament.
  • A notice is moved in the form of a motion by any member of either House against those being held guilty of breach of privilege.
  • Each House also claims the right to punish as contempt actions which, while not breach of any specific privilege, are offences against its authority and dignity.

What are the rules governing privilege?

  • Rule No 222 in Chapter 20 of the Lok Sabha Rule Book and correspondingly Rule 187 in Chapter 16 of the Rajya Sabha rulebook govern privilege.
  • It says that a member may, with the consent of the Speaker or the Chairperson, raise a question involving a breach of privilege either of a member or of the House or of a committee thereof.
  • The rules however mandate that any notice should be relating to an incident of recent occurrence and should need the intervention of the House.
  • Notices have to be given before 10 am to the Speaker or the Chairperson.

What is the role of the Speaker/Rajya Sabha Chair?

  • The Speaker/RS chairperson is the first level of scrutiny of a privilege motion.
  • The Speaker/Chair can decide on the privilege motion himself or herself or refer it to the privileges committee of Parliament.
  • If the Speaker/Chair gives consent under Rule 222, the member concerned is given an opportunity to make a short statement.

What is the privileges committee?

  • In the Lok Sabha, the Speaker nominates a committee of privileges consisting of 15 members as per respective party strengths.
  • A report is then presented to the House for its consideration. The Speaker may permit a half-hour debate while considering the report.
  • The Speaker may then pass final orders or direct that the report be tabled before the House.
  • A resolution may then be moved relating to the breach of privilege that has to be unanimously passed.
  • In the Rajya Sabha, the deputy chairperson heads the committee of privileges, that consists of 10 members.

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

Explained: Automatic Lapsing of Bills in Parliament

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : Efficiency of legislative procedures in India

News

  • Vice Prez. called for a debate on a Constitutional provision that provides for automatic lapsing of any Bill passed by LS but remains pending in RS on the dissolution of the LS.
  • A “rethink” on the provision, he said, will not let Lok Sabha’s time go waste.

Pendency of Bills

  • Presently Lok Sabha has to take somehow 22 Bills again for consideration and passing. It would take a minimum of two sessions for doing so.
  • This directly means that earlier efforts of Lok Sabha for passing these 22 Bills have been rendered waste.
  • Among the 33 Bills that have survived in Rajya Sabha after the Lok Sabha term came to an end are some that have been pending for decades.
  • Three Bills have been pending for more than 20 years, six Bills for 10-20 years, 14 Bills for 5-10 years and 10 Bills for less than 5 years.
  • The oldest pending Bill, The Indian Medical Council (Amendment) Bill, 1987, has been pending for over 32 years.

Why it matters?

  • It takes considerable time and energy to get a Bill passed in either House of Parliament.
  • Given the implications for the functioning of Parliament and such lapses hampers productivity of the Houses of Parliament.

What can be done?

  • In order to streamline the process, VP suggested that if a Bill is not taken up for consideration and passing in Rajya Sabha within five years of introduction, such pending Bills should be treated as deemed to have lapsed.
  • The present dysfunctional, disruptive environment must change, urged VP.
  • Parliamentarians must use the time available for debates most productively.

Back2Basics

When does a Bill lapse in Indian Parliament? 

Depending on the status of the pending legislation, and where it originated, there are certain cases in which the Bill lapses on dissolution of Assembly.

  1. Bills originated in Lok Sabha
  • Any Bill that originated in the Lok Sabha, but could not be passed, lapses.
  • A Bill originated and passed by the Lok Sabha but pending in the Rajya Sabha also lapses
  1. Bills originated in Rajya Sabha
  • The Constitution also gives MPs in Rajya Sabha the power to introduce a Bill.
  • Therefore a Bill that originated in Rajya Sabha and was passed by it, but remains pending in Lok Sabha also lapses.
  • A Bill originated in the Rajya Sabha and returned to that House by the Lok Sabha with amendments and still pending in the Rajya Sabha on the date of the dissolution of Lok Sabha lapses.

When a Bill does not lapse

  1. Not all Bills, which haven’t yet become law, lapse at the end of the Lok Sabha’s term.
  2. A Bill pending in the Rajya Sabha, but not passed by the Lok Sabha, does not lapse.
  3. A Bill passed by both the Houses but pending assent of the President of India, does not lapse.
  4. A Bill passed by both Houses but returned by the President of India for reconsideration of the Parliament does not lapse.
  5. Some pending Bills and all pending assurances that are to be examined by the Committee on Government Assurances also does not lapse on the dissolution of the Lok Sabha.

Exceptions for a Joint Sitting

  1. Apart from the aforementioned exceptions, another situation when a Bill does not automatically lapse with end of the final Parliament session is if the president calls for a joint sitting to vote on a Bill.
  2. Article 108 of the Constitution states that the president may, unless the Bill has elapsed by reason of a dissolution of the LS, summon both Houses to meet in a joint sitting for the purpose of deliberating and voting on the Bill.
  3. If at the joint sitting of the two Houses, the Bill, with such amendments, if any, is passed by a majority of the total number of members of both Houses present and voting, it shall be deemed to have been passed by both Houses.
  4. However there is no provision of joint sittings on a Money Bill or a Amendment Bill.

What happens to Bills that have lapsed?

  • If a Bill is elapsed by virtue of one or more of the conditions explained above, it will have to be reintroduced in the new Lok Sabha (as is or with amendments) should the new government feel the need for it.

Alternative: Promulgating an Ordinance (Art.123)

  • The lapse of a Bill in Parliament still does not prevent the incumbent government from issuing an Ordinance to bring forth the legislation it intended to through the lapsed Bill.
  • According to the Constitution, the government of the day can bring in Ordinance if the Parliament is not in session and if the president is convinced of the urgency of the matter that it can’t wait till the House comes in session again.
  • The Constitution does not explicitly bans a government nearing the end of its term from doing so.
  • Since the lifespan of an ordinance in six months, or till the Parliament’s next session (which in this case will be after the election of 17th Lok Sabha) any ordinance promulgated by the current government is likely to outlive its tenure.

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

[op-ed snap] Evaluating the panchayati raj institutions at 25

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: 73th Amendment(read the attached story)

Mains level: A brief examination and introspection on panchayati raj system.


News

Context

  1. Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the 73th Amendment, a good time for some examination and introspection on panchayati raj
  2. Panchayati raj institutions(PRIs) are simultaneously a remarkable success and a staggering failure

25 years of panchayati raj institutions: A success or a failure?

  1. If the goal was to create another layer of government and political representation at the grass-roots level, then there is no parallel to the PRIs
  2. And if the goal was to provide better governance, then PRIs are a failure and not equipped to succeed anytime in the foreseeable future

Greater representation for women

  1. There are about 250,000 PRIs and urban local bodies, and over three million elected local government representatives
  2. The 73rd and 74th Amendments required that no less than one-third of the total seats in local bodies should be reserved for women
  3. At 1.4 million, India has the most women in elected positions. Seats and sarpanch/pradhan positions were also reserved for SC/ST candidates
  4. While India has always had reservations for elected representatives from disadvantaged groups like SC/STs, this is the only level of government with reservation for women

On all other margins except representation, PRIs are either a failure or a series of missed opportunities
The first failure: Very little devolution of authority

  1. The transfer of various governance functions—like the provision of education, health, sanitation, and water was not mandated
  2. Instead the amendment listed the functions that could be transferred, and left it to the state legislature to actually devolve functions
  3. There has been very little devolution of authority and functions in the last 25 years
  4. PRIs cannot govern unless they are given the authority to actually perform functions related to governance

The second failure: The lack of finances for PRIs

  1. Local governments can either raise their own revenue through local taxes or receive intergovernmental transfers
  2. The 73th Amendment recognized both forms of public finance, but did not mandate either
  3. The power to tax, even for subjects falling within the purview of PRIs, has to be specifically authorized by the state legislature
  4. The 73rd Amendment let this be a choice open to the state legislatures—a choice that most states have not exercised
  5. The constitutional amendment created provisions for State Finance Commissions to recommend the revenue share between state and local governments
  6. However, these are merely recommendations and the state governments are not bound by them
  7. As a result, PRIs are so starved for funds that they are often unable to meet even payroll obligations
  8. They are reluctant to take on projects that require any meaningful financial outlay, and are often unable to solve even the most basic local governance needs

What should be done?

  1. The only long-term solution is to foster genuine fiscal federalism
  2. where PRIs raise a large portion of their own revenue and face hard budget constraints, i.e. fiscal autonomy accompanied by fiscal responsibility
  3. Without the functions and finances, PRIs will only be an expensive failure

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

[pib] Rashtriya Gramin Swaraj Abhiyan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Rashtriya Gramin Swaraj Abhiyan, National Panchayati Raj Day

Mains level: Local governance and issues related to it


News:

  • The Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi will launch the Rashtriya Gramin Swaraj Abhiyan from Mandla in Madhya Pradesh on the occasion of National Panchayati Raj Day.
  • The Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Abhiyan will strengthen the Panchayati Raj system across the country and address critical gaps that constrain its success.

RGSA seeks to:

  • Enhance capacities and effectiveness of Panchayats and the Gram Sabhas;
  • Enable democratic decision-making and accountability in Panchayats and promote people’s participation;
  • Strengthen the institutional structure for knowledge creation and capacity building of Panchayats;
  • Promote devolution of powers and responsibilities to Panchayats according to the spirit of the Constitution and PESA Act;
  • Strengthen Gram Sabhas to function effectively as the basic forum of people’s participation, transparency and accountability within the Panchayat system;
  • Create and strengthen democratic local self-government in areas where Panchayats do not exist;
  • Strengthen the constitutionally mandated framework on which Panchayats are founded.

National Panchayati Raj Day

  • It is the national day of India celebrated by Ministry of Panchayati Raj on 24 April annually.
  • Then Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh inaugurated the first National Panchayati Raj Day in 2010.
  • It is on this day The Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 that came into force.
  • This date thus marks a defining moment in the history of decentralization of political power to the grassroots level. 

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

Prime Minister to launch ‘Gram Uday Se Bharat Uday’ campaign

  1. News: The Centre, in collaboration with States and panchayats, will launch a 11-day, nation-wide village self-governance campaign.
  2. Aim: To improve rural livelihoods and strengthening the Panchayati Raj across the country,
  3. It will begin on April 14 from Mhow in MP, on the occasion of 125th birth anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
  4. Activities: A social harmony programme along with village farmer assemblies will be held in gram panchayats, focussing on agriculture and farmers
  1. News: The Centre, in collaboration with States and panchayats, will launch a 11-day, nation-wide village self-governance campaign.
  2. Aim: To improve rural livelihoods and strengthening the Panchayati Raj across the country,
  3. It will begin on April 14 from Mhow in MP, on the occasion of 125th birth anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
  4. Activities: A social harmony programme along with village farmer assemblies will be held in gram panchayats, focussing on agriculture and farmers

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

50% quota for women in panchayats planned

  1. Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj would be pushing a Constitutional amendment for PRIs
  2. It seeks to increase the reservation for women in panchayats from 33% to 50% in the budget session of Parliament
  3. Already, States like MP, HP, Bihar and Uttarakhand have provided 50% reservation to women in panchayats
  4. It would also bring changes in the law to reserve a particular ward for women for 2 terms of five years each
  5. This will ensure that they can undertake developmental activities in a continued fashion
  1. Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj would be pushing a Constitutional amendment for PRIs
  2. It seeks to increase the reservation for women in panchayats from 33% to 50% in the budget session of Parliament
  3. Already, States like MP, HP, Bihar and Uttarakhand have provided 50% reservation to women in panchayats
  4. It would also bring changes in the law to reserve a particular ward for women for 2 terms of five years each
  5. This will ensure that they can undertake developmental activities in a continued fashion

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

Newly-formed Panchayats get HC Axe

  1. Kerala High Court quashed the notifications creating new panchayats by carving out parts of existing villages without notification by the Governor.
  2. According to Article 243 (g) of the Constitution, a village can come into existence only after a notification by the Governor.
  3. No panchayat can be formed without first conferring the status of a village to an area where the panchayat is to be formed.
  1. Kerala High Court quashed the notifications creating new panchayats by carving out parts of existing villages without notification by the Governor.
  2. According to Article 243 (g) of the Constitution, a village can come into existence only after a notification by the Governor.
  3. No panchayat can be formed without first conferring the status of a village to an area where the panchayat is to be formed.
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