Journal Articles

Panchayat secretary: the last-mile bureaucrat

Rahul Verma, Nishant Ranjan

Centre for Policy Research

March 6, 2023

INDIA’S experiment with local governance in the last thirty years has seen a considerable body of scholarly research.1 However, the existing literature does not adequately engages with the role and responsibilities of government officials working as the last-mile bureaucracy. In this essay, we focus on one such village-level government functionary, namely, the Panchayat Secretary (hereafter, PS). The PS is the executive head of the panchayat secretariat and deals with a range of subjects devolved to gram panchayats (hereafter, GP) under the 73rd Amendment Act.2 It is important to note that local government is a state subject and thus the number of items devolved varies greatly across states. Similarly, some states in the recent years have massively increased their bureaucratic presence at the village panchayat and urban ward level.3

We collected information on panchayat secretaries from the Ministry of Panchayati Raj website in March-April 2021 that listed the name of secretary, panchayat name, block and district name, and last four digits of their official mobile number. This dataset helped us in creating a unique id for each PS, and our analysis revealed that while southern and eastern states had one PS per panchayat, the northern states had a lower ratio with one PS looking after many panchayats. We also collected information on population size of panchayats to test the average rural population size panchayat secretaries serve.4

We conducted fieldwork in three districts of Bihar in January 2022 to understand the role and responsibilities of panchayat secretaries, how they interact with citizens and elected representatives, and what challenges they face while discharging their duties. And to get a picture of variation across the states, we also conducted telephonic interview with more than two dozen panchayat secretaries across Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and West Bengal. These interviews, along with our analyses of government notifications, reveal that the duties and responsibilities of the PS are largely similar across states and regions. Most PS lack proper training, are overburdened with multiple tasks, which get reflected in many functions that the state hopes to perform with ease – such as counting births and deaths, welfare delivery, among others.

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