Taxation and Accountability in
Local Government: A Democratic
Deficit in Andhra Pradesh
This study looks at the vibrancy of local democracy through linkages between local tax collection and
accountability: When villagers pay taxes to the village panchayat are they more likely to hold the pan-
chayat accountable? Fifty villages in Andhra Pradesh were surveyed through 500 structured interviews.
The study found that in the low-tax environment where panchayats generally follow government-
established minimum tax rates, the level of taxation is not politically salient and has no acknowledged
impact on panchayat elections. Tax-paying villagers are more likely to participate in the panchayat when
residents have connections to outside parties and officials. Except in questions regarding the fairness
of internal distributions of works and services, panchayats appear more as the lowest end of the state
system than as local democracies. Local government in Andhra Pradesh has a democratic deficit.
Taxation, Panchayati Raj, Andhra Pradesh, local government, accountability
The study flows from a concern with the quality of democracy in India. In 2016, the author wrote about
democratic practice at the state level in Andhra Pradesh, drawing on the concept of democratic deficit to
show how high-level corruption and clientelism diminish the quality of democracy. In this study, I look
at the quality of democracy at the local level in the councils of Panchayati Raj. The article raises a
question as to how participatory is democracy at the local level in terms of tax collection, citizen
participation in decision-making and accountability of leadership.
The study draws on two traditions to elucidate the issues. The first is the signing of the Magna Carta
in England in 1215, the founding image of modern European democracy. This is when the English king
is thought to have bargained with nobles for more revenue in exchange for representation in governance
(Tilly, 2009). In fact, a modern study of 113 contemporary regimes found that a rise in taxes did not lead
to democratization, but a rise in the price of government services was associated with subsequent
1 University of Vermont, Burlington, United States
Carolyn Elliott, University of Vermont, 40 College Street, Burlington, VT 05401, United States.
Studies in Indian Politics
10(2) 201–213, 2022
© 2022 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions: