By YKA Staff:
The Supreme Court ruled last week that the law enacted by the Haryana government debarring persons without requisite education, among other criteria, from contesting Panchayat elections was valid.
The Haryana Panchayati Raj Amendment Act 2015 was passed by the state’s Assembly in September this year. It made it compulsory for candidates belonging to the general category to be at least matriculates although it allowed some relaxation in the criteria for women and Dalit candidates. The Act also made it mandatory for the candidates to have a toilet at home and to not be under debt.
The Hindu reported that the new law “leaves 68 per cent of the Scheduled Caste women and 41 per cent of the Scheduled Caste men in Haryana ineligible to contest panchayat elections.”
Another Indian Express report stated that such criteria for contesting local elections existed in other states too. For example, in Gujarat and Chhattisgarh, having a toilet at home is a must for any candidate contesting local polls. In Rajasthan, being matriculate is a must for contesting Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samiti polls.
The Tribune reported that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had expressed dissatisfaction with the Apex Court’s verdict and was planning to file a review petition.
Others have also expressed disapproval of the Supreme Court judgment. People’s Union for Democratic Rights, in a strong-worded statement, said that the decision amounted to “contempt of the people.” The PUDR statement pointed out that the Haryana government’s Act had made use of a “loophole” in the Representation of the People Act, which does not cover Panchayat elections and prescribes no rules for it.
The PUDR statement also noted that the SC judgment was making a distinction between statutory rights and fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution and placing the right to contest in the former category.
However, SC advocate Rajeev Dhawan said in a piece on the issue that the judgment was not right in making this distinction. “The derailment was that having established electoral rights as constitutional rights, it treated them as statutory rights without giving weight to their constitutional status,” the legal luminary wrote in his piece which termed the judgment “horrible.” K. Chandru, a retired judge at the Madras High Court pulled no punches, writing in The Hindu, and stated that the judgment was “anti-poor, anti-Dalit and pro-rich and if enforced will create oligarchies.” Chandru also noted that even for elections to legislative councils in states in which only graduates can vote, the candidate does not need to possess any educational qualifications.
Former Panchayati Raj minister Mani Shankar Aiyar also criticised the judgment and called upon the Parliament to set it right. Terming it the “most retrograde step taken in the history of panchayati raj”, Aiyar reminded the Court that if candidates were not educated enough, according to the new criteria, it was a failure of the state which was supposed to provide education to everyone under the Directive Principles included in the Constitution.