ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Burying Grass-roots Democracy

Educational cut-offs for panchayats discriminate against women and the poor.

Why meddle with a system that has been functioning reasonably well since 1993 when the 73rd amendment was passed to facilitate direct elections to panchayats? More than 22 years later, why have the Governments of Rajasthan and Haryana felt compelled to amend the law? By laying down a minimum educational level for candidates, both governments have undermined the fundamental spirit that led to the passage of this amendment in the first place. While Rajasthan hassucceeded in pushing through the changes by first passing an ordinance, quickly holding elections and thereafter passing the law, Haryana has been stopped in its tracks. The Supreme Court is currently hearing a challenge to the law.

Even as the case is being argued in the apex court, it is important to look at the compulsions that led these governments to introduce these changes. States have enacted their own laws in line with the 73rd amendment and over time several states have included additional eligibility criteria. For instance, in Odisha, knowing how to read and write Odia is a requirement even though the same does not apply to elected members of the Legislative Assembly or Parliament. In Haryana, Rajasthan, Bihar and Karnataka, having a functional toilet is a precondition to standing for elections. Other, more bizarre, conditions include provisions in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Tamil Nadu where a “deaf-mute” cannot contest; in Odisha and Rajasthan a person suffering from leprosy is ineligible; in Odisha a person afflicted withTB cannot stand; and in Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Maharashtra, anyone with more than two living children is ineligible to stand for panchayat elections.

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