Can’t banish 50% aspirants from poll fray, says SC

Jaswinder Singh Baidwan

Akhran da mureed
Staff member
The Supreme Court today told Haryana that it would be unfair to prevent about 50 per cent of the population from contesting the ongoing panchayat election by stipulating educational qualifications for the candidates.
A Bench comprising Justice J Chelameswar and AM Sapre described as harsh the educational norm being imposed under the newly enacted Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act 2015.
The government should take the blame for such a large section of the population remaining illiterate even 68 years after Independence instead of punishing them for their plight by banning them from entering the panchayat poll fray, it felt.
The Bench suggested that Haryana postpone the panchayat election process by a week so that it could hear the arguments and settle the issue that had implications for all the states.
Arguing for the state, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said he would suggest to the government not to enforce the educational norms for the ongoing election, and come back tomorrow with the state’s response. Accepting the suggestion, the Bench adjourned the hearing for tomorrow.
On September 17, the Bench had stayed the operation of the amended Act on a petition by Rajbala and two other aspiring candidates affected by the new law. The very next day, the state government approached the SC seeking vacation of the stay, but the Bench said it could hear the arguments only on September 21 (today) as the state’s application had not reached it.
Rohatgi argued for one hour today, but could not convince the Bench on the need for allowing the panchayat election to be held under the new law.
Describing the new law as progressive, the AG pleaded that elected village heads and members should have minimum educational qualification as each panchayat was nothing but a “mini state government” with financial and executive powers to plan and implement development schemes and impose and collect taxes and toll fee. Panchayats were supposed to maintain statements of accounts. How the panchayat members could ensure this if they were illiterate, he argued.
Unconvinced, the Bench pointed out that no such qualification was required even for MPs and MLAs. The AG said the apex court’s stay order had created an “uncertain and unsatisfactory” situation, besides having the potential to play havoc with the campaigning by shifting the focus on the educated versus the uneducated.
Rejecting this contention, the Bench said it was rather the state government which had precipitated the situation by hastily notifying the amendment just a day before the announcement of the panchayat election.
At this, Rohatgi said both the government and the SC were responsible. The AG also found fault with the apex court’s decision to entertain the petition by the affected candidates after the poll process had begun.
Rohatgi also pointed out that the SC had earlier approved the two-child norm imposed by Haryana and other states on the candidates contesting the panchayat election. Further, the SC recently refused to stay a similar law in Rajasthan on educational norms.
Unconvinced, the Bench said it was willing to hear the case from tomorrow on a day-to-day basis and decide the issue. Polling for the panchayat election is scheduled for October 4, 11 and 18. The nominations for the first phase closed on September 19, while scrutiny slated for today has been delayed till tomorrow in view of the case pending in the SC.
Under the fresh norms, the general category contestants should have passed matriculation, while women and SC candidates should have cleared 8th standard. The educational requirement for women candidates from the SC category was fifth pass.
Candidates also should not have defaulted on repayment of loans taken from cooperative banks and payment of electricity bills, besides having functional toilets at home.