Haryana defends eligibility criteria for panchayat polls contestants

Haryana on Tuesday defended changes in the state panchayati raj law introducing educational qualification and other eligibility criteria for those aspiring to the contest panchayat elections saying that it could not leave the reins of rural local bodies in the hands of illiterate people.

“Everybody wants to contest some or the other elections but people don’t want to be educated. Why you will go to school if you know that without education, you can become sarpanch,” Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the state, told a bench of Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre.

He told the court that who knows a day may come when there may be qualification even to be a voter.

The court was hearing a number of petitions challenging the amendment to the panchayati raj law introducing educational qualification as one of the eligibility criteria for the candidates aspiring to contest elections. The candidate in general category should be at least matriculate and for those from reserved categories, have passed class eight.

Besides educational background, the amended Haryana law provides that those with criminal background, bank arrears and without toilet facilities at home are disqualified from contesting the elections.

Defending the amendments, Rohatgi told the court that panchayat members have to lead by example so that others could be inspired by them and go for education.

Telling the court that by amending the panchayati raj law, no “outlandish criteria” have been introduced that debars all from the election fray, he said that it could not be argued by the petitioners challenging the eligibility criteria that they have a right to vote and contest and “don’t care for other mandates”.

He said that one dimension of sarpanch was that he was a leader but other was that he was playing a qusai executive functions of economic development and social change.

Earlier appearing for the NGO PUCL relating to similar reservation in Rajasthan for contesting panchayat election, senior counsel Indira Jaising told to provide the education to the people was the mandate of the state and if it has failed, then onus could not be put on the people.

She told the court that the amendment under challenge takes away 67 percent of the rural population outside the election fray as they don’t meet the eligibility criteria of education.

Similarly for the toilers, she said that there was no water in a very large number of villages and the laws says that they need a residential accommodation with toilet. Noting millions and millions of people are roofless, she said by this law all are out of the fray, terming the amended law “both arbitrary and discriminatory”.