Illiterate in rural areas choosing ‘dark ages’, Haryana tells SC

The Haryana government on Tuesday blamed the illiterate sections of the rural population for choosing to live in “dark ages” by refusing to take advantage of educational facilities being made available to them coupled with mid-day meal, free uniform and books.

Appearing for the state, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told a bench of Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice Abhay Monohar Sapre that Haryana has provided every facility for pursuing school education in rural areas and if people still don’t avail of it and choose to remain in “dark ages”, then what could it do.

“I can take a horse to a pond but I can’t make him drink water,” he said, to express the state government’s predicament if people choose not to send their children to school for getting education.

Rohatgi noted that the constitution had envisaged reservation for ten years, but even after 70 years, people are not moving forward.

“Constitution said that you will get reservation for 10 years and after 70 years, you say ‘I will remain where I am. I will not move with the progress of the country and remain in dark ages’,” he told the court that education was really catching up as he gave the example of “well behaved” and “well dressed” students of a hill state who walk five to 10 km to attend their schools.

Rohatgi’s arguments came as while defending 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.

Appearing for petitioner Rajbala who has challenged the validity of the amendments, counsel Kirti Singh said that the impact of the changes in the panchayat law would be “extremely exclusionist” affecting the poorest of the poor sections of the rural society.

To gauge the impact that amended law would have on the pattern of contesting candidates, the bench inquired how many people who now stand disqualified under the amended law had contested elections on earlier occasion.

To this, Kirti Singh said in the last panchayat elections at various level there were 67,827 contestants out of which 20,392 (about 30 percent) were totally illiterate and 25,334 (about 37 percent) were under matriculate.

Senior counsel Indira Jaising said that the amendments have to be examined in the context of the avowed objective of the pachayati raj law which was the empowerment of the people in the rural India and to strengthen grassroot democracy.

She said that educational criteria alone takes away more than 50 percent of the rural population outside the stated objective of the empowerment of the people and thus could not be justified.

Jaising had appeared for NGO PUCL opposing the near similar changers in Rajasthan panchayat law.

The Rajasthan government had December 20, 2014, promulgated an ordinance by which a contestant for zila parishad or panchayat samiti should have passed class 9 and be admitted to class 10 but may not have passed it.

Similarly, the contestant for sarpanch of panchayat in scheduled area and non-scheduled areas should have passed class five and class eight respectively.

The latter ordinance became a law.

Hearing will continue on Wednesday.