SC upholds law on criteria for panchayat elections

SC upholds law on criteria for panchayat elections

SC upholds law on criteria for panchayat elections
In a judgment which could usher in reforms in grassroots democracy, the Supreme Court on Thursday upheld Constitutional validity of a Haryana law, requiring candidates in panchayat polls to have minimum educational qualification, to be free from debt and have toilet at home.

A bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Abhay Manohar Sapre said under the Constitutional scheme, every person, entitled to vote, is not automatically eligible to contest for every office as the Constitution itself imposes limitations on the right to contest depending upon the office.

“No one can dispute that education is must for both men and women as both together make a healthy and educated society. It is an essential tool for a bright future and plays an important role in the development and progress of the country,” Justice Sapre said in his separate and concurring verdict. To have toilet facility, Justice Sapre said, “is essentially in the larger public interest and is indeed the need of the hour to ensure its application all over the country and not confining it to a particular state”. 

According to the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, 2015, the minimum education to make a person eligible to exercise his or her constitutional right to contest in a panchayat election is matriculate pass in case of general candidates; Class 8 pass for a woman candidate or a candidate belonging to Scheduled Caste (SC); and Class 5 pass for a SC woman candidate contesting for the post of ‘Panch’.

Among the other grounds for disqualification from contesting polls are failure to pay arrears to any primary agriculture co-operative society or agriculture co-operative bank, failure to pay electricity bill arrears and not having a functional toilet at home.
Dismissing a petition against the law, the bench said there is nothing “irrational or illegal or unconnected” if the legislature prescribed minimum educational qualification for candidates. It held that basic education would “enable the candidates to effectively discharge duties of the panchayat”. “It is only education which gives a human being the power to discriminate between right and wrong, good and bad. Therefore, prescription of an educational qualification is not irrelevant for better administration of the panchayats,” Justice Chelameswar, who authored the judgment, said.

The court agreed with a plea by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi on behalf of Haryana government that the object of the law is to find “model representatives for local self-government for better administrative efficiency.”

With regard to insolvency criterion, the court agreed that rural India was reeling under agrarian debts and farmers were committing suicide to escape debt trap but noted that Haryana was “more prosperous” compared to other states.

Noting how Mahatma Gandhi tried his best to eradicate practice of open defecation with his writings and missionary zeal, the court said: “Those who aspire to get elected to civic bodies and administer them must set an example for others.” The court also recorded that the state government has been providing financial assistance for building toilets.

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