Hold the polls

The state government’s move in appointing administrators to gram panchayats (GPs) even as the term of the panchayats in the state is ending has rightly given rise to apprehension that elections to the grassroots democratic institutions are being postponed. The chief minister and the state election commissioner have declared that the elections would be held as scheduled, but if that were indeed so, the government would have announced the election date a month ago, and not gone in for placing the institutions under the rule of bureaucrats. Moreover, fears have been expressed in many quarters that the appointment of administrators is the first of a series of moves to ensure postponement lasting at least six months, if not more. Reports of the government contemplating filing of a petition in the high court for delimitation of panchayats, leading to prolonged litigation add to the apprehension. In normal times, the chief minister denying the postponement should have set speculation at rest, but the government’s shenanigans on the questions of holding poll to BBMP has not burnished its credentials.

Gram panchayats are the most crucial instruments of rural development. By all accounts, the decentralisation of power has led to improved delivery of services, accountability and transparency at the grassroots level. The reservation of seats for women, pioneered by Karnataka has brought a change of culture for the better in the GPs, so much so that against the reservation of 33 per cent, women constitute over 42 per cent of the seats, indicating approval of the performance of women as community leaders. Panchayats now have critical responsibilities at the grassroots level, including education, housing, natural resource management and livelihoods.

In this background, the state government’s dilly-dallying on GP elections calls for strong condemnation. An impression is sought to be given that the constitution allows postponement of elections to panchayats by up to six months. A closer reading of Article 243 and its sub clauses dispels such notions, and in any case, the supreme court’s benchmark ruling in the Kishan Singh Tomar case has laid down the responsibility on the governments for timely election to these bodies. Karnataka is a state which has the distinction of reviving the panchayat raj in the country. That is hard to believe, considering the attitude of the current government that is trying to force the GPs into a coma.

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