Contesting elections without full knowledge

This has been revealed in a sample survey of 405 candidates in Dakshina Kannada, Dharwad, Gulbarga, Kolar and Mandya districts, undertaken by the Centre for Decentralisation and Development, ISEC, Bangalore.

Elections to 88,245 seats in 5,476 Karnataka GPs have resulted in considerable enthusiasm and a large number of persons have filed nomination forms. The average number of prospective candidates per GP is very high: in Mandya around 55, while it is low in Dakshina Kannada at 29.

Are prospective candidates aware of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act and Karnataka Panchayat Raj Act, 1993? About 90 per cent of the candidates stated they have not heard of these Acts, though education levels among them tend to be better.

Nevertheless, awareness on some legislative provisions of the GP system has been found to be good. This is particularly in the case periodicity of GP elections. Almost everyone is aware that elections to GPs should be held once in five years. Nearly 54 per cent of the candidates correctly stated that the tenure of president and vice-president is 30 months, although, on the flip side, nearly 30 per cent noted that the tenure is five years and 16 per cent said they did not know.

Almost all candidates acknowledge that reservations is provided for in the Panchayat Raj system and that they were in its favour. But not many are aware why reservations have been provided to SC/ST, backward castes and women.

As per the legislation, elections to GPs are to be held on non-political party basis. But nearly 40 per cent of them are not aware of this. This is not surprising given that elections to GPs, in reality, are fought along political party lines in Karnataka.

Every GP will have three standing committees, namely, production committee, social justice committee and amenities committee. Shockingly, a large proportion of the prospective candidates said they were unaware of these committees, and only 9 per cent correctly stated the names of the panels. Similarly, many candidates were not aware of important meetings that are held by GPs.  This is perhaps indicative of the meagre role that these committees and meetings play in the decision making relating to important rural development functions.

According to the 73rd Constitutional Amendment, a state government can transfer up to 29 rural development functions to Panchayat Raj institutions. In Karnataka, all the 29 functions have been entrusted to such institutions. Most prospective candidates were aware of some important functions, if not all, assigned to GPs. However, quite a few admitted they are unaware of the assigned functions.

In Karnataka, taxes and non-taxes are levied by Panchayat Raj institutions under the Karnataka Panchayat Raj Act, 1993. The taxation powers vest with only GPs. Section 199 of the Act specifies that each GP can levy and collect the taxes (on buildings, vehicles other than motor vehicles, advertisement and hoarding), user fees on drinking water, and cess on light, education, water and library.

Many of the prospective candidates mentioned collection of house tax, cesses and water user charges as important tax powers, while a few admitted they were unaware of such powers. Similarly, awareness levels on funds from higher levels of government and last year’s GP budget were low and uneven across the prospective GP candidates.

Prospective candidates should have paid house tax; otherwise, their nomination forms will be rejected. The evidence shows two important trends. First, contrary to the general trend, the households of almost all the prospective candidates have paid house tax. Secondly, such payment has been done just a day or a week before filing nominations and mainly to avoid disqualification rather than as a good principles to be followed by citizens.

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