Top court erred on Haryana poll ruling

For those who expect the Supreme Court to up-hold the Constitution and ensure that citizens’ rights are not eroded in any way, its recent judgment upholding restrictions on people intending to contest the Haryana panchayat elections is a shocker. The Haryana amendment introduced minimum educational qualification, the prevalence of a functioning toilet at home and not having any loan arrears as prerequisites to contest the panchayat elections in the state. Three women challenged this amendment. An apex court bench comprising Justices Chelameswar and Abhay Manohar Sapre upheld the restrictions. Justice Chelameswar reasoned that it was education that gave the human being the power to discriminate between right and wrong, good and bad.  

The apex court, in one stroke, has made a vast majority of people in Haryana ineligible to contest. This contradicts the fundamental constitutional right of a citizen to contest elections. It also opens up a Pandora box of questions. The assumption that only the educated can make the right decisions is inexplicable. Also, it is not that the vast majority of people are wilfully against education but that poverty and extenuating circumstances at home have prevented them from studying. The issue of loan arrears is due to unpredictable circumstances in the agriculture sector that force farmers into a position of debt. Thousands of farmers have ended their lives over the last two decades precisely because of the vagaries of weather. To penalise the farmers for a situation that they were not responsible for, like failure of rains, or the slide in market prices, is unfortunate and unkind, to say the least.  

The court has also presumed that people like to defecate in the open and has therefore agreed that toilet facility at home is necessary for a person to contest the panchayat polls. This reading of the situation shows a serious disconnect between reality and the dreams of people. Toilet facilities are not found in many parts of rural
India and in the poorer neighbourhoods in urban areas because there are no functional water connections.

Either there is shortage of water or there is no proper drainage system, resulting in open-field defecation. Everyone would like to use modern toilets, including the marginalised sections. No one, especially women, would like to undertake the difficult task of defecating under open skies in a public space. To defang people, already suffering from poverty and living under dire circumstances, is undoubtedly cruel. By denying a large percentage of people the right to contest the panchayat polls, the top court has struck a body blow to an individual’s legitimate aspiration and diluted India’s democracy.

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