Amid opposition and a walkout by the Congress, the state assembly on Monday passed the Haryana Panchayat Raj (amendment) Bill, 2015, stipulating a minimum educational qualification for those contesting panchayat elections.
The bill, which replaced an ordinance promulgated by the state government in August, also lays down that contestant for elections to panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) should not be not chargesheeted by a court for a grave criminal offence, should have cleared their electricity bills, should not figure on the cooperative loan defaulters’ list and must have a functional toilet at their home. The ordinance which was stayed by the Punjab and Haryana high court has been withdrawn by the state government, said parliamentary affairs minister Ram Bilas Sharma. “Prescribing minimum standards of education will not only help in augmenting the performance of the panches, sarpanches and members of panchayat samiti and zila parishads but also reduce the chances of them being misled besides ensuing accountability. In view of good literacy rate in the state, election of educated candidates to PRIs will prove to a catalyst for faster and sustainable development of villages,’’ said the statement of objects and reasons of the bill.
The amendment bill makes educational qualification -matriculation for general category candidates, eighth for women and scheduled caste candidates -- mandatory for contesting elections to panchayati raj institutions. Also, persons against whom charges have been framed by the court for grave criminal offences punishable by not less than 10 years’ imprisonment will also not be allowed to contest the PRI elections till acquitted by the court. Besides, only those who have cleared their outstanding electricity bills (domestic rural connections only), were not defaulters of cooperative loans and have a functional toilet at home will be able to contest the elections.
Congress MLA Karan Singh Dalal simultaneously moved an amendment bill seeking removal of the amendments proposed by the government and insertion of a clause which entailed an oath by the contestants that they would not distribute money and liquor in the elections.
Opposing the proposed amendments, Dalal said that if at all an educational criterion has to be fixed, it should be first for MPs and MLAs. “Those who live in glass houses should not pelt stones on others," Dalal said.
Opposing the proposed amendments, leader of the Opposition in the assembly Abhay Singh Chautala said that these would create complications. Chautala quoted the example of educationally backward Mewat district where villagers were marrying educated girls from far-off places like Hyderabad to put them as proxy candidates in elections.
Speaking on the bill, INLD MLA from Ferozepur Jhirka, Naseem Ahmed said that educational criteria should not be implemented in Mewat which had 89% school drop-out rate. “In neighbouring Rajasthan where such criteria had been fixed, there are 270 cases of contestants submit fake certificates," he said.
Chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar said that since a large number of educated youngsters are now coming forward to contest elections at every level, there should not be a problem in getting educated contestants.
Supporting the amendments, BJP MLA from Nangal Chaudhary Abhe Singh Yadav said that this bill was a sign of maturity of democracy. “Often illiterate sarpanches blindly sign on resolutions and papers without realising their import. The educated PRI representatives will have an advantage now," he said.
Defending the amendment and replying to Dalal’s assertion to fix educational criteria for MPs and MLAs, development and panchayat minister OP Dhankar said the state government was doing whatever was in its domain to improve grassroot democracy.
Next session in Nov, says Khattar
Meanwhile, chief minister Khattar said the next session of the assembly would be held in November.
The statement came in the wake of the chief minister's statement that next Vidhan Sabha session could be convened early so that legislators could raise the issue concerning the state and its people.