Anna Hazare has proposed a law that will recall non-performing MPs. Three states in India already recall leaders at the local level.
Team HT reports case studies from these states and asks those responsible for these recalls whether the model can work at the national level.
‘It’s a law for the influential’
Dewangarh, a hamlet in Punjab’s Patiala district, symbolises the way the right to recall has been misused in the state. Brick kiln worker Jaswinder Singh realised this when four of his colleagues used the law to prevent him from presiding over the panchayat for even a single day.
In 2008, the constituency was reserved for a male candidate from the scheduled castes (SC). Singh, the only SC candidate in the fray, was elected sarpanch. This annoyed residents of the village, dominated for years by members of the affluent Jat-Sikh community.
For one half of the five-year term, the the other four panchs didn’t attend a single panchayat meeting. As soon as the mandatory half term was over, they exercised the Right to Remove clause and removed Singh by passing a no-confidence motion against him.
The Right to Recall under section 19 of Punjab Panchayat Act, 1994, enables Panchs (elected members) to remove a sarpanch by moving a no-confidence motion.
“This law is a tool for the influential to destabilise legally elected people. How can they term me inefficient when they didn’t allow me to work for a single day?” asks Jaswinder. “I don’t know Anna Hazare, but whosoever is advocating for such a law, is working against the spirit of democracy,” he adds.
Jagtar Singh, who ousted Jaswinder, doesn’t see it that way. “If a person couldn’t manage to convene a single meeting of panchs, how can he resolve daily issues? This law provide us an opportunity to remove inefficient leaders.” Pala Singh, 65, a labourer, disagrees. “The right to recall is against the poor and will only serve the influential.”
— Vishal Rambani in Dewangarh
‘Recall law should extend to MPs’
Residents of Chehal Village in Patiala’s Bhadson block may not know the fine print of the Right to Recall act for which Anna Hazare is batting, but they have an idea about a law that came into play when their sarpanch was recalled.
Owing to factionalism between the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal panchs, Manjot Singh Pandher, the only member of opposition Congress party, was elected sarpanch. However, within a month, the Akalis decided to scuttle the functioning of the panchayat.
Fissures within the panchayat were derailing developmental projects. Then the politicians of the ruling Akalis managed to appoint an administrator to undertake developmental works and ignore the elected sarpanch. The administrator was told to work in close coordination with Pritiraj Singh, the senior-most Akali panch.
After the mandatory two-and-half year wait, the panchs moved a no-confidence motion against Pandher and ousted him.
“This law is dangerous for the democracy,” says Pandher. “First the panchs did not allow me to work by opposing each of my resolutions and later passed a no-confidence motion against me saying I was inefficient. Is it justified?” he asks. Pandher says such laws should be abolished as they lead to repeat elections and wastage of time and resources in legal battles. Instead, the government should reduce the term of the sarpanch from five years to four.
However, Pritiraj Singh’s supporters have a drastically different perception of section 19 of Punjab Panchayati Raj Act 1994. “We opted for this change because Pandher was unable to solve our problems. Such a law is needed in Parliament as many MPs complete their term without even asking a single question. It will help people recall inefficient parliamentarians,” said Kesar Singh, a Pritiraj protégé.
— Vishal Rambani in Chehal
‘It keeps leaders on their toes’
It was an interesting election. There were two sets of ballot papers prepared — one with a chair showing a woman sitting in it and the other empty. Voters were asked to put their seal on either. If the empty chair got more than half the votes, Shyam Bai would have been ousted.
Madhya Pradesh amended the MP Municipal Corporation Act 1956 and the MP Municipalities and Nagar Panchayats Act 1961 to introduce the right to recall mayors and chairpersons in 2000. Shyam Bai, the Dalit woman chairperson of the Sanchi Nagar Panchayat in Raisen district, formed in 1997, was among the first elected representatives to face a recall motion moved by the corporators in Madhya Pradesh. In May 2001, 12 out of the 15 councillors of the Nagar Panchayat submitted affidavits to the district collector demanding that she be recalled.
“I was ready to face the recall motion,” she says, adding that she didn’t really campaign to get people to vote in her favour.
On May 30, when the voting took place, Shyam Bai managed to get about 60 % of the vote and continued as chairperson for the rest of her term.
“I support this system of recall demanded by Anna Hazare even though I had to face one myself. After I won the vote, I became more confident and managed to get much more done for Sanchi,” she says. Her husband, Gopal Singh Mehar, too, supports Anna’s demand. “The system should be extended to the Vidhan Sabha and Parliament too,” he says.
Between the years 2000 and 2011, Madhya Pradesh witnessed as many as 27 recall motions. Of these, 13 saw the return of previously elected chairpersons while 14 were replaced.
— Rahul Noronha in Bhopal
He defied critics, returned to power
By 2009, nine years after an amendment was introduced to recall chairpersons and mayors in urban local self-government bodies in Madhya Pradesh, many more councillors had begun to exercise the option. The last recall motion where an elected representative was to face the electorate was in the Chitrakoot Nagar Panchayat in Satna district, about 550 kms from state capital Bhopal.
Ashok Kumar Sahoo was elected chairperson of the Chitrakoot Nagar Panchayat in December 2004. In March 2007, three months after the completion of the mandatory two-year period before which a recall motion can’t be brought in, Sahoo faced one. Thirteen out of the 15 councillors of the Chitrakoot Nagar Panchayat submitted affidavits demanding that Sahoo be recalled. The collector held one-on-one meetings with councillors and referred the matter to the state government.
Meanwhile, Sahoo filed a writ petition in April 2007 at the High Court at Jabalpur stating that 6 of the 13 councillors who had filed for the recall had withdrawn affidavits and wanted him to continue. The court heard the matter but eventually allowed the recall proceedings to go ahead and dismissed the writ in March 2009. Sahoo, however, managed to win the vote when voting was held in September 2009.
The Digvijay government in Madhya Pradesh brought in the system of recall in urban bodies in 2000. However, the question whether Panchayati Raj bodies should also be covered under the recall law is being discussed since. “There are some issues that need to be clarified. The state government does not want all levels of office-bearers of the Panchayati Raj institutions to be covered while the Election Commission feels that it should. We will have clarity on the matter soon,” says Madhya Pradesh Election Commissioner Ajit Raizada.
— Rahul Noronha in Bhopal
How the village booted out an inept, controversial leader
It is a case fit for recall. In late 2004, Sitaram Ganekar, a 49-year-old Mahar farmer in Chhattisgarh, was elected president of the nagar panchayat in the Nawagarh constituency, reserved for scheduled caste candidates. Within two years, his political foes questioned his caste credentials and raised doubts over his ability to meet the expectations of the panchayat.
He was termed an alcoholic and villagers alleged Ganekar was ignoring developmental projects. He faced a no-confidence motion and lost the recall vote. “Local leaders created controversy regarding the caste of my elder brother. We are from the scheduled castes. He got a stay from the High Court but was soon dislodged in the election under right to recall. He died five months later,” says his younger brother Ramesh Ganekar.
After his recall, Sitaram’s health had begun to deteriorate as he resorted to excessive drinking and became a recluse. “He developed ailments of the liver and kidneys because of his drinking habit,” Ramesh adds.
In the 2009 elections, Nawagarh — with a population of 10,540 people and 5,834 voters — was declared a reserved SC seat for women. Uma Ghosh, the sitting woman president, says the Act on right to recall will infuse accountability among elected representatives and make them visit their constituencies more often. “But it should not be used to mount disgrace upon any
elected representative,” says Ghosh.
— Ejaz Kaiser in Nawagarh
‘The law is in people’s interest, but is misused’
In January 2005, homemaker Bharti Sonkar, 38, won the elections to become president of the 15-member Gunderdehi Nagar Panchayat (NP) in Chhattisgarh’s Durg district.
Two years later, Sonkar, who won from a reserved OBC women’s seat, had to face resentment within her constituency for failing to deliver. She lost the recall polls held on June 15, 2008.
In the state, a no-confidence motion can be initiated against a president or corporator provided the municipal body has completed two years of existence and three-fourths of members write to the district collector saying they have lost confidence in the candidate. The State Election Commission can then order a recall election. “She had begun to interfere with development works and had become corrupt,” alleges Pramod Jain, 45, a BJP member in the panchayat.
Sonkar calls it a political conspiracy. “The BJP succeeded to rope in a few of our members. There was misuse of administrative machinery during the election held under the right to recall,” she says. In the elections held in January 2010, the villagers, however, brought back Congress candidate K Raju Chandrakar as the new president. “The return of Congress shows that the resentment was and not against the party but the individual,” said Chandrakar.
Despite suffering because of the law on the Right to Recall, Sonkar does not oppose it. “The law itself is good and in the people’s interest but it needs amendments to prevent its blatant misuse,” is her view.
— Ejaz Kaiser in Gunderdehi
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