Two former chief election commissioners James Lyngdoh and SY Quraishi, several former justices of the Supreme Court, former judges of Rajasthan and other high courts, ex-bureaucrats, activists and other eminent persons have written an open letter to chief minister Vasundhara Raje against the new eligibility criteria in the panchayat elections.
They have strongly objected to the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj (Second Amendment) Ordinance, 2014, which has fixed minimum educational qualifications for those contesting panchayat samiti and zila parishad (district council) elections in Rajasthan.
In the open letter, they say that they are deeply distressed by this ordinance which will debar more than 90% of rural Rajasthani women from contesting elections.
The ordinance, which stipulates minimum educational qualification of secondary education (Class 10) for candidates contesting zila parishad or panchayat samiti polls and Class 8 pass to be eligible to contest sarpanch elections, will exclude more than 80% of rural Rajasthan’s population from contesting.
Letter points out that only 18% of rural Rajasthan’s population have studied beyond Class 5 and only a shockingly low 5% of rural women have education above Class 5, as per Census 2001 data.
Literacy rate for rural SCs is even lower - with less than 50% rural SCs literate and 31% rural SC women and 25% rural ST women literate.
Based on the 2010 panchayat polls, of the elected zila parishad members, 50% do not meet these educational standards with SC and ST being the worst affected with 61% and 63% respectively.
They have urged her to immediately withdraw this ‘retrograde, undemocratic and unconstitutional’ ordinance which was issued just days before the announcement of the panchayat polls in the state.
No consultations inside or outside the state assembly were made with respect to this ordinance.
The signatories include Justice Rajinder Sachar, Kuldip Nayar, Baba Adhav, Aruna Roy, EAS Sarma, Satyanand Mishra, Nandita Das, Nikhil Dey, Jagdeep Chhokar and Kavita Srivastava. The letter has also been endorsed by several prominent personalities including Justice SN Bhargava, Justice PC Jain, Justice VS Dave, Prof. VS Vyas (former deputy chairman, state planning board, Rajasthan), among others.