The Rajasthan government is upbeat about the two amendments it has recently made to The Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act, 1994 – first making it mandatory for candidates to own a sanitary toilet, and two, to have a certain educational qualification.
But the political workers on ground are not very happy with the new eligibility criteria, as they feel these rules will render a large number of people ineligible for panchayat elections. They also point out that there are no such eligibility criteria for elections to state Assemblies and Parliament.
However, officials of the Panchayati Raj (PR) Department have grounds to defend the decision. “Today, more than 4,000 panchayat representatives are facing inquiries by the department, and most of them tell us that they didn’t know the rules/ schemes when they come to record their statements,” said a top official of the department.
There are also cases of corruption, embezzlement, forgery etc. against panchayati raj institutions (PRI) representatives. Most of them, especially women, are hardly literates – and hence gullible, he added.
A sarpanch, the official explained, is executive agency for 90% of PR and Rural Development (RD)works - he/she sign files, gives sanctions, issues cheques - therefore it is only fit that he/ she has a basic level of education.
The amendment makes class V for a sarpanch in the tribal areas and class VIII in non-tribal areas as the eligibility criterion.
The fund flow in PR and RD departments is to the tune of thousands of crores — this year, the funds for PR is Rs. 4,907 crore, Rs. 1,958 crore for RD and Rs. 3,000 crore for NREGS and Rs. 1,200 crore for watershed — and each sarpanch deals with approximately one crore rupees in a year.
“An educated representative will not only feel more empowered but also have a better understanding and implementation of schemes and works – that was the basic thought behind bringing in this amendment,” said Rajesh Yadav, secretary and commissioner, PR department.
About the toilet criterion, another official said a PRI representative is supposed to be leader of his community and he has to lead by example.
“We have defined what kind of toilet a candidate needs to own before he becomes eligible for election — it has to be a functional sanitary toilet in the house and no member of his/ her family should defecate in the open. It should be a water-sealed toilet system or setup surrounded by three walls, a door and a roof,” he explained.
However, the grass roots are not too excited about these new rules. Pradhan of Chohtan panchayat samiti in Barmer district, Shama Khan, said it is a good decision for women empowerment but it will rule out most people from SC communities and the minorities since the level of education is very poor among them.
“I had many women from Koli and Bheel communities who were illiterate, now such women will never get into the panchayati raj,” she said.
Lokesh Kalal, 27-year-old social activist, who runs the Udaipurbased Alfa Educational Society that helps rural youth understand democratic processes, said many tribal youth leaders will be out of the race now.
“In the tribal areas, child labour, migration and poor financial status are still issues that dog the youth. But, yes, it is good inasmuch as it will prevent old politicians, who are dominant in their areas and are barriers to new people,” he said.