The Rajasthan high court on Thursday refused to immediately interfere with a state government ordinance fixing minimum educational qualification for candidates in panchayat elections, paving the way for the conduct of the three-phase local body polls from Friday.
Saying that the poll process is already on, the court said the petitioners will have to wait for the final order but appreciated some of the arguments made against the ordinance.
A two-judge bench headed by chief justice Sunil Ambawani passed the order in response to a bunch of petitions challenging the ordinance promulgated on December 20, 2014, prescribing minimum educational qualifications to contest the local body elections, which had drawn flak from activists among others.
The court observed that “neither the petitioners nor the respondent state has given any quantified figure to ascertain as to how many aspiring persons have been deprived due to the effect of impugned educational qualification clause added by way of ordinance.” The next hearing has been slated for March 2.
The petitioners had claimed that 80 per cent of Rajasthan’s rural electorate will not be able to contest the polls as they do not meet the norms and about 95 per cent women electorate will be similarly disqualified.
For sarpanchs, the minimum qualification is class 8 (class 5 in scheduled areas), while for zila parishad and panchayat samiti polls, the minimum qualification is class 10 pass.
After the setback, the petitioners said they will file a special leave petition (SLP) in the apex court.
“We elected (Narendra) Modi but we did not know they will choke our throat,” said Kamla Bai, a sarpanch and one of the petitioners.
Social activists Nikhil Dey felt the ordinance would assist only the rich people as educated people in rural Rajasthan are usually from economically well-off families.
“The ordinance is undemocratic as no consultation was done at any level of (the) state assembly or at (the) judicial level before passing it,” Dey said.
While the ruling BJP welcomed the order, state Congress chief Sachin Pilot said the tone and tenor of the court directive appeared that it was not in favour of implementing the ordinance.
“But there is constitutional binding as the election process has started,” he said.