Those intending to contest gram panchayat elections in Haryana will have to be educated, not charge sheeted by a court for a grave criminal offence, should have cleared their electricity bills, should not figure on the cooperative loan defaulters list and should have a functional toilet in their home.
With an aim to bring reforms in electoral politics at the very grass root level, the BJP government in Haryana on Tuesday made educational qualification mandatory for contesting elections to panchayati raj institutions (PRIs). 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 bill (domestic rural connections only) and were not defaulters of cooperative loans will now be able to contest elections to PRIs.
The Council of Ministers headed by chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar on Tuesday decided to amend the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act, 1994 to slot in these provisions. An ordinance will soon be issued to make the amendments in the Act as the assembly session is likely to be convened after the PRI polls.
As per the first amendment, the minimum academic qualification for all levels of the elected representatives of PRIs will be class 10th. An official spokesperson however said that as a step towards affirmative action for ensuring that women and scheduled caste candidates were not placed in a disadvantageous situation, the minimum educational qualification for them will be class 8th. The spokesperson said this amendment will enable elected PRI representatives to be more accountable.
Another reason for prescribing minimum educational qualification is that even after the introduction of the 73rd constitutional amendment, illiteracy is a common excuse by the elected representatives for poor functioning of the gram panchayats, panchayat samities and zila parishads. Most of the elected members of PRIs remained dependent on others for function.
The second amendment in the Act will provide that persons against whom charges have been framed by a competent court for grave criminal offences punishable by not less than 10 years imprisonment will not be allowed to contest the elections till they are acquitted by the court.
At present those convicted by courts are debarred from contesting the elections but there were many instances when accused have been let off because of shortcomings in the investigation process and or non-fulfillment of technical qualifications like absence of sanction of prosecution or lack of strong prosecution by the public prosecutor.
Clear power bills
The amendment also provides that only those who have cleared their outstanding bills of rural domestic electricity connections will be able to contest PRI elections. The spokesperson said that PRI leadership has a vital role in ensuring that Power Utilities were able to collect payment for the bills raised for domestic connections. Inspite of the fact that the state government subsidies the agricultural power consumption of the farmers to a very large extent, the non-payment of the domestic connections in the villages is a serious cause for concern. Thousands of crores are pending on account of power dues in the state
Also, defaulters of cooperative loans will be debarred from contesting the PRI elections. The cooperative structure provides essential credit availability to the farmers by way provision of short term loans and medium to long term loans through the primary agricultural cooperative societies and agricultural rural development banks.
However, the level of non-payment of these overdue loans has led to situation where the Haryana State Cooperative Agricultural Rural Development Bank (HSCARDB) is under severe stress with its refinancing capability virtually left dry. Unless the outstanding dues are liquidated within a short duration, the very existence of the entire cooperative structure will be jeopardized, the spokesperson said.
Finally, candidates wanting to contest PRI elections will have to file self certified statements that there was a functional at their residence.