The announcement of a cash incentive of Rs 10 lakh by the Telangana government to every gram panchayat which elects sarpanches unanimously during the ongoing panchayat elections in the state has led to a virtual “auction” of sarpanch posts in several villages. The State Election Commission is conducting elections to gram panchayats in three phases — January 21, 25 and 30. The nominations for the first phase closed on Wednesday. In all, elections are being held for 12,732 gram panchayats across 31 districts.This year, the government enhanced cash incentive from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh for the gram panchayats which elect their sarpanches unanimously, in order to avoid the election process. In some areas, local MLAs and MPs are also reportedly offering additional cash incentives to encourage unanimous elections.For instance, in Siricilla, local MLA and TRS working president K T Rama Rao announced an additional cash incentive of Rs 5 lakh to such panchayats having unanimous elections. Similarly, in Nalgonda, local MP Gutha Sukhender Reddy offered an additional Rs 10 lakh from MP Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) for development of panchayats having unanimous elections.While this has inspired several villages to go in for unanimous elections as the cash incentive would help the village take up some developmental works, it has also led to auctioning of the sarpanch posts in some villages, where there is a stiff competition for the same.For example, in Gurrampodu village in Nalgonda, a woman candidate is all set to get elected as sarpanch “unanimously,” as her husband reportedly bid Rs 63.03 lakh to bag the post. There were three other contenders for the post and they are going to withdraw their nominations before January 13 as per the agreement.However, there is nothing official about this “auction” as it does not happen openly. Reason: the State Election Commission has strictly warned against auctioning or selling of sarpanch posts as it is an electoral malpractice under section 211 (1) of the Panchayat Raj Act, 2018, besides a crime under sections 171 (B) and 171 E of IPC with one-year imprisonment.“If it is proved that any candidate bought the sarpanch post through auction, he will be disqualified and his election will be declared null and void. The commission will re-notify fresh elections there,” state election commissioner V Nagi Reddy said.When contacted, Ravi Kiran, a mandal parishad member of Gurrampodu, denied of conducting any open auction for the sarpanch post. “Our elders have brought all the contestants together and convinced them to have a unanimous election for the sarpanch post, since the government is going to give a cash incentive. We have agreed to elect a consensus candidate unanimously,” he said.Similar reports of “auctioning” of sarpanch posts were reported from Chamaledu and Mailavaram vilages, where the posts were sold out for Rs 16.5 lakh each. In Gorikothapalli village of Jayashankar Bhupalpalli district, the sarpanch post was reportedly auctioned for Rs 15 lakh.A TRS leader in Nalgonda said the amount bid by the winning sarpanch candidate would be deposited in the account of village development committee, along with the cash incentive given by the state government. “We shall use the money for taking up developmental works in the village. What is wrong in it?” he asked.