On December 10, the Supreme Court dismissed a PIL challenging the validity of the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, 2015, which mandates educational and other norms for candidates contesting Panchayat elections.
As reported in the October 1-15, 2015 issue of MEL, the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, 2015, which was passed in the State Assembly on September 7, fixes minimum educational qualifications for candidates contesting the panchayat elections. It fixes matriculation as the essential qualification for male general candidates while the qualification for women (general) and Scheduled Caste candidates has been fixed at Class VIII. In the case of woman candidates belonging to SC category contesting election for the post of Panch (panchayat head), the minimum qualification has been fixed at Class V. The amended act also bars from contesting elections all those who have loan arrears due to co-operative banks, who have failed to pay electricity bills or do not have a functional toilet at their place of residence. It bars candidates who may have been convicted or face charges for an offence entailing a jail term of more than 10 years.
On September 17, the Supreme Court had issued a stay on this, in response to a petition filed by three persons rendered ineligible to contest the elections under the amended law. Now the Supreme Court has declared as constitutionally valid all five new conditions imposed by the Haryana Government for contesting panchayat elections in the state, holding that “educational qualifications were necessary for effective discharge of various duties of the panchayats” and that “the primary duty of any civic body was to maintain sanitation”. Elected representatives must be “an example for others”, the Supreme Court is reported to have said.
Communist Ghadar Party of India condemns this amendment by the Haryana government as yet another cruel attack on the right of people to contest elections. Clearly this amendment is aimed at further marginalising the working class, peasantry, women and poorer sections, thereby strengthening the domination of the rich and propertied sections over the village and district local bodies.
Those petitioning against the amendment have pointed out that 83 per cent of Dalit women, 71 per cent women in general and 56 per cent men would be excluded from contesting the panchayat elections as a result of this amendment. This amendment makes a complete mockery of the much touted 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendment Bills, which were introduced to allegedly empower people at the grassroots, through the Panchayati Raj or local self government process.
The existing political process in our country is designed to completely marginalise the working and poor masses. The big bourgeoisie, through their political parties, exercise the right to decide who should be the candidates for the elections at various levels. People do not enjoy the right to select their own candidates. They have no mechanism by which they can demand accountability from their elected representative or seek his recall, if he violates the people’s interests. People have no power to influence any decisions made by the government, which are inevitably made to serve the interests of the big capitalist monopolies. People have no power to initiate legislation.
On top of all this, if criteria such as educational qualification, ability to pay back loans and electricity dues, having functioning toilets at home, etc. are imposed, as the Haryana government’s amendment to the Panchayati Raj Act aims to do, then this amounts to the government punishing the poor for the failure of the present political system to provide education, ensure a decent livelihood and proper sanitation and living conditions to the vast masses of workers, poor peasants, dalits and women. The fact that even today in our country masses of the people in urban and rural areas are deprived of even these most basic conditions of human existence is a glaring indictment of the prevailing system. To blame the people, who are the victims of this system, for their conditions and then to use this to further marginalise them from the political process – this reveals the utter criminality of our ruling class. These amendments will make it even more difficult for poor people, the workers and peasants, those who really want to bring about a change in the conditions of society, to select candidates from among their midst, or to stand for elections and challenge the stranglehold of the established political parties of the ruling big bourgeoisie over the political process.
The need of the hour is for the workers, peasants and all the poor and oppressed to unite and fight for renewal of the political system and process, so that people are truly empowered to take decisions, to establish mechanisms to implement them and to ensure that the entire economy and society are run in the interests of the working masses.