Education norm for panchayat polls takes away right of the derived sections, says Amartya Sen

Haryana and Rajasthan have laws that make education compulsory for contesting panchayat polls

GN Bureau | December 18, 2015



Do not deprive the right of the already deprived, was the anguished remark of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. Touching the subject on literacy as an essential criterion to contest panchayat elections, he said there is a need for a Constitution bench to deliberate on the supreme court's decision of upholding the Haryana government's decision.

To contest a zilla parishad or panchayat samiti seat, a candidate must have passed class 10 of the Board of Secondary Education or its equivalent. To contest for the sarpanch’s post in a non-Scheduled area, a person must have passed class eight and in a Scheduled area class five.

"We need to distinguish between what our objectives are and what is the state of the country... It does not mean that everybody should be literate and have a toilet in their homes and till that happens, we deny the people their privileges," Sen said during a discussion on his latest book 'The Country of First Boys' late on Thursday in New Delhi.

"We do not have to deprive the people who are already deprived and take away what is their privilege," he said. The noted economist also batted for a hearing of the matter by the Constitution bench of the Supreme Court.

The Haryana assembly had passed a bill in September making it mandatory for contesting candidates to possess minimum educational qualifications and also ensure that they have a functional toilet at home.

The court on December 11 upheld the Haryana state law mandating that only those having "minimum" educational qualifications will be eligible to contest panchayat elections.

Under the new law, contesting candidates require a minimum qualification of matriculation (Class 10).

Scheduled Caste and women candidates require middle pass (Class 8) qualification and women candidates from the scheduled caste category need to be at least class 5 pass.

In fact, Rajasthan also has similar law and when the ordinance on the issue was promulgated, many eminent persons had criticized it. 

Rajasthan was the first state in the country to fix a minimum educational qualification for contesting elections to the panchayati Raj Institutions.

The Rajasthan Panchayati Raj (amendment) Bill, 2015 makes Class VIII pass mandatory for the post of sarpanch — except in tribal reserved areas, where the minimum qualification is Class V — and Class X for zila parishad or panchayat samiti elections.

The amendments to Section 19 of the Rajasthan Panchayat Raj Act, 1994 also make a functional toilet mandatory in the house of a contestant.

During the debate in house,  state home minister Gulab Chand Kataria had said resistance to the law was not justified because the Opposition party had failed to provide even basic education to the people in its more than 60 years in power. Making toilets mandatory had given a push to the cleanliness drive. More than four lakh toilets were built only during the just-concluded elections.

The government had promulgated an ordinance specifying educational qualification for contestants on December 20, just before the panchayat elections were announced.

More than 200 cases have been filed against winners, accusing them of producing fake mark sheets to fulfil the eligibility criteria.

But the Rajasthan Ordinance was opposed by several persons, including former election Commissioners JM Lyngdoh and SY Quraishi, Aruna Roy of the Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, and former members of the judiciary. They wrote to chief minister Vasundhara Raje requesting her to withdraw the ordinance on the grounds that it is discriminatory and unconstitutional and will debar 80 per cent of the rural populace from contesting the elections. Census 2001 records that only 18 per cent of the State’s population has studied beyond class five. Rajasthan had earlier amended the act to debar persons having more than two children from contesting elections.

The “education ordinance” was preceded by an ordinance on December 8 which made it mandatory for a candidate to have a functional sanitary toilet, which meant a water-sealed toilet system or a set-up surrounded by three walls, a door and a roof. Candidates were required to give an undertaking that neither they nor their family members defecated in the open. The State Election Commission issued a circular on December 22 adding another amendment to the rules of the Act that the toilet needed to be clean and in working condition.

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