Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Education, the Way Forwa­rd…

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With the Supreme Court upholding the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act 2015, will it usher in a new crop of competent and progressive leaders?
By Sucheta Dasgupta

Despite the outcry over the “undemocratic” nat-ture of Haryana’s new gram panchayat election law, the polls, themselves, were smooth sailing. The highlight of the first pha-se was that 67 percent of the new sarpanchs elected had passed Class X.

FARIDABAD, JAN 9 (UNI):- Election officials checking EVM machines before leaving for their respective polling stations for Haryana Panchayat Election-2016 on Saturday. UNI PHOTO - 72U
FARIDABAD, JAN 9 (UNI):- Election officials checking EVM machines before leaving for their respective polling stations for Haryana Panchayat Election-2016 on Saturday. UNI PHOTO – 72U

In December, the apex court upheld the controversial Haryana Panchayati Raj (Ame-ndment) Act 2015 which was cleared by the state assembly on September 7. Following in the footsteps of neighboring Rajasthan, the new act mandates educational qualifications for candidates among other freshly-appended eligibility criteria. These include having no pending power bills or loan payments and a working toilet at home. It drew much indi-gnation and protests from the media and rights organizations. Almost unanimously, the court order was slammed as being elitist and unrealistic.

Haryana is a state notorious for its khap bigotry, honor killings, rapes and crime. In any society, literacy and education need not lead to ethics and enlightenment but it could lead to good governance. Considering Haryana’s situation, it is also a means of enforcing social reform. Yet, many felt the legislation had been cleared too easily—the BJP holding a majority of 47 in the 90-member legislature. Others believe the verdict has not been a nuanced one.

FARIDABAD, OCT 25 (UNI)- A Kshatriya Mahapanchayat of NCR region on the Sunped village issue, being held in Faridabad on Sunday. UNI PHOTO-26u
FARIDABAD, OCT 25 (UNI)- A Kshatriya Mahapanchayat of NCR region on the Sunped village issue, being held in Faridabad on Sunday. UNI PHOTO-26u

The new rules would make at least 50 percent of outgoing sarpanchs ineligible for a ticket. Also, how can one be sure that grassroots leaders with the wrong political affiliation weren’t being targeted by what attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi called as “progressive lawmaking”? It has been reported that in some villages, no woman leader met the criterion of Class X qualification even in seats reserved for them, sparking fears of a possible eligibility crisis.

Most importantly, some critics called into question the constitutional validity of the law, claiming that the right to contest election is conceptually inseparable from the right to vote and that both are constitutional rights. Taking them away would disenfranchise the masses.

The top court, however, held in its judgment that “the right to vote and right to contest at an election to a panchayat are (indeed) constitutional rights subsequent to the introduction of Part IX of the Constitution of India. (But) both the rights can be regulated/curtailed by the appropriate legislature directly. Parliament can indirectly curtail only the right to contest by prescribing disqualifications for membership of the legislature of a state”.

The apex court held that the right to vote and right to contest for a panchayat are constitutional rights but both can be regulated by the appropriate legislature.

Citing the precedent of Javed vs the State of Haryana in which the court had ruled out his candidature in panchayat elections on the ground that he had more than two living children which violated one of the criteria, the bench headed by Justice J Chelames-war said that if we have to debar people from contesting, based on certain criteria, their numbers should not matter so long as it is still possible to hold the elections.

Clearly, while the right to vote has been deemed much more universal by the framers of our constitution, the choice of who would govern is a question, not of numbers, but, of suitability. After all, the idea is to find and have the best people govern us. And that’s why those with a criminal record are debarred from contesting polls.


Educational qualifications for legislators were discussed by the makers of our constitution, with our first president, Dr Rajendra Prasad, arguing in its favor. In this context, the argument that the government’s next step would be to introduce educational qualifications for voting is specious. It would, after all, lead to political disenfranchisement of the masses.

Rajasthan led the way last year in conducting polls to the local bodies with educational critieria. A village elected Delhi University student Vasundhara Choudhary (right) as sarpanch.

On January 10, Sonu Kumari, an SC candidate, was elected sarpanch of Bhalki village in Haryana’s Mahendragarh district. But, while the minimum qualification for Scheduled Castes women candidates is Class V, she has done her post-graduation. So have we been wrongly stereotyping Dalit women? If so, to what extent?

A glance at our census results shows that literacy has jumped by 10 percent (from 64.8 to 74) over the past decade (2001-11). In Haryana, it stands close to 77 percent. While 68 percent of Dalit women in Haryana have not received substantial education, 32 percent have and it is not so difficult today to lift oneself out of the morass of being uneducated.

It is, no doubt, elitism among the privileged that makes them unprepared to accept, for example, a vegetable-seller who can speak English but is nevertheless pursuing his BA in Hindi. The education bar for contesting a panchayat poll in Haryana has been set quite low. Ideally, instead of handing out tickets to corrupt loyalists and lobbyists, parties should give them out to the candidates from among the above-mentioned 32 percent.


But what about places where there are no schools? In fact, it was reported in December that just ahead of the polls, parts of the state did witness a mad rush for educated brides.

So why is education low in a state like Haryana known for its rich farmers? Surely, poverty cannot be the main reason. This is akin to Haryana’s slow progress in constructing toilets. In fact, the apex court after reviewing the progress of Haryana’s toilets construction scheme under the Swachh Bharat Mission had concluded: “If people still do not have a toilet, it is not because of their poverty but because of their lacking the requisite will. One of the primary duties of any civic body is to maintain sanitation within its jurisdiction. Those who aspire to get elected to those civic bodies and administer them must set an example for others.”

So it’s time for a reality check. State election commissioner Rajeev Sharma told India Legal that in the first phase of panchayat elections, 600 out of the 27,000 panch seats had no candidate. But he also said it was not likely that an entire gram sabha didn’t have any elected member. Asked if this would lead to a failure of governance, he said this had not been the case so far.

Incidentally, Rajasthan, which successfully conducted its first election with the new criteria early last year, could show the way. The BJP won, but by a narrow margin. However, 13 villages could not elect a sarpanch as there was no candidate who matched the educational criteria. These villages were governed by the district collector till the Election Commission held re-elections in July. Nine posts stayed vacant for which repolls were held this month. So there is always a way out if innovative methods have to work.

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