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Educational criteria as a condition to contest local body elections:UPSC

 

One of the first decisions of the newly elected Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan has been to scrap the minimum educational qualification criteria for candidates contesting local body elections.

Background:

  • The Previous govt. of Rajasthan introduced a law that required candidates contesting the zila parishad and panchayat samiti elections to have passed Class 10 and those contesting sarpanch elections to have passed Class 8.
  • Further, it disallowed those without functional toilets in their home to contest. Following this, Haryana also introduced similar restrictions for contesting local body elections.

Current Context:

  • The new government of Rajasthan has abolished the condition of a minimum educational qualification to contest local body elections.
  • The latest decision of the Gehlot government has once again revived the debate on the fairness of having such restrictions.

Rajbala v. State of Haryana:

  • The decisions by the Rajasthan and Haryana governments were widely criticised and also challenged in the courts.
  • In December 2015, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Rajbala v. State of Haryana upheld the validity of the amendments to the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act.
  • In a contentious judgment authored by Justice J. Chelameswar, the court held that prescription of educational qualification was justifiable for better administration and did not violate the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution.

Impact of educational criteria for local body elections:

  • Prescribing educational qualifications for contesting elections is problematic in multiple ways.
  • Fundamentally, it unduly restricts a citizen’s right to contest elections and thereby challenges the basic premise of a republican democracy.
  • Denying the right to contest effectively restricts the right of a citizen to vote for a candidate of her choice since more than half the population is restricted from contesting.
  • Further, it disproportionately disenfranchises the more marginal sections of society: women, Dalits and poor.
  • In a country like India with unequal access to education, it is cruel to blame citizens for the failure of the state to fulfil its constitutional obligations.

Rationale for restrictions:

  • Beyond the correctness of these decisions, it is also important to look at the underlying rationale for introducing educational qualifications specifically for local government elections.
  • After all, such restrictions do not exist for those contesting parliamentary or Assembly elections. In fact, in the present Lok Sabha, 13% of MPs are under-matriculates, a share higher than those of women MPs.
  • In Rajbala, the Court held that prescription of educational qualification is relevant for “better administration of the panchayats”.
  • This approach goes against the very objective of the 73rd and 74th Amendments that sought to make panchayats and municipalities representative institutions with adequate representation from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women.
  • Though local governments now have a definite space within India’s constitutional structure, they are still seen as administrative vessels for implementing programmes of the Central and State governments.

Conclusion:

  • India prides itself as a robust democracy, at least in the procedural sense, with regular elections and smooth transfer of power.
  • However, the absence of elected councils in some local governments punches holes in this claim.
  • The lack of alarm caused by the denial of local democracy reveals our collective bias regarding the place of local governments.
  • Delaying elections and adding restrictions to contest prevent local governments from becoming truly representative institutions.

Source:The Hindu

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