Relevance : GS Paper II (Polity and Governance)
Theme of the article
Local bodies must not be administrative vessels for implementing programs of the Central and State governments.
Why has this issue cropped up?
One of the first decisions of the newly elected government in Rajasthan has been to scrap the minimum educational qualification criteria for candidates contesting local body elections.
What were the educational criteria?
- The previous government had introduced amendments which 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.
Supported by Supreme Court
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.
The problems with educational criteria
- RIGHTS: 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.
- MARGINAL SECTIONS: 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 fulfill its constitutional obligations.
- OTHER ELECTIONS: Such restrictions do not exist for those contesting parliamentary or Assembly elections.
- ASSUMPTION: It is an ill-informed assumption that those with formal education will be better in running panchayats.
- 73rd and 74th AMENDMENTS: 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.
Denying local democracy
- The undermining of local governments as representative institutions does not take place solely through the introduction of restrictions for contesting elections.
- ELECTIONS: Over the years, many State governments have sought to defang local governments by simply delaying elections on various grounds. The continual delay in elections goes against the purpose of the 73rd and 74th Amendments.
- SEC : In most States, tasks like delimitation of seats are still done by the State government instead of the State Election Commission (SEC).
India prides itself as a robust democracy with regular elections and smooth transfer of power. However, delaying elections and adding restrictions to contest prevent local governments from becoming truly representative institutions.