Haryana puts off panchayat polls pending SC ruling

New Delhi/Chandigarh, Sep 22 (IANS) The panchayat elections in Haryana were put on hold on Tuesday as the state government asked the Supreme Court to decide whether educational qualification could be an eligibility criteria for candidates aspiring to contest rural local body elections.

An apex court bench of Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre was told by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi that the Haryana government would prefer the issue to be decided by the apex court, saying “we don’t want a half-way house”.

“It is best to decide the issue one way or the other,” Rohatgi told the court, which fixed October 7 for commencing hearing on a batch of petitions. These challenge the amendment to the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act, providing for several eligibility criteria, including minimum educational qualification, for the candidates.

The state election commission too told the apex court that it could not go ahead with the election process on the basis of its September 8 notification and would require to issue a fresh notification as it agreed with the Haryana government that the issue should be decided by the Supreme Court.

The Haryana assembly on September 7 passed a bill to make it mandatory for candidates for panchayat elections to possess minimum educational qualifications and also ensure that they have a functional toilet at home.

The state election commission on September 8 announced three-phase elections to three-tier Panchayati Raj Institutions, including nearly 72,000 posts of panchayat members, panchayat samitis and zila parishads. The polls were to be held on October 4, 11 and 18.

“Elections will be conducted for 393 posts of members of 20 zila parishads, 2,932 posts of members of 123 panchayat samitis and 6,197 and 62,471 posts of sarpanches and panches respectively,” State Election Commissioner Rajeev Sharma had announced.

As per the amended criteria, candidates were required to possess minimum qualification of matriculation (Class 10). The Scheduled Castes and women candidates were required to be middle pass (class 8) pass whereas women candidates from the Scheduled Castes were to be at least Class 5 pass.

Before the state assembly passed the bill, the BJP government in Haryana issued an ordinance in August regarding the educational and other qualifications. The Punjab and Haryana High Court put the ordinance on hold following a petition.

There was strong opposition to the move to force educational qualifications for panchayat elections as it rendered hundreds of sitting panchayat members and aspiring ones ineligible from contesting.

Apart from minimum educational qualifications and condition of functional toilet at home, candidates also should not have criminal charges pending against them, not have defaulted on loans from cooperative banks and should have paid electricity bills, the amended law read.

Over 1.10 crore voters are eligible to vote in the elections to the panchayati raj institutions in the state, including 5,104,621 women.

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