SC notice to AG on plea if panchayat polls should be subject to qualifications

New Delhi, July 26 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice to the Attorney General on a plea seeking pronouncement by a Constitution Bench whether those aspiring to contest panchayat elections could be asked to have certain educational qualification and other eligibility criteria including a functional toilet at their homes.

The bench of Justice Anil R. Dave, Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice L. Nageswara Rao issued notice to Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi as senior counsel Indira Jaising said that there has to be an exposition by a seven judges Constitution Bench whether right to contest was a constitutional right and if so what sort of restrictions could be imposed on it.

Indira Jaising, said this while arguing for two women panchayat members of Rajasthan, who have said that such qualifications have curbed their right to contest panchayat elections.

Jaising, who had argued the matter on Monday and on Tuesday as well took the court through the various judgments pronounced by the top court holding conflicting and divergent views on the nature of the right to contest — on whether it is statutory right, fundamental right or a constitutional right.

Jaising, batting for a seven judges Constitution Bench, said: “If it is a constitutional right, (then) we need an exposition that under what circumstances it can be restricted.”

The senior counsel said this while arguing for the petitioner Norati and Kamla who have challenged the dismissal of their plea challenging the constitutional validity of the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj (second Amendment) Act, 2015, by the Rajasthan High Court by its January 22, 2016, order.

Besides minimum educational qualifications, Rajasthan Panchayati Raj (second Amendment) Act, 2015, mandates that a person aspiring to contest rural local body election should make a declaration that he is under no debts to pay to a co-operative bank, no electricity dues are outstanding against him and has a functional toilet at home.

The petitioners – who are associated with the panchayats of their respective villages – have contended that by such qualifications their right to contest election to rural local body has been curtailed.

The Rajasthan High Court while dismissing the challenge to the constitutional validity of Rajasthan Panchayati Raj (second Amendment) Act, 2015, has relied upon Supreme Court judgment of December 10, 2015, by which it had upheld the provision for similar educational qualifications and eligibility criteria for those aspiring to contest the rural local body elections in Haryana.

The top court while upholding the educational qualifications and eligibility criteria in the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act had said that they were neither irrational nor illegal.

The top court had in the December 10 verdict said, “Object sought to be achieved cannot be said to be irrational or illegal or unconnected with the scheme and purpose” of empowering the rural people through local self-government.

“It is only education which gives a human being the power to discriminate between right and wrong, good and bad. Therefore, prescription of an educational qualification is not irrelevant for better administration of the panchayats”, the top court had said upholding the amendment to Haryana Panchayati Raj Act.



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