Saturday, December 12, 2015

[Editorial # 11] Illiberal law, roll it back

Scan Haryana’s statistics on key social indicators, and the picture that emerges is dispiriting. For example, in this State of rich farmers and networked urban centres, 41 per cent of Scheduled Caste men have not cleared class 8; and 68 per cent of SC women have not made it to class 5. Roughly 45 per cent of rural households do not have a toilet, and among SC households that figure rises to 55 per cent. Put together, it is a picture of failure of the government to fulfil the part of the essential contract that binds state and citizens: to provide the rule of law and social services. It was, therefore, an odd call to action by the Haryana government earlier this year when it passed the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act to debar exactly these citizens failed by the state from standing for panchayat elections. In a web of disqualifications, the full exclusionary potential of which is still not precisely calculated, the law debars from contesting men who have not completed matriculation, women who have not cleared class 8 (with the corresponding qualifications for SC men being class 8 and for SC women class 5), people who haven’t paid arrears for specified agricultural loans or electricity bills, and those who do not have a functional toilet at home. The law was challenged in court, and on Thursday the challenge was set aside by the Supreme Court.
It is unlikely that the government will file a review petition, given that the Bharatiya Janata Party is in power in Haryana and at the Centre. However, the case against the law must be made politically, and emphatically so. For one, what the courts have done is to uphold the power of the State legislatures to enact such laws — it follows that civil society must persuade political parties to rethink such qualifications, and to repeal the amendment in Haryana specifically and desist from introducing such legislation in other States. A liberal democracy must of necessity refrain from certifying who may contest elections to represent the people. It is dangerously illiberal to debar citizens from contesting elections when they are able to fulfil their responsibilities as panchs, or legislators, as the case may be. Indeed, curbs on particular categories of people, instead of individuals in breach of particular laws, from contesting elections carries the imprint of authoritarianism, and such restrictions have predictably been popular with military juntas, from Pervez Musharraf’s Pakistan (only college graduates could contest) to present-day Myanmar (the bar on those with foreign nationals as spouses or children is obviously targeted at Aung San Suu Kyi). For yet another State in India to join their ranks, even if it is for panchayat elections, is a setback for the world’s largest democracy.
1. What is Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act? Why is it in news?
2. Do you think Educational Qualification should be criteria for eligibility to contest elections?
3. What are the current qualification to be able to contest any election in India?
4. Which law prescribes such qualifications?
5. Are you eligible to contest elections? Do you satisfy the eligibility conditions? If yes then how?
6. What do you understand by Panchayati Raj?
7. What all institutions come under Panchayati Raj? Mention some examples?
8. Have you ever participated (voted) in a Panchayati Raj elections? Why or why not?


  1. The Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, 2015 is an Amendment Act passed by the Legislative Department of Haryana Government on 7th of September 2015, which has amended the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act (Act) of 1994.
    It has amended section 175 of the Act. It has inserted various qualifications that has to be fulfilled by candidates who are standing for Panchayat elections. These qualifications are as follow:
    1)one who fails to pay arrears of any kind due to him to any Primary Agriculture Co-operative Society, District Central Co-operative Bank and other such Bank. inserted by clause t in section 175.
    2) one who fails to pay arrears of electricity bills. clause u.
    3)one who has not passed matriculation examination. clause v, but for schedule caste woman minimum will be middle pass. and in case if election is for the post of panch then 5th pass.
    4) should have a functional toilet at residence.
    These amendments are facing severe criticism. Firstly because the lack of oppurtunity provided by the government to the people of Schedule caste and now suppressing their voice as to enforce some qualification which they cannot pass. Secondly inherent fault in government institution where there is no toilets provided to them and it becomes one of the criteria to stand for elections.

  2. There should never be educational qualification as a criteria for eligibility to stand for elections. In a country like India where there are so many people who are uneducated.(in terms of having degree. if you have degree you are educated) laying down such conditions will only take away one of the most fundamental rights to stand for elections in a unique democracy like India.
    It is only a misconception that laying down such laws will improve the efficiency and quality of our democracy. Being an Indian we all know its not so difficult to get a degree without even attending any educational institution. posing such qualifications will only take away the rights of people of weaker sections who cannot afford education and thus cannot stand for elections.
    Another misconstrued fact is education helps you to be an individual who can run such a unique democracy of India. I dont think sitting in some class can treat you how to be street smart and understand India. People who are Uneducated (so called) are far more aware of their politics when compared to an average educated man on the street.
    Such qualifications is only going to impose the will of elite who are educated on those who are underprivileged.
    If state cannot provide education to all how can it make education one of the criteria as eligibility for elections. Even if it provides for education, it cannot make it a criteria for eligibility in election. Being corrupt comes from within not from textbooks, such laws cannot curb corruption.(Examples could be economic crimes satyam scam, sahara case etc.)

    1. It is true that imposition of educational qualifications could severely restrict the number of candidates eligible to contest elections , especially when the elections under consideration are the local body elections and the candidates form a part of the rural population who, by and large have minimal educational achievements. The government's rationale is however justified in that education provides discriminatory capabilities, and perspective, and a higher awareness of the problems facing the people as well as the capacity to come up with more innovative solutions. The local bodies are the epitome of a democratic nation. Only when these are empowered to be the most efficient they can be will the country progress. . Lack of educational qualifications must not be made an excuse for mediocre administration of the country. Panchayats are also notorious for propagating and encouraging social and cultural prejudices , particularly in the form of gender bias and caste constraints.It has taken long enough for women to receive 33% representation in the Panchayati Raj system Instead, the government, citizenry and other civil society groups must make tangible efforts towards improving the existing educational infrastructure and the opportunities of the rural populace in accessing such infrastructure. There may initially be a backlash against such a legislation ,but in the long run this could well lead to a more educated, capable and efficient local administration, which is not plagued by the problems of tradition and social and cultural prejudices and constraints.

  3. The Representation Of The People Act, 1951 in Chapter I provides qualifications for membership of Parliament(Sections 4 & 5).Chapter II provides qualifications for membership of state legislatures( Sections 5 & 6) and Chapter III provides for disqualifications for membership of Parliament and state legislatures(Section 7 & 11).

  4. The Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act 2015 has turned out to be a contentious issue on the matter of grassroots democracy and representation. The act has been passed by the State Legislative Assembly of Haryana, and although it has been challenged by certain groups in the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court has set aside this challenge. This Act has brought about several restrictions to the right to contest elections to the Panchayat. These restrictions include :
    a) Men in the general category are required to have completed matriculation level in education with the consummate qualification for general category women being 8th standard pass. b) Men in the Scheduled Caste category must have completed 9th standard with the qualification for SC women being 5th standard. c) In addition the candidate contesting elections must not have any outstanding arrears in agricultural loans or electricity bills and d)they must have a functional toilet in their homes. These qualifications effectively restrict a very large number of potential candidates from contesting elections. More than 68% of people in rural areas do not have the requisite qualifications with the number being even higher for Scheduled Class candidates. The Haryana government's argument has weight in terms of its good intentions. It wishes to ensure that those who run the local government and carry out grassroots administration be well-educated and capable individuals who have adequate power of discrimination, which the Supreme Court holds that only education can provide. However the argument of the rural population are equally weighty , in that many candidates may never have received requisite educational opportunities , nonetheless they may be capable of effectively and efficiently running the rural administration. Villagers who were interviewed contented that many of them did not "choose" to remain illiterate. Imposed illiteracy must not prevent people from advancing in the future and simultaneously, efficient candidates must be chosen for the task of administering the grassroots government, which is the foundation of a democratic nation. The government and the citizens find themselves in a perfect catch-22 situation which requires a very careful balancing act.