The Chhattisgarh cabinet on Saturday approved an amendment to the state Panchayati Raj Act, 1993, which makes mandatory the presence of a person with disabilities in all panchayats across the state.
The cabinet has also moved to remove educational qualification as a requirement for panch members.
These decisions will now be taken up by the Vidhan Sabha, and are expected to comfortably sail through given the clear majority the Congress has in the state.
State Panchayati Raj Minister T S Singhdeo told The Indian Express that the state will now have 11,000 persons with disabilities as representatives at the panchayat level. “This was one of our promises in the manifesto and I am very happy that we have been able to deliver on this. We become perhaps the only state in India where there is this kind of social empowerment. Under the amendment, if there is no elected differently-abled person in the panchayat, the government will nominate one. That means 11,000 differently-abled voices in the Panchayati Raj system that is the backbone of the governance mechanism,” he said.
The cabinet also said that it would move to remove the educational stipulations of Class V and Class VII for members of the panch and those above panch, respectively. The only stipulation would be that the candidate be literate, a government note said.
Explaining the rationale, Singhdeo said, “The government felt that there is a hypocrisy here. There are no such stipulations for the post of MLAs, MPs, ministers… If those don’t have it, why should the sarpanch need it? Either you have it for everyone, or none at all. How is it that anyone can vote at 18, but cannot stand for local body elections? It is this dichotomy that we have sought to address.”
Sources in the government also said that the Baghel government had discussed and dropped the idea to hold indirect elections for sarpanches. Last month, there was outcry in the state after it was revealed that the government was considering implementing a system where the sarpanch was elected by other elected panch members. The state government has already implemented this system for the upcoming urban body polls with an indirect election now for the post of mayor.
“It had been discussed but there was no official proposal. The feedback, though, was that the sarpanch is the most important person at the ground level and therefore the people should have the direct right to elect him. That is what will continue to happen,” a senior leader said.