In yet another plea to Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje to withdraw the recently issued ordinance fixing a minimum educational qualification for contesting panchayat elections, two former Chief Election Commissioners James Lyngdoh and S Y Quraishi, several former justices of the Supreme Court, former judges of Rajasthan High Court, former bureaucrats and members of civil society wrote an open letter on Monday.
The letter points out that no consultations were held within or outside the state assembly before issuing the ordinance and urges Raje to withdraw it immediately.The signatories including Justice Sachar, Kuldip Nayar, Baba Adhav, Aruna Roy, EAS Sarma, Satyanand Mishra, Nandita Das, Nikhil Dey, Jagdeep Chhokar, Kavita Srivastava have written that they are deeply distressed by the ordinance that will debar more than 80 percent of rural population from contesting elections.
The recent ordinance stipulates minimum educational qualification of secondary education (Class X) for candidates contesting Zila Parishad or Panchayat Samiti polls and Class VIII pass to be eligible to contest sarpanch elections.
“Only 18% of rural Rajasthan’s population has studied beyond Grade 5 and only a shockingly low- 5% of rural women have education above Grade 5 (Census 2001). Mere literacy – the ability to read and write with understanding – is only 61 percent of Rajasthan’s rural population and only 45 percent literate women in rural Rajasthan (Census 2011).
Literacy rates for rural SCs are even lower – with less than 50 percent rural SCs literate and 31 percent rural SC women and 25% rural ST women literate as per 2001 Census. While we would support, and welcome any effort to improve these figures, we do not believe debarring those who have been marginalised from school education will help correct this situation,” reads the letter.
“Based on the 2010 Rajasthan Panchayat Polls: more than 70% of elected Panchayat Samiti members and 77% SC Panchayat Samiti representatives will now be debarred from contesting. Of the elected Zila Parishad members, 55% do not meet these educational standards with SC and ST worst affected with 61% and 63% respectively,” it further adds.
“Not only will your Government nullify the political careers of this entire lot in one shot, but by simultaneously excluding a majority of the population from contesting and taking away voters’ right to choose their own representative, your Government is also abridging citizens’ fundamental right to political participation and hence democracy.”
The letter has been endorsed by several prominent personalities from the state including Justice S N Bhargava, Justice P C Jain, Justice V S Dave, Prof. V S Vyas (former Deputy Chairman, State Planning Board, Rajasthan).