The hotly debated Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Amendment Bill 2015 fixing minimum educational qualifications for contesting Panchayat polls in the state, was passed by the state legislative assembly on Friday. With this Rajasthan becomes the only state to have mandatory minimum educational qualifications to contest for Panchayat polls.
The Bill was passed by a voice vote by the dominant ruling party even as Opposition legislators raised objections to it in the preceding debate on the Bill. The two amendments to the Bill stipulates minimum educational qualifications and construction of toilets in their homes as mandatory for contesting polls to the panchayati raj institutions in the state.
Candidates contesting Zila Parishad and Panchayat Samiti polls will have to be Class X pass and those contesting Sarpanch elections will have to be Class VIII pass and in Scheduled Areas the eligibility has been fixed at Class V pass.
During a debate on the Bill, Congress chief whip Govind Singh Dotasara said that such mandatory educational qualifications for Panchayat polls had no justification when similar eligibility was not required for legislators and parliamentarians. “If there are no such norms for the state assembly or parliament, why impose it on the panchayati raj institutions. After the recent Panchayat polls, the BJP has targeted only Congress elected representatives with fake marksheets but those similar charges in the BJP have gone untouched. Their files have been kept pending and no action has been initiated against them. If all the fake marksheet allegations are proven, the elections will be declared null and void. This will be a huge crisis for the government,” Dotasara told the House.
Backing his arguments, senior Congress legislator Pradyuman Singh said that he was hopeful that the new norm, which is being contested in the Rajasthan High Court, will be scrapped by the judiciary. “There cannot be any alternative to experience. Look at K Kamraj, the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. He was not literate, but he has been one of the best administrators. After the introduction of this norm, those who have lost out are settling scores with the elected representatives by lodging complaints alleging use of fake marksheets. This is not healthy,” Singh added.
Voices of dissent were raised from within the BJP too where Kota MLA Prahlad Gunjal admitted that the new rule was forcing hopeful candidates to adopt unfair means to be eligible for the polls. He agreed that several illiterate MPs and MLAs had contributed in a big to the country by drafting some outstanding laws and hence education cannot be seen as the only criteria for doing good work.
In the recent Panchayat elections, 33 Zila Pramukh and as many deputy Zila Pramukh, 295 Pradhan and as many deputy Pradhan, 1013 Zila Parishad members, 6258 Panchayat Samiti members, 9872 Sarpanch and as many deputy Sarpanch and 10,9469 Panch were elected.
The state government had brought in an ordinance in December imposing a minimum educational qualification of class VIII for the post of sarpanch and Class X for zila parishad and panchayat samiti members. The ordinance has since been hotly debated across the state and opposed by activists, aspirants and the Opposition Congress, who moved the Rajasthan High Court and Supreme Court.
The Rajasthan High Court in its last hearing on March 2 had sought details of current vacancies in panchayati raj institutions and also a reply on the amendment application along with the status of the bill in the ongoing budget session of the assembly. The bench set April 15 as the day for final arguments.
Days before the panchayat polls in early January, the petitioners had approached the Supreme Court for intervention in the Ordinance passed by the state government on December 20 last year but the apex court had directed the matter to the Rajasthan High Court for hearing first.