The Supreme Court Thursday stayed a law in Haryana setting mandatory educational qualifications for candidates contesting panchayat elections in the state.
A bench led by Justice J Chelameswar stayed the operation of the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, 2015, acting on a PIL that contended the new law would deprive an overwhelming majority of the population from taking part in grassroots-level elections.
According to the amendment passed on September 7 by the Haryana state assembly, while general candidates must have passed Class 10, women and Dalit candidates are required to have cleared Class 8 and Class 5, respectively, to contest the panchayat polls.
The other disqualifications included non-payment of agricultural loan dues, electricity bills and lack of toilet in the candidate’s house.\
Arguing for the petitioner women who sought to contest the panchayat polls, advocates Kirti Singh and Sanjay Parikh said the Act had been notified on September 8, just a day before the nominations opened for the polls.
The lawyers termed the law discriminatory, questioning why such qualifications were imposed on persons who want to contest panchayat elections when no such qualification is mandated for a person to become a member of Parliament, legislative assembly, a Cabinet minister or the Prime Minister or President of India.
Acceding to their request, the bench ordered an interim stay on the operation of the law and issued notices to the Haryana government and state election commission, seeking their replies to the petition.
Panchayat elections in Haryana are scheduled to be held in three phases on October 4, 11 and 18. More than 72,000 posts of panchayat members, panchayat samitis and zila parishads will go to polls, nominations for which opened on September 15.
The three petitioner women from Fatehabad, Hissar and Jhajjhar have claimed that more than 83 per cent of rural women above the age of 20 in Haryana would be disqualified from contesting panchayat polls since they did not possess the requisite educational qualification. Almost 67 per cent of women in urban areas will also be disqualified, as per the petition.
They also cited the agrarian crisis, arguing disqualifying those who had not repaid agricultural loans was an arbitrary condition because “the default contemplated could arise for any number of reasons that in no way hinders a candidate’s ability to discharge his duties”.
It added that disqualifying those failing to pay arrears of electricity bills amounts to penalising the impoverished section of the rural population, whose lot has not improved because of failures of state policies.