Elections to municipal corporations, municipal councils, zilla parishads and gram panchayats get secondary treatment in comparison to state or general elections, said Maharashtra State Election Commissioner Jageshwar Saharia in Pune on Tuesday.
Saharia was speaking at the Padma Bhushan P R Dubhashi Public Lecture organised at the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics.
“Despite state election commissions coming into effect after the landmark Constitutional amendment in 1992, local body elections have always been seen with lesser importance, provided limited resources and offered secondary treatment from the various stakeholders,” said Saharia.
He said unlike state or general elections, that enjoy support of multiple police, security and paramilitary agencies, conducting local body elections was far more challenging.
“Maharashtra has over 2.5 lakh seats that go for polls for various positions at the local bodies, as opposed to the polls held for 48 MP seats and 288 MLA seats. Though the voter base in a local election is small, it is an uphill task to ensure the conduct of free, fair and transparent electoral process at tier three of governance. Local body elections are contested in a far more fierce manner,” said the state EC.
For better functioning of local bodies and the electoral process, Saharia urged that all stakeholders, including
members of civil society, universities, NGOs and the Election Commission itself, should make an effort and carry out
“There is hardly any mention or even deliberations on the operations of local bodies like gram panchayats, zilla parishads, municipal councils or municipal corporations. Steps must be initiated to empower these bodies rather than making them depend upon decisions made either by state or central government. The local bodies must instead be allocated more funds, allowed to take decisions and serve the local population,” said the state EC.
Speaking on the host of reforms that the State Election Commission initiated and implemented during the local body polls in 2016 and 2017, Saharia said digitisation and public display of educational qualifications of candidates turned out to be two of the most decisive moves.
“Due to digitisation of form-filling, the rate of rejection of candidates fell drastically, and this also helped create a database with the state EC. Displaying educational qualification of candidates empowered the voter, who reported having made an informed choice during the polling process,” he said.