SC Uphold Haryana Panchayati Raj Act

The Supreme Court upheld the validity of recent amendments in a Haryana law which fixes various criteria including minimum educational qualification for candidates contesting panchayat polls.

“The writ petition is dismissed,” a bench comprising justices J Chelameswar and AM Sapre said.

The petition had challenged validity of Haryana’s Panchayati Raj (amendment) Act 2015 which fixes matriculation as essential qualification for general candidates contesting panchayat polls, while the qualification for women (general) and Scheduled Caste candidates has been fixed at Class VIII.

However, in case of a woman candidate belonging to the Scheduled Caste category contesting election for the post of panch (panchayat head), the minimum qualification would be Class V.

current affairsSupreme Court Observation:

“The proclaimed object of such classification is to ensure that those who seek election to panchayats have some basic education, which enables them to more effectively discharge various duties which befall the elected representatives. The object sought to be achieved cannot be said to be irrational or illegal or unconnected with the scheme and purpose of the Act or provisions of Part IX of the Constitution,” the bench said.

“It is only education which gives a human being the power to discriminate between right and wrong, good and bad. Therefore, prescription of an educational qualification is not irrelevant for better administration of the panchayats,” the bench said.

It held that the right to vote and right to contest in an election are “constitutional” rights but it cannot be disputed either that both the rights can be regulated and curtailed by the appropriate legislature directly.

“Every person who is entitled to vote is not automatically entitled to contest for every office under the Constitution. Constitution itself imposes limitations on the right to contest depending upon the office. It also authorises the prescription of further disqualifications with respect to the right to contest,” the bench said.

Haryana Panchayati Raj Act: Main Features

  • To contest panchayat elections in Haryana, a general category candidate has to pass at least Class X and a Scheduled Caste candidate at least Class VIII.
  • All candidates should have functional toilets at their residences, face no criminal charges framed in the court and should not be defaulters of any cooperative bank.

The second amendment provides that persons against whom charges have been framed by the competent court for grave criminal offences punishable by not less than 10 years of imprisonment will not be allowed to contest the elections till they are acquitted by the court.

Currently, there is a provision that disqualifies those convicted by courts from contesting elections, but there are many instances where persons have been let off because of shortcomings in the investigation process and for non-fulfillment of technical qualifications such as absence of sanction of prosecution or lack of strong prosecution by the public prosecutor.

As per the third amendment, defaulters of cooperative loans will be debarred from contesting the elections to panchayati raj institutions.

Another amendment provides that only those persons who have cleared their outstanding dues of rural domestic electricity connections will be able to contest elections to panchayati raj institutions. Also, any candidate who wants to contest elections for any part of a panchayati raj institution will have to file a self-certified statement that there is a functional toilet in his/her residence.

Another reason for prescribing minimum educational qualification is that even after the introduction of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment, illiteracy is a common excuse by the elected representatives for poor functioning of the gram panchayats, panchayat samitis and zila parishads. Most of the elected members of panchayati raj institutions are dependent on government functionaries or their relatives or friends, who often take advantage of them.