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Mainstream, VOL LIII , No 38, New Delhi, September 12, 2015

Most Undemocratic Act

Sunday 20 September 2015, by Rajindar Sachar

Haryana Chief Minister Khattar has come out with most undemocratic and unconsti-tutional legislation—changes in the Haryana Panchayat Act, namely, that the candidates keen on contesting the forthcoming gram panchayat, panchayat samiti and zila parishad elections in Haryana will now have to produce their Class X certificates while women and SCs will need a Class VIII certificate to be eligible to contest.

In unashamed defence of this most undemocratic step, the government is putting forth the inane explanation that this decision was taken with a view to “improve quality of leadership and governance” at the grassroot level, and “this amendment would make elected representatives of Panchayati Raj Institutions more accountable”. The Chief Minister is so sold out on the wisdom of his undemocratic step that he wants to do it through the ordinance route, thus avoiding the normal legislative step of full discussion in the Assembly. Such a step would be illegal, considering that there is ample time to summon the Legislative Assembly and also there is no such grave urgency warranting the ordinance route—the whole exercise would be null and void. No wonder the Opposition has termed the action of Khattar as Tughlaki—stated in the ordinary language it means arbitrary and un-thought of.

This socalled concern for educational qualification at the Panchayat level ill-befits Khattar’s loyalty and respect on the judgment and wisdom of his leader, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who does not feel embarrassed at all, rather he is aggressive in supporting his choice of appointing a Minister of HRD and Education for India whose academic qualification is Higher Secondary School certificate and similarly appointment to the reputed univer-sities like Rajasthan University of a teacher, who does not have a Doctorate in Academics (uptill now almost mandatory), the minimum of qualification for the Vice-Chancellor’s post, and also lacks having held the position of Principal for at least a year. Why does Khattar expect a strict educational qualification of Matriculate for being a Sarpanch who has the merit of people’s confidence in him/her?

This mere qualification of educational qualifi-cation at the Panchayat level is obviously a ploy to disenfranchise mostly the poor and deprived, the overwhelming population of Haryana. And this in face of the fact that our election law upto parliamentary elections has no literacy qualification—a casual search will show many legislators do not have this qualification which Khattar wants to impose at the Panchayat level.

In India this question of providing literacy as a qualification for membership of the State legislatures and Parliament was hotly debated in the Constituent Assembly when stalwarts like the first President of India, Dr Rajendra Pershad, was strongly in favour of providing some minimum qualification for legislators. But Prime Minister Pandit Nehru caustically described such a move as totally undemocratic and rejected it. No one has since ever dared to put forward this undemocratic step in election law. It is only small local satraps like that in the feudal state of Rajasthan. But to take up this step in Haryana, which in terms of economy and agricultural production is the envy of the nation, is insulting to the dignity of the people of the State.

As far back as in 2002, the Supreme Court clearly laid down: “True democracy cannot exist unless all citizens have a right to participate in the affairs of the polity of the country.” Again in 2003 the Supreme Court castigated the elite propaganda of preference for educated legislators thus; “To think of illiterate candidates is based on a factually incorrect assumption. To say that well-educated persons such as those having graduate and postgraduate qualifications will be able to serve the people better and conduct themselves in a better way inside and outside the House is nothing but overlooking the stark realities. The experience and events in public life and the legislatures have demonstrated that the dividing line between the well-educated and less-educated from the point of view of his/her calibre and culture is rather thin. Much depends on the character of the individual, the sense of devotion to duty and the sense of concern to the welfare of the people. These characteristics are not the monopoly of well-educated persons.”

Is it not inequitable and discriminatory that the State itself having failed to carry out its mandate of Article 21A of the Constitution to provide education should instead of being ashamed penalise 50 per cent of voters from casting their vote and fight election which is a guaranteed right under Article 19 of the Constitution. There is no equity in denying eligibility for the panchayat election if he or she is not educated upto Matric or 8th Class respectively. The exclusion of those who did not have an opportunity of formal education, being the victims of State callousness could not have been denied participation in democratic institutions.......nor on the ground that they being poor could not afford education on their own and do not have educational qualifications—this would be arbitrary, irrational and unreasonable. It is a fallacy to assume that the financial and administrative tasks of local government require formal education. As the disqualification prescribed by the Ordinance deprives a large section of the society to participate in the democratic institution of Panchayati Raj, and runs counter to the objectives of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment, it may be declared as unconstitutional by the Court of Law.

This law will run counter to the purpose and intent of Article 243 — Part IX of the Constitution, a radical step which makes Panchayats at the villages level the real foundation for our democratic government because this law will deny 50 per cent of the population of the village from the self-governance—a basic foundation for Gandhi slogan of “Gram Panchayat Raj” and the equally revolutionary call for real democracy in the slogan of Dr Lohia, the socialist leader of the “four pillar state”, of village, district, State and Centre.

These undemocratic steps taken by Haryana points to the inherent philosophy of the RSS, the fountain-head of the BJP leadership, that the governance should be in the hands of elitist castes, rather than with the masses, the real masters in a democracy. We must not overlook or ignore this devious thinking in our political life.

The author, a retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, was the Chairperson of the Prime Minister’s high-level Committee on the Status of Muslims and the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing. A former President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), he is a tireless champion of human rights. He can be contacted at e-mail: rsachar1@vsnl.net/rsachar23@bol.net.in