In a landmark judgement, Supreme Court has upheld the decision of Haryana government to make minimum educational qualification as the criteria for contesting the panchayat polls.
A bench led by Justice J Chelameswar dismissed the petition which challenged the validity of Haryana’s Panchayati Raj (amendment) Act 2015 which fixes matriculation as an essential qualification for general candidates contesting panchayat polls.
According to amendments in the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, 2015, the general candidates must have passed class 10th examinations, while women and Dalit candidates are required to have cleared class 8th and class 10th respectively, to contest the polls.
The law made 84 per cent of Dalit women and 71 per cent of all rural women ineligible to contest and violated equality, the petitioner claimed.
Amongst other criteria, the candidates should also not have a criminal conviction, no pending electricity bills or loan payments and a working toilet, the law had said.
The court said that the new law is constitutionally valid and it cannot be quashed on the ground of violating fundamental rights of individuals who seek to contest the local polls.
The court also held that the state legislature was empowered to usher in the new law under the legislative scheme.
Due to the opposition faced by the state government over the law, it had rushed to the court, seeking an urgent hearing on the entire issue saying the stay on the recent amendments in the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, 2015, amounts to virtually staying the election process in the state.
The panchayat polls in Haryana were earlier deferred indefinitely.
The petitioners told the Supreme Court that people do not choose to be illiterate.
Advocate Kirti Singh, counsel for a batch of candidates affected by the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, 2015, said:
“In fact, it is the State’s failure to have not provided us with education. We should not be punished for the State’s failure. People do not choose to remain uneducated. This is a country where primary and secondary education is hardly available.”
During the initial hearings, the bench had said that half of India’s population will be debarred from contesting polls if minimum educational qualification is the criteria.
It had also said the issue raised serious questions and that the condition of literacy may violate right to equality.
On the other hand, the Haryana government had said that the move was a progressive step which the parliament should also follow eventually.
Earlier this year, Rajasthan became the first state to pass the a minimum educational qualification for contesting elections to the Panchayati Raj Institutions.