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Indian Polity

Rajasthan to Scrap Education Criterion

  • 12 Feb 2019
  • 6 min read

Recently, the Rajasthan Assembly passed two Bills which seek to end the minimum education criterion for panchayat and civic poll candidates.

Background

  • This reverses the amendments introduced by the previous government in 2015 which required candidates contesting the Zila Parishad and Panchayat Samiti elections to have passed Class 10 and those contesting Sarpanch elections to have passed Class 8.
  • Further, it disallowed those without functional toilets in their home to contest. Following this, Haryana also introduced similar restrictions for contesting local body elections.
  • In December 2015, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Rajbala v. the State of Haryana upheld the validity of the amendments to the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act.
  • The latest decision of the Rajasthan government has once again revived the debate on the fairness of having such restrictions.

Arguments Against the Criteria of Minimum Education Qualification

  • Fundamentally, it unduly restricts a citizen’s right to contest elections and thereby challenges the basic premise of republican democracy.
  • Denying the right to contest effectively restricts the right of a citizen to vote for a candidate of her choice since more than half the population is restricted from contesting.
  • Further, it disproportionately disenfranchises the more marginal sections of society: women, Dalits and poor.
  • In a country like India with unequal access to education, it is cruel to blame citizens for the failure of the state to fulfill its constitutional obligations.
  • Prescribing educational qualifications for contesting elections is based on an ill-informed assumption that those with formal education will be better in running panchayats. On the other hand, it reveals that State governments and courts place a premium on the administration over representation in case of local governments.
  • This approach goes against the very objective of the 73rd and 74th Amendments that sought to make panchayats and municipalities representative institutions with adequate representation from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and women.
  • The disqualification of candidates who don’t have toilets in their home or defecate in open is clearly an example where the implementation of a Central programme like the Swachh Bharat Mission gets precedence over the need for representative government.
  • Moreover, such restrictions do not exist for those contesting parliamentary or Assembly elections. In fact, in the present Lok Sabha, 13% of MPs are under-matriculates, a share higher than those of women MPs.

Arguments in Favour of the Criteria of Minimum Education Qualification

  • In Rajbala case, the Apex court held that prescription of educational qualification is relevant for “better administration of the panchayats”.
    • The Bench consisting of Justice Chelameswar and A.M.Sapre held that both the rights namely "Right to Vote" and "Right to Contest" are not fundamental Rights but only constitutional rights of the citizen. So, the minimum qualification for contesting election can be imposed.
  • WIth minimum education qualification, there is a reduction in the chances of getting misled by other people.
  • Setting educational criteria would motivate society to be literate.
  • A well-educated individual is considered as the resource for the development of the country. And if the leaders of the human resource are ill literate then there would be no proper guidelines for human resource.

Way Forward

  • India prides itself as a robust democracy, at least in the procedural sense, with regular elections and smooth transfer of power.
    However, the absence of elected councils in some local governments punches holes in this claim.
  • The lack of alarm caused by the denial of local democracy (via the imposition of minimum educational norms) reveals our collective bias regarding the place of local governments.
  • In a liberal democracy, governments must desist from putting bars on who may contest, except in exceptional circumstances, such as when a candidate is in breach of particular rules and laws.
  • To mandate, what makes a person a ‘good’ candidate goes against the spirit of the attempt to deepen democracy by taking self-government to the grassroots.
  • Thus, local bodies should be elected for its representative character and not for its administrative functions. Giving a voice to the people is more important than following bureaucratic procedures at the grassroots level.
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