A Punjab and Haryana High Court bench comprising Justice S.K. Mittal and Justice Mahavir S. Chauhan has stayed the Haryana government’s notification issued on August 14 laying down minimum qualification criteria for the candidates to contest for the post of sarpanch, panch, member of block samiti and zila parishad.
The Court stayed the operation of Section 175 (v) of the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act, 1994 which disqualifies a candidate who, “has not passed matriculation examination or its equivalent examination from any recognized institution/board: provided that in case of a woman candidate or candidate belonging to Scheduled Caste, the minimum qualification shall be middle pass.”
The Petitioner had argued that neither under Part IX of the Constitution of India which deals with the Panchayats and its elections, nor under the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act, 1994, there is any provision which prescribes the minimum educational qualification for a candidate of Sarpanch, Panch, member of Block Samiti or Zila Parishad.
He further argued that before promulgating the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Ordinance, 2015, inserting Clause (v) in Section 175 of the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act, 1994, no survey was conducted to ascertain as to what percentage of the population in the State of Haryana is Matriculate or Middle pass.
Due to the absence of such information, it was contended that majority of the persons of the State, who are below Matriculate or Middle pass, have been deprived of their right to contest the elections of Sarpanch, Panch, member of Block Samiti and Zila Parishad. This “violates their right of equal opportunity under Article 14 of the Constitution of India to contest the elections, and denies the political justice to them, as enshrined in Preamble of the Constitution of India.”
Explaining the Government’s decision to introduce minimum qualifications, the State’s Development and Panchayat Minister, Mr. Om Prakash Dhankar was earlier quoted as saying, “The idea behind making these changes, especially the education criteria, was that Panchayats deal with a lot of financial issues. There are heavy money transactions and usually when something goes wrong, members say their thumb impressions were taken and they are unaware of what actually transpired. Panchayat leaders do not even have enough money to hire trustworthy staff who can help them. This is why we brought in the minimum educational qualification for Panchayat level elections.”
The minimum criteria stipulates that the candidates must have passed standard 10, (8 for women and Scheduled Caste candidates), have a functional toilet at home, not defaulted in cooperative loans or have outstanding dues on rural domestic electricity connections and must not have charges framed by a court for “grave criminal offences punishable with not less than 10 years imprisonment”.
Read the order here.