Petitioners who have challenged educational criteria for Rajasthan panchayat polls
A court in Rajasthan today refused to interfere with a controversial government order that set educational prerequisites for contesting village polls, disappointing thousands of candidates who stand disqualified.
The High Court said it "cannot interfere with the election process" and asked for more facts on the social impact of the ordinance or executive order that requires those fighting panchayat elections to have studied till Class 8 in school and members of the panchayat samiti, which governs a group of villages, to have completed Class 10.
Women Sarpanches who challenged the ordinance - issued just six days before the Panchayat election dates were announced - say it will rule out half of rural Rajasthan from holding office in what was designed to be a fundamental form of grassroots democracy, especially women. In Rajasthan, women's literacy, especially in rural areas is just about 45%.
Among those who went to court is Naurati Bai, a 65-year-old Sarpanch from Ajmer, who can no longer run for re-election.
"I have done that kind of work in 50 years that people who are educated could never do, after all you have to live in people's hearts. The government should think before they exclude people like me from panchayat elections," she said.
Critics point out that if the law had been introduced last year, more than 75 per cent of the current panchayat samiti members would have been disqualified or ineligible for office.
Gulab Chand Katariya, the state's Panchayati Raj Minister, had defended the decision. He told NDTV that each panchayat gets a crore to spend every year, and the government wants those handling the money to have basic education.
The process of electing nearly one lakh panchayats or village councils in Rajasthan is under way and the results will be announced in February. The executive order has to be cleared by the state legislature within 6 months of its next session, which starts in March.
National or state lawmakers are not bound by these educational requirements. In Rajasthan, of the 200 state legislators, there are 23 who have not cleared Class 10.