SC verdict on Haryana law is the right step forward
With the Supreme Court upholding the constitutional validity of the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act 2015—which, among other things, bars illiterate people from contesting Panchayat polls in the state—the stage is set for the passing of similar laws across the country. This Act is quite similar to the one passed by Rajasthan earlier this year. In a 64-page verdict, Justices J Chelameswar and Abhay Mohan Sapre stated they had “the scheme of the Constitution and recorded that every person who is entitled to vote is not automatically entitled to contest for every office under the Constitution.” The SC argues that it is only education that gives a human being the power to discriminate between right and wrong, good and bad. So, it makes sense to gradually ensure that every person contesting an election, from a panchayat candidate right up to one contesting for a Parliament seat, has adequate educational qualifications.
The Haryana Act bars five new categories of people from contesting elections. This includes those on whom charges are framed in criminal cases for offences punishable with imprisonment for not less than 10 years; those who fail to pay arrears owed by them to either a Primary Agricultural Cooperative Society or District Central Cooperative Bank or District Primary Agricultural Rural Development Bank; persons who have arrears of electricity bills; persons who do not possess specified educational qualifications and those who do not have a functional toilet at their residence.
Under it, general candidates must have passed the Class X examination while women and Dalit candidates need to clear Class VIII. Dalit women candidates must clear Class V. While this could be used as a template, the norms need to be revised regularly so that one needs to be a basic graduate to contest a panchayat elections over time.
The NDA government could use the SC verdict to prompt similar legislation across other states that the BJP and its allies rule. That should pave the way for other states to follow. The faster other states pass similar bills, the better it is for governance in the country. Such legislation should be there for both MLAs and MPs, too. As of now, of the 542 MPs in the current Lok Sabha, 521 have studied till Class X. Of the balance 21, nine have cleared Class VIII, six have cleared Class V and five are literate while one is illiterate. Of the 243 MLAs elected in the recent Bihar polls, 221 have cleared Class X. Now that the stage has been set, when the next Lok Sabha polls are held in 2019, India should have set strict educational guidelines for MPs, too.