Educational Qualification in Elections

Rajasthan and Haryana Governments had passed law which mandated minimum educational qualification for contesting Local Bodies Elections.
What was the education criterion proposed?
As per the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Amendment Bill 2015, Candidates were:
  • Required to have passed Class X for contesting municipal elections, Class VIII for contesting panchayat polls for the post of a sarpanch, and Class X for contesting Zila Parishad or Panchayat Samiti elections.
  • Construction of toilets in their homes as mandatory for contesting polls to the panchayati raj institutions in the state.
Why the law if a right step?
  • The Supreme Court, while upholding the Haryana Amendment Act, noted that it is not “irrational or illegal or unconnected” to impose minimum educational qualifications as “this would enable the candidates to effectively discharge duties of the panchayat”
  • A sarpanch in village India is more than just an elected representative. Those occupying these positions are, often, bearers of local common and cultural knowledge and experience and are closely connected with their constituents. So such a law will only benefit more.
  • The law was meant to elect “model representatives for local self-government for better administrative efficiency”
Why the law is undemocratic?
    • By saying that it is only education which enables one to discern good from bad and right from wrong, the verdict completely ignores the astounding work done by many uneducated
    • Thousands of women, dalits (backward caste) and general candidates across this north-western state are now debarred from the panchayat election
    • Excluding more than half the rural population from candidacy.
  • The average literacy rate in Mewat, according to the 2011 census, was 22 percentage points lower than Haryana. The female literacy rate, at 37%, is amongst India’s worst for a district.
  • This means 89% of women and 80% of men (in the age-group 20 years and above) cannot contest elections in Mewat
  • Since there aren’t enough schools and religion plays a big role in educational decisions, girls in Mewat are mostly sent to madrasas, which means they are not counted as literate.
    • Past instances of educational neglect impact the leaders of panchayat now
    • In many gram panchayats, the electoral process is over before it started. Candidates are elected unopposed or seats are vacant.
  • Rajasthan problem-As many as 43% panchayat ward members were elected unopposed and 542 seats (0.5%) remained vacant in Rajasthan.
    • MP’s and MLA’s:
  • MPs and MLAs need not have minimum educational qualifications but panchayat members do.
  • MPs and MLAs can contest elections despite criminal charges–they only need to declare them in their affidavits–but panchayat leaders need to append certificates from their local police stations clearing them of criminal charges.
  • Of 90 MLAs in the Haryana assembly, as many as four MLAs are eighth-standard pass, and one is an illiterate.
Why the government scrapped the criterion?
  • In the run-up to the assembly elections in 2018, the Congress Party had included in its manifesto that it would abolish the minimum education criterion for panchayat and civic polls candidates if it comes to power.
  • Defending the bill the government stated in assembly that Sarpanches awarded by President, Vice President were declared ineligible due to the provisions in the previous Act. The Act was against the basic tenants of the Constitution and society cannot be divided on the basis of education.
  • The government even stated that several cases had come up where people contested the election on the basis of fake certificates. The minimum education qualification created two sections in the society and the illiterate people had started feeling inferior.

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