Thursday, December 10, 2015

Court upholds minimum educational criteria for contesting polls in Haryana

Haryana government has asserted that right to contest an election is neither a fundamental right nor a common law right but only a statutory right

In a first, the Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a new law in Haryana, mandating minimum educational qualification as a pre-requisite for the candidates contesting panchayat polls.

A bench led by Justice J Chelameswar dismissed a batch of petitions that had challenged the validity of the amendment in the pertinent law. The court ruled that the new law is constitutionally valid and it cannot be quashed on the ground of violating fundamental rights of individuals who seek to contest the local polls. It also held that the state legislature was empowered to usher in the new law under the legislative scheme.

Acting on a PIL, the bench had in September stayed the operation of The Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, 2015 which requires that general candidates must have passed Class X examination while women and Dalit candidates need to have cleared Classes VIII and V, respectively.

The state government had turned down a suggestion to drop the educational criteria and said it would rather want the top court to legally examine the validity of the amendment and settle the issue authoritatively.

The state election commission had then said it would come out with a fresh poll notification after the apex court decides the petition. As per the existing notification, panchayat polls are scheduled to be held in three phases on October 4, 11 and 18. Over 72,000 posts of panchayat members, panchayat samitis and zilla parishads were up for vote, nominations for which opened on September 15.

During initial hearings, the bench had pointed out that half of India’s population will be debarred from contesting polls if minimum educational qualification is prescribed as a pre-requisite. It had also said the issue raised “serious questions” and that the condition of literacy may violate right to equality.

The state government, on the other hand, had said the Haryana government’s move was a “progressive step” which the Parliament should also follow eventually.

Justifying the new law mandating minimum educational qualification as a pre-requisite for contesting panchayat polls, Haryana government had also invoked a Supreme Court’s three-judge bench ruling which had upheld the two child-norm for holding the offices of Sarpanch or Up-Sarpanch in the state.

It has also responded to an averment in the PIL as to how the new law is not discriminatory even though minimum educational qualification is not a criterion for electing MPs and MLAs. The state government has said that two laws enacted by two different governments and by two different legislatures can be read neither in conjunction nor by comparison for the purpose of finding out if they are discriminatory.

It has argued a law made by one state using its own powers cannot be struck down on the ground of violating Article 14 (right to equality) because the sources of power are different and so do differ those who exercise the power. Further, Article 14 forbids class legislation but it does not forbid reasonable classification for the purpose of legislation, as per Haryana.

About alleged violation of fundamental right of life and liberty, Haryana government has asserted that right to contest an election is neither a fundamental right nor a common law right but only a statutory right and hence a state government would be within its authority to frame legislation prescribing for necessary qualifications and disqualifications for contesting polls.

No comments:

Post a Comment