The Supreme Court on Thursday (10 December) upheld an amendment to the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act providing for educational qualifications and other eligibility criteria for those aspiring to contest the rural local body elections.
Upholding the amended Panchayati Raj Act in Haryana, an apex court bench headed by Justice J. Chelameswar dismissed a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Haryana law.
The fallout of the apex court order would be an amendment of the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act providing for educational qualifications for candidates.
It is noteworthy that by the impugned Haryana Act, five new categories of persons were rendered incapable of contesting elections for any one of the elected offices under the Act: (i) persons against whom charges are framed in criminal cases for offences punishable with imprisonment for not less than ten years, (ii) persons who fail to pay arrears, if any, owed by them to either a Primary Agricultural Cooperative Society or District Central Cooperative Bank or District Primary Agricultural Rural Development Bank, (iii) persons who have arrears of electricity bills, (iv) persons who do not possess the specified educational qualification and lastly (v) persons not having a functional toilet at their place of residence.
The petitioners in the above petitions challenged the said Haryana Act mainly on the ground that the said enactment is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. It was argued on behalf of the petitioners that (i) the impugned provisions are wholly unreasonable and arbitrary and therefore violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. They create unreasonable restrictions on the constitutional right of voters to contest elections under the ACT8 ; (ii) they create an artificial classification among voters (by demanding the existence of certain criteria which have no reasonable nexus to the object sought to be achieved by the ACT), an otherwise homogenous group of people who are entitled to participate in the democratic process under the Constitution at the grass-roots level; and (iii) the classification sought to be made has no legitimate purpose which can be achieved.
On the other hand, the Attorney General appearing for the respondents submitted that nobody has a fundamental right to contest an election under our Constitution and it was not necessary in the present case to decide whether the right to contest an election to the Panchayats was a constitutional right. He further argued that such right is expressly made subject to qualifications/disqualifications contemplated under Article 243F which authorises the State legislature to prescribe disqualifications for contesting election to any PANCHAYAT. Prescription of qualifications to contest an election based on criteria such as minimal educational accomplishment etc. cannot be said to be either arbitrary or irrelevant having regard to the nature of duties required to be discharged by persons elected to any one of the offices under the Act.
The Attorney General also submitted that the legislature best comprehends the needs of the society. The decision to prescribe such a qualification is in the realm of wisdom of the legislature and the Courts do not sit in review of such wisdom on the ground that the legislative decision is arbitrary.
The Court held that subject to certain restrictions mentioned above, every citizen has a constitutional right to elect and to be elected to either Parliament or the State legislatures.
The Supreme Court did not agree with the submissions made by the petitioners and dismissed the said writ petitions.
The full judgment can be read online here.