Days ahead of the panchayat poll announcement in Rajasthan, an ordinance issued by Governor Kalyan Singh fixed minimum educational qualifications for contesting polls for panchayat samiti and district councils, drawing much opposition from political parties, local communities and civil society groups. The ordinance effecting an amendment to the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act 1994, has made it mandatory for the candidates contesting zila parishad and panchayat samiti polls to be Class X pass and those contesting sarpanch elections to be Class VIII pass. In the scheduled areas the eligibility has been fixed at Class V pass.
Even as the ruling government argues that this will check embezzlement of funds at the hands of illiterate panchayat level representatives, the opposition groups alleged that the move is discriminatory to a large section of the rural population, particularly women among whom the literacy rate is the lowest. In rural Rajasthan, the literacy rate stands at 76.16 percent for males and 45.8 percent for females respectively.
Defending the state government’s move, BJP spokesperson Kailash Nath Bhatt told, “The Centre is spending crores of money on panchayats and this goes directly to the sarpanch. There are thousands of pending cases of fund embezzlement against these elected representatives in the state and the standard excuse is that ‘I am illiterate and put my thumb impression on whatever papers were given to me’.
Earlier, the audits were managed by the state government so the accountability was not with the sarpanch but now with funds to the tune of crores coming in for projects like MNREGA and others, there has to be better accountability. Let us take this decision positively as it will end up encouraging education in rural areas. We are confident this will lead to better literacy rate in the state and as it is we have a 50 percent reservation for women.”