ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Panchayat Elections

Dismal Record

Panchayat elections have been postponed many times in several states on the flimsiest of grounds, clearly violating constitutional norms. Should this practice be allowed to continue?

The results of the zilla and taluka panchayat elections in Gujarat, which were held in September, have been discussed at great length in the media as the ruling BJP was trounced in these elections and the Congress registered an unprecedented victory. Undoubtedly, panchayat elections have become the barometer to gauge the popularity of different political parties at the grass roots. However, the extent of constitutional literacy among the commentators is betrayed by the fact that there has not been a single comment on the failure to hold gram panchayat elections, which constitutes a serious constitutional omission by the state government. Elections for all three tiers of panchayats – village, taluka and district – had been held in May-June 1995. It was, therefore, in the fitness of things that gram panchayat elections should have also been held along with those for taluka and district panchayats. Since it has not been done, while taluka and district panchayats now have elected bodies, gram panchayats, the foundation stone of the panchayati raj, have been placed under administrations most of whom are clerks and junior officials. However, objectionable and contrary to the express provisions of the Constitution, this is nothing new. From day one of the new phase of panchayati raj in the country, several states have postponed panchayat elections: the ignominious list of such states includes Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar and Orissa. When the five-year term of panchayats was over, postponement took place in Assam, Karnataka and even in the Madhya Pradesh.

It is a sad commentary on our respect for constitutional norms and practices that state after state is being allowed to defy with impunity the constitutional mandate to hold elections after the expiry of the five-year term of its three-tier panchayats. Articles 243B and 243E of the Constitution are categorical that in every state, panchayat at the village, intermediate and district levels will function for five years from the date appointed for the first meeting and no longer and that the election to constitute a panchayat shall be completed before the expiry of its duration. This mandate has been violated so many times that it has ceased to carry any meaning.

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