assembly in session // Wrong Rumblings on Panchayat Election

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

If one relies on the results of Panchayat polls in Orissa, it would look solacing that the parties, that sabotaged Indian national resolve enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution and subjected the country to the hegemony of foreign capital and Indian market exploiters, have been rejected at the grassroots. Yet, it is disturbing that the farce that kept Orissa drowned for around a month under the nasty dusts that the misruling politicians’ speeding vehicles and helicopters generated all-over the State is being called an election.

However on February 24, the Orissa Legislative Assembly had to witness a phase of rumbling in the matter of Panchayat polls.

The Opposition alleged that the ruling party’s claim of success was farcical inasmuch as the berths now in its pocket were bagged though massive use of money and misuse of power and contravention of election codes. The treasury benches dismissed the allegations as baseless, with the Panchayatiraj Minister stating that, the three-tire elections were conducted under direct supervision of the State Election Commissioner (SEC) and hence attributing BJD’s victory to money and muscle power has no merit.

To us, the rumblings were on wrong aspects. The House should have been led to know if the SEC conducted the elections as per the laws and the spirit of Panchayati Raj.

It cannot be said that the SEC conducted the elections as per the Laws and the spirit thereof. We have earlier discussed how the Chief Minister used the most focused official platform of the day for political purpose when election to Panchayats was already notified. He sloughed over the matter.

As the ruling party – to which capturing the Pnchayats at any cost was essential – was named after Biju, we had stressed on the necessity of covering the Biju statues illegally erected on public places all over the State as well as the hoardings on public parks and institutions carrying his name and to suspend all welfare programs named after him so as to save the gullible voters from being dazzled by the blitzkrieg the ruling Biju Janata Dal should be resorting to while electioneering.

He did not bother, even though he knew that the Election Commission of India had created precedences in similar circumstances by ordering to put under cover Vajapayee’s Bharat Udaya hoardings and Mayavati’s Elephant statues.

On the other hand, he arbitrarily synchronized Zilla Parisad election with the Gram Panchayat Election misleadingly marshaling the same as three-tire election.

There is no provision in the Acts to hold a three-tire Panchayat Election at a time. Rather, the Acts are such that holding the elections to the three layers of Panchayati Raj at a time would defeat the legislative intention behind the Acts.

The three layers are: (1) Grama Panchayat, (2) Panchayat Samiti and (3) Zilla Parisad. They are created respectively by three Acts: (1)The Orissa Grama Panchayat Act, 1964, (2) The Orissa Panchayat Samiti Act, 1959 and (3) The Orissa Zilla Parishad Act, 1991 and their corresponding Rules: Orissa Grama Panchayat Election Rules, 1965, Orissa Panchayat Samiti Election Rules, 1991 and Orissa Zilla Parishad Election Rules, 1994.

In view of this distinct difference in the making of these three layers, the Government of Orissa, in the Panchayati Raj department, called for their constitution under three different Notifications through three different Extraordinary Gazettes.

In Gazette No.2737 dated December 3, 2011, Notification No.S.R.O.1050/2011 of 21 December 2011 was published, calling upon “all the Grama Panchayats of the State to elect their ward members and Sarapanches” except Dhinkia G.P. under Erasama Block in Jagatsinghpur district, “in excercise of the powers conferred under sub-section (1) and (2) of Section 12 of the Orissa Grama Panchayats Act, 1964 (Orissa Act 1 of 1965) read with Rule 13 of the Orissa Grama Panchayat Election Rules, 1965”.

In Gazette No.2736 of the same date, Notification No.S.R.O. 1049/2011 of 21 December 2011 was published, calling upon “the Parishad Constituencies of all the Zilla Parishads in the State to elect members of the Parishads, in accordance with the provisions of the Orissa Zilla Parishad Act, 1991 (Orissa Act 17 of 1991) and the Rules made thereunder”.

Similarly, “in pursuance of sub-rule (1) of Rule 4 of the Orissa Panchayat Samiti Election Rules, 1991” under Notification No.S.R.O.1048/2011 of the same day published in Gazette No.2735 dated 3 December 2011, the State Government called upon “the Samiti Constituencies of all the Panchayat Samities in the State to elect their members of the Samiti in accordance with the provisions of the Orissa Panchayat Samiti Act, 1959 (Orissa Act 7 of 1960) and the Rules made thereunder”.

Thus, these three layers of the Panchayati Raj are distinctly different from each other in their constitution, under the Acts and under the Rules in recognition whereof three different Notifications under three different provisions with three different stipulations were issued by the State Government enshrined in three different Extraordinary Gazettes.

Worth noting it is that, when “all the Grama Panchayats” “except Dhinkia” were called upon to “elect their ward members and Sarapanches” simultaneously under S.R.O. No.1050/2011 (Gazette No.2737), only “the Samiti Constituencies of all the Panchayat Samities in the State” were called upon to elect their members under S.O.R. No.1048/2011 (Gazette No.2735) with no provision to hold the election simultaneously with “members and Sarpanches” of the Grama Panchayats. The same specification is also laid down under S.O.R. No. 1049/2011 (Gazette No. 2736) requiring “the Parishad Constituencies” of all the Zilla Parishads “to elect members of the Parishad”, but not simultaneously with election of either the members of Panchayat Samities or the ward members and Sarapanches of the Grama Panchayats.

Had the Laws not intended to make all these elections separate from each other, like election of “ward members and Sarapanches” election of ‘ward members, Sarapanches, Samiti members and Parishad members’ should have been the language of law.

But it was never the legislative intention to make such synchronization. Because, when the Grama Panchayats and by extension, the Panchayat Samities, are designed to be kept free of political pollution to conduct their activities in their own democratic way within the limits of Law and without being prejudiced by any political party programs, isms and influences, the Zilla Parishads are allowed to be run by political parties as an intermediary set-up between the apolitical Grama Shasan and political administration, with the heads thereof placed in ranks of Ministers of State.

The SEC was, therefore, duty bound to conduct the elections for these three separate and distinctly different layers of Panchayati Raj as required under three different sets of Acts and Rules, separately.

Provisos to relevant Rules guiding the elections to Samities and Parishads have spelt out what steps are to be taken in separate elections thereto.

But the SEC deliberately ignored this aspect, obviously under pressure of the ruling party, to confused the voters and to drown their free thinking ability under dazzling torrents of political propaganda of the ruling party in the Grama Panchayat level under the guise of campaigning for Parishad members.

Had the SEC not synchronized the Parishad elections with that of the Panchayats, the result would certainly have been different. Non-political contestants could have won in majority wards and constituencies and Panchayat positions.

Therefore, it can certainly be said that the elections were never free and fair.

Never before in any election, electoral violence had become so rampant.

The unprecedented monstrosity of electoral violence indicates only to the fact that the people were severely irritated by the injuries done to their rights to have democracy in the grassroots free of political pollution.

Synchronization of Zilla Parishad elections – that allows political flags and party symbols and party propaganda – with that of the Grama Panchayats that the Laws want to keep safe from political transgressions, was nothing but butchering the scheme of Panchayati Raj.

The SEC, a retired IAS officer appointed by the ruling Chief Minister, has obviously repaid his debt to the benefactor for the post-retirement benefits he has obtained, by helping the ruling party capture majority of Panchayat berths, by butchering democracy in the grassroots through the synchronization of Parishad elections with that of the Panchayats.

The Law making body of the State, despite in session and despite debates, has not been able to locate how shrewd and sharp was this butchering.

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