Political parties in the state are divided over the issue of grant of power to delimit and reserve panchayat wards in the state to the state election commission (SEC).
Following strong criticism from various sections of the society, the directorate of panchayats (DoP) has presently kept on hold, the process of delimitation of the panchayat wards, leaving it to the new government, which will come to power after March 11. The state election commission has proposed May 21 as the date for holding polls to the 186 village panchayats in the state.
In order to confer the power of delimitation and reservation of the panchayats wards to the SEC, the state government must amend Section 7 of the Goa Panchayat Raj Act. Even though some political parties in the state are in favour of granting this power to the SEC, the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party is of the opinion that there should not be a problem in continuing with the power with the DoP, provided the exercise is carried out in a fair manner.
Currently, in terms of Section 7 of the Goa Panchayat Raj Act, the power of fixation and reservation of wards is with the director of panchayats. Many believe that since the directorate of panchayats is under the control of the government, the ruling party always has been influencing the process to benefit its supporters in the local self-governance bodies.
When this daily tried to ascertain the viewpoint of the political parties in the state, it was found that some are in favour of granting the power to SEC, while others have a different viewpoint on the issue. Political parties like the Goa Forward Party (GFP) and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) are in favour of granting this power to the SEC, while the BJP has no problem with the present arrangement. Congress, on the other hand, is of the opinion that such a policy decision should be taken by the government and that it will wait for the assembly election results. The Aam Aadmi Party feels that such a process should not be taken up at the last moment.
The directorate of panchayats has presently kept the process of delimitation of the panchayat wards on hold following criticism by GFP. It must also be noted that in 2012, when BJP-led government was in power in the state, chaos was witnessed over the process of delimitation and reservation of the panchayat wards. Many ruling MLAs had allegedly intervened in the process initiated by the directorate of panchayats and sought rectifications in it.
Recently, president of GFP Prabhakar Timble objected to the process of delimitation of wards initiated by the directorate of panchayats and demanded that it should be undertaken under the control and supervision of the SEC. Ramakrishna Dhavalikar of the MGP said that his party welcomes the suggestion of granting the power to the poll panel.
BJP state president Vinay Tendulkar said that his party has no problem with the present arrangement, provided the task of delimiting and reserving the wards is undertaken in a fair manner. He also maintained that recently BJP had also requested to the panchayats director to keep on hold the process.
Goa Pradesh Congress Committee chief Luzinho Faleiro stated that his party’s stand is that such a policy decision should be taken by the state government and added that the party will have to wait for the assembly election results.
State convenor of AAP Elvis Gomes opined that this exercise should be carried out in advance and not at the last minute. He said that his party feels that there is no need for delimitation of the panchayat wards since it was done five years back.
State Election Commissioner R K Srivastava pointed out that under the current law, the powers for delimitation and reservation of panchayat wards are with the directorate of panchayats. He said that under the present law, the state election commission’s role is to notify the voter lists of the respective panchayat wards and conduct the elections of the local self-government institutions.
A former civil service officer said that even if the power is given to the SEC, political interference cannot be ruled out, as the poll panel will have to use the same government machinery to carry out the process, adding that in this process, rationalisation of population is more important.
Incidentally, in 2011, the Goa State Law Commission had recommended the state government to make necessary amendment in Section 7 of the Goa Panchayat Raj Act along with Section 10 of Goa Municipal Act by replacing ward state election commission instead of director. The Commission had opined that there should be no room for any suspicion about the fairness of the electoral process either at the panchayat or municipal election level.