There is uncertainty over elections to at least ten panchayats over the issue of reservations and delimitations as a result of three court orders, two from the Bombay High Court and one from the Supreme Court. The controversy began with the delimitation of the wards by the government followed by the reservation of wards for various categories. Then came the issue of poll schedule and it was only after the court order that the date for elections was fixed on June 11. The government was again taken to court on the issue of delimitation and reservations of the wards and the High Court struck down the delimitation and reservations in some panchayats as the process was flawed. The government approached the SC against the High Court order and got a stay on the HC order.
These controversies were avoidable. The government had enough time to prepare for the polls. The previous government could have started the process six months before the expiry of the term of the panchayats. As the government is a continuous process, the new government was duty bound to go ahead with the process and sort out discrepancies, if any. Polls could have been held before the expiry of the terms of the panchayats. Given the fact that a substantially large number of rural people are involved in agriculture activities, holding polls during the monsoon should have been avoided as this is a crucial time for them. The last-moment delimitation of the wards and subsequent reservations only added to the problems of the people and the authorities as neither of them had time to sort out the impasse they find themselves in.
While the process for holding the panchayat elections on June 11 has begun, it remains to be seen whether the State Election Commission would hold elections to the reserved wards as per original schedule or the process for it would be delayed in view of the court orders. The delay in completing the delimitation and reservation processes has led to the curtailing of the campaigning period for the panchayat polls to just ten days, which is perhaps the shortest ever in the history of panchayat elections in the state. It remains to be seen whether the period is good enough to attract the voters to the polling booths.
Nevertheless, the panchayat elections have evoked keen interest among people who want to be partners in their own governance. Panchayat elections are considered as stepping stones for the future political leaders of the state. Established state-level politicians, particularly MLAs, support members of their group as candidates in the panchayat elections. An overwhelmingly large number of panchayat wards would witness multi-cornered elections and a total of 5,288 candidates have been left in fray for the 1,466 wards. The process has witnessed election of 54 candidates unopposed from 55 wards, with a woman having been declared elected from two wards. In contrast to multi-cornered contests in most panchayats, the polls to all the five wards of the Rachol village panchayat would see straight fights, perhaps the first of its kind in the state.
The government has been talking of its intent to bring in transparency in the conduct of panchayat elections and functioning of panchayats; however, it has failed to amend the Goa Panchayat Act. That the government’s delimitation and reservations were flawed could be made out from the fact that at least one ward in the Sattari taluka was reserved for Other Backward Classes in which there is not a single voter belonging to the OBC. Besides, the Mumbai High Court found merit in the contention of those who approached it with grievances and passed order in their favour. The order has been stayed on technical ground by the apex court as the process for the conduct of polls has been set in motion. There have also been scores of complaints of favouritism in delimitations and reservations in the past and this election is no different. As aspersions have been cast on the governments of the past too over the issue of delimitations and reservations to favour some and over other issues, it would be better if the responsibility is given to the State Election Commission, an independent body, as is the case in many states. The SEC would be in a better position to not only carry out the delimitations and reservations apolitically but instill confidence among the people and end government interference in the electoral process for local bodies.