Haryana’s grassroots democracy scores many firstsBy Jaideep Sarin, IANS
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
KURUKSHETRA - When nearly 68,000 elected representatives, including 24,800 women, from Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) stood up in this Haryana town to take their oath, it was the first time such a huge congregation had gathered to be part of India’s grand experiment in democratic devolution.
And Haryana’s panchayat polls this year had many other firsts too.
To start with, the elections saw the highest number of candidates entering the fray - 173,936. The number of candidates who actually contested, 151,113, was much higher than the number of contesting candidates in 2005 (97,745) and 2000 (91,135).
The 84 percent polling recorded this time was much higher than in 2000 (77.6 percent) and 2005 (82 percent).
Opposition parties have accused the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government of wasting public money running into several millions of rupees on the oath taking ceremony Sunday.
Another first this time was the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) by the state election commission for the election of 6,083 ’sarpanches’ (village heads). Over 23,000 EVMS were used this time.
“We wanted to use EVMs in the election of members of Zila Parishads and Panchayat Samitis also, but non-availability of adequate numbers came in the way. However, with adequate number of EVMs being made available in the second phase, these were used in the election of members of Zila Parishads of Panchkula and Karnal districts,” state election commissioner Dharam Vir said.
“It was indeed a successful experiment, which has been highly appreciated by the parties concerned - the public, the polling staff and the contestants. In fact, the EVMs not only helped cut down the number of disputes, including law and order problems during counting, but also facilitated early announcement of elections,” Dharam Vir added.
It is also for the first time that the electoral rolls were prepared in the Data Base Management System and were uploaded on the state election commission website with search facility.
“This helped bring about transparency, besides providing a useful facility to the public. IT (information technology) was put to good and extensive use in communicating with district officers and others concerned with the elections. It enhanced the working capacity of the election machinery,” a senior state electoral official told IANS.
For the first time, none of the 374 Zila Parishad members were elected unopposed, a practice at some places in past years. In fact, out of the total 67,994 seats for which elections took place, the number of seats elected unopposed, which had increased from 31,846 in 2000 to 37,254 in 2005, came down to 22,823 in 2010.
That the elections were keenly contested and villages did not agree on a consensus candidate to be their headman (sarpanch) could be seen from the fact that the number of sarpanches elected unopposed, which was 701 in 2000 and 473 in 2005, came down to only 200 this year.
The average number of candidates per contested seat which was 2.88 in 2000, increased to 3.01 in 2005, and to 3.35 in 2010.
“Conducting PRIs elections was a gigantic and complex task. But we are satisfied with the way things have gone. Since there is always scope for improvement, we would like to hold workshops to identify the areas where improvement can be made and suggest suitable changes to the state government in rules and regulations,” Dharam Vir added.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)