Local body elections in Puducherry, which were to be held on October 21, 25 and 28, will be deferred till anomalies in reserving seats for women, Schedule Castes and Backward Classes are addressed, Additional Solicitor General R Sankaranarayanan informed the Madras High Court on Monday.
There are five municipalities and 10 commune panchayats (similar to town panchayats) in Puducherry. Elections are to be held for five municipality chairpersons, 116 municipal ward councillors, 108 commune panchayat ward councillors, 108 village panchayat presidents and 812 village panchayat ward members.
Out of the 1,149 seats, 248 are reserved for SCs and SC (women), six for ST and ST (women), 327 for women from general category and 348 for BC; the remaining 220 seats are general category.
However, an independent MLA from Muthialpet, J Pregash Kumar, and a former councillor, N Periannan, have petitioned the Madras HC stating that the reservations were not done properly.
“While wards where the SC population is low have been marked as reserved, wards where their population is high have been made into general,” Kumar told The Federal.
Hearing the petitions, the court has set aside the polls.
Why Local Polls are Overlooked?
The last local body polls in the Union territory were held 15 years ago, in 2006. That term of 1,149 representatives ended in July 2010. Since then no polls have been conducted.
Between 2011 and 2016, All India NR Congress (AINRC) founder N Rangaswamy was the chief minister. He time and again put off elections citing various reasons such as Cyclone Thane, revision of voters list, etc.
“Until May 2014, the Congress was at the Centre. After that, V Narayanasamy of the Congress became the chief minister of Puducherry in June 2016. He was in the position till February 2021. But he too did not show any interest in conducting the local body polls,” said Muthukannu, a social activist.
Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi is credited with laying the foundation of Panchayati Raj institutions in India. However, the Congress has not taken any initiative to create awareness about the need to have local bodies in Puducherry and their importance, he said.
Talking to The Federal, AINRC MLA K Lakshminarayanan attributed the delay in holding elections to court cases.
“In 2011, cases pertaining to delimitation took a lot of time. Then the dispute between the lieutenant governor and the government over appointing the state election commissioner took some time. Now, the reservation of wards is causing us further delays,” said Lakshminarayanan, adding that the state EC has randomly reserved the wards.
“We need a committee to arrive at a decision over the reservation percentage for each caste. Based on that the state election commission should reserve the seats,” he said.
Scramble for Power and Lack of Funds
It should be noted that the 2006 polls were only the second in the history of the UT, held after a gap of 38 years – that too because of a court order. The first were held in 1968. One of the reasons for this is that the delimitation process took a long time to complete.
“But more than that, it is because of the power-hungry system that governments have dragged their feet in conducting local elections,” said P Lalidamballe, director, Adecom Network, an organisation working towards woman’s empowerment in Puducherry.
Since geographically the UT is small, most of the MLAs past and present are against the very idea of local bodies, she said.
“They feel that their power will be diluted and their status affected since people will always first approach local body representatives for their needs,” said Lalidamballe.
Inamul Hassan, founder, Social Harmony Federation, said the government lacks fund to conduct the polls.
“In August the government tabled a budget for more than ₹9,500 crore. But it said nothing about local body administration. The government has asked the Union to allocate funds for conducting local polls. But the funds have not been released yet,” he said, adding that in other UTs elections are properly conducted.
It should be noted that Puducherry is yet to be included in the 15th Finance Commission and hence the funds are yet to be released.
“The BJP has a speaker, it has a Rajya Sabha MP and it has three nominated MLAs. But still the chief minister is unable to cajole the Union government into releasing the funds,” Hassan added.
Former professor G Palanithurai, an authority on Panchayati Raj, said that if the government is willing, the polls can be conducted.
“The Ministry of Panchayati Raj must prod the Ministry of Home to order the Union territory to conduct the elections. If they are reluctant, the home ministry, which has control over the Union territories, should not release grants,” he said.