M A I N   N E W S

Polls to hundreds of newly-carved panchayats
put off in Punjab
EC sees through SAD-BJP game
Naveen S. Garewal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 16
The state Election Commission (EC) has put off elections to hundreds of gram panchayats that were hurriedly created by the Punjab government in April this year. This was done after splitting the existing panchayats to improve the poll prospects of the SAD-BJP alliance. Once the matter came to light, Punjab Election Commissioner A.K Dubey announced the exclusion of the newly created gram panchayats from the poll process.

Apparently the move to “act smart” by the SAD-BJP ruling alliance was caught by the state EC after some Congress panches and sarpanches discovered that their vote bases had moved to other panchayats and the voters lists did not include names of people they had been nurturing. The carving out of the new panchayats has allegedly been done in a manner whereby concentrations of opposition vote banks have been split to the advantage of the ruling alliance.

Further, complying with orders of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, following writ petitions objecting to the splitting of some of these existing panchayats, the EC has decided to postpone the poll in the parent panchayats as well as the newly formed panchayats. The prime objection of the EC is that the state government formed new panchayats six days after the poll notification was issued to secure an undue advantage. These postponed polls will now have to be re-notified and the entire process will be completed by June 21.

“After the gram panchayat polls were notified on April 11, 2008, the Punjab government went ahead and created over 264 new panchayats, following a notification on April 17, 2008. The EC decided to exclude these panchayats from the poll process because it considered these newly created panchayats were carved out to enhance the electoral prospects of the ruling party, but otherwise existed only on paper,” Dubey told The Tribune.

It is estimated that over a 100 villages spread across Punjab have been split to carve out about 264 smaller panchayats. Some villagers from the parent panchayat have also approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court to oppose the split. In one particular writ (CWP No 4092/ 2008), six gram panchayats of Panj Grian, Siryewala, Mangwal, Sabhran, Miaonwal and Tibber have petitioned against the split. The writ pleads that panchayats like Sabhran have been split into five panchayats of Gullewala, Killa Sham Singh, Attari, Jyoti Shah and Nawan Killa.

The Punjab government has accepted that the new panchayats were formed after the notification, but since they have been formed, it will be unfair to ignore them. The state government is drawing its support from the argument that as per the Punjab Panchayat Raj Act, 1994, the state can declare any village or contiguous villages of not less than 200 persons to constitutue a gram sabha area. The EC has rejected this plea of the government and decided not to hold polls here.

Further, to rule out the rejection of nominations on flimsy grounds, the EC has issued directives to all returning officers to “verify the nomination forms in original, and thereafter return a photocopy of the nomination and annexures after affixing signatures on each page. This measure shall obviate the chances of tampering or removal of papers from the nomination form and its enclosures,” Dubey said.



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