Mapping delimitation & reservation

By Prabhakar Timble
24 April 2012 20:02 IST

The discontent among the newly elected MLAs, the sitting members in Village Panchayats and the potential candidates for the forthcoming elections including their loyal supporters to the delimitation and reservation of wards of 185 village panchayats is understandable. Any new delimitation upsets the status quo. The final outcome of delimitation cannot maintain the pre-existing structure of wards. We have seen this in respect of Assembly constituencies; to the extent that two existing constituencies were dropped and the reorganisation resulted in new geographical limits for almost all constituencies.  Reservation of wards for women, OBC and ST is a statutory requirement. Any kind of selection of wards to comply with the reservation requirement will upset local political leadership. Everybody wants the neighbours ward to be booked, not mine.  The NIMBY (Not in my back yard) syndrome that we experience in respect of collection and disposal of municipal solid waste also operates in case of reservation for women, OBC and Scheduled Tribes.

The sitting members of the Panchayats object because the boundaries of their wards are altered as a result of new delimitation. They raise a hue and cry if their wards come under the reserved category. Little do they realise that a sitting member cannot be given a permanent licence in specified geographical boundaries. They need not know that they do not own the wards and the objective of delimitation or reservation is not to protect and promote the interests of the sitting members of Panchayats. In a fresh delimitation exercise, the ward structure and boundaries are bound to change. If they remain the same, it only means that a fresh delimitation order was not needed. Delimitation and reservation is not decided on who stands to benefit or who is to be pushed out. However, every fresh delimitation and reservation kicks up a controversy with allegations that they are designed to guard the electoral interests of persons aligned to the ruling parties. These outbursts of manipulations and accusations of fraud largely come from persons who have fixed their calculations and equations to contest and win rather than from the villagers and the people. From the top, the MLAs and ministers add to the polluted atmosphere to facilitate the interests of the local chieftains owing allegiance to them.

Fix and follow standards

All this is avoidable if clear standards are followed in the process of delimitation and reservation. First, initiate the course and complete the final notification in respect of the above, a minimum of six months prior to the notification of the election process schedule by the State Election Commission. Notification of reservation and delimitation of wards, just a week before the election schedule does not allow any opportunity to candidates desiring to participate in Panchayat elections to align themselves to the field realities. A general category ward gets converted to a reserved ward. The population and voter base of wards undergoes a transformation. The rules of the game undergo almost a revolutionary change and the communication is done on the nick of filing nominations for elections. If this is known to the people well in advance, it enables pre-preparations, realignment, adjustments and facilitates adaptability. The last minute announcement of delimitation and reservation dampens the spirits and gives a rude shock. It is as if the match is to be decided by penalty strokes. I have no doubt that if the position of delimitation and reservation of wards is communicated six months in advance, it would promote acceptability and fairness. This is irrespective of the authority which is vested with the power to notify reservation.

Secondly, the criteria for delimitation or reservation need to be clearly stated in the order. This is to enable stakeholders to understand the objective and purpose and get convinced that the order is issued on intelligible objective criteria. Such a handling of the matter will automatically ward off political interference or play by the vested interests including NGOs and outfits working as Village Voice or Village Groups. A communication in respect of the criteria also equips the BDOs/Panchayat Secretaries/Talathis to work uniformly with an assertive approach.  This is the best anti-dote from becoming vulnerable to political and local pressures.

Thirdly, there should be a pre-publication of proposed delimitation and reservation to invite comments and objections. This could be done on the website of the concerned department, official gazette and display in every Panchayat. If necessary, a taluka-wise public hearing could be conducted as a part of the consultation. However, transparency, participation and consultation should not be raised to the level of taking the concurrence from the Gram Sabhas as demanded by some NGOs. The purpose of consultation is to get feedback on anomalies if any or any aspect which does not stand the enunciated criteria of delimitation and reservation. It is facts, logic and reason which should decide this important aspect of democratic participation. The final notification should be issued after handling of objections. Such a procedure would pre-empt storming and picketing of authorities and later reversal and alterations of decisions, though called as rectification, but taken under duress and political pressures.

Devolve the power

The State Election Commissioner chairs the Delimitation Commission which delimits local government constituencies. The power of delimitation and reservation of wards of local bodies in Karnataka is vested in the State Election Commission. The same holds true in Maharashtra and Gujarat. This is a positive line which the Government of Goa can toe to restore the badly bruised image in the just concluded delimitation and reservation exercise. Elected representatives want to retain power of delimitation and reservation in respect of local bodies with themselves. After the current flak the government and the Directorate has received from all quarters resulting in the postponement of polls to the most resourceful and cash-rich Village Panchayat of Calangute, delegation of such power to the State Election Commission would be in the interests of government and local self-governing bodies.  Postponement of polls just a few hours before the commencement of filing of nominations, through an order on a Sunday exclusively necessitated by manipulations in delimitation and voter’s list gives the straight message that the government should shred and strip this power caged with it.  

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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