The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Panchayat poll after budget session: CM

Ranchi, Jan. 19: The long overdue panchayat elections in the state would be held “immediately after” the budget session, said chief minister Babulal Marandi.

The poll dates would not extend beyond May, he told The Telegraph before leaving for Jamtara. The budget session of the Assembly is likely to conclude by March-end.

Despite several promises, including on the floor of the House, for almost a year to hold the polls, the BJP-led government has not sent any communication to that effect to the state election commission. Rural development secretary U.P. Singh said the poll panel and his department were “fully prepared” for the elections.

“As soon as the chief minister announces the tentative dates for the polls, the process will get in motion. The pre-poll exercise will not take more than two months. The final schedule will be prepared by the Election Commission,” Singh said.

Touching upon an emotive issue, Marandi said reservation of posts of deputy chairpersons at all levels of the three-tier panchayat system in the Scheduled Areas was “proper and constitutional”.

“The amendment to the Constitution in 1996, which specified the structure of panchayat bodies in the Scheduled Areas, has provided for reserving the posts of chairpersons. So, the government is within its rights in reserving the posts,” Marandi said.

Leaders from various backward castes, especially the Kurmi-Mahto community, have demanded that the reservations be scrapped.

They said the demographic composition of the Scheduled Areas has changed since the time of demarcation in the days of undivided Bihar.

“There are several panchayats in the Scheduled Areas where the proportion of tribal population is meagre. Reserving the posts of deputy chairpersons, in addition to reserving 50 per cent of members’ posts for them, does not make sense. The government should remove this anomaly before holding the panchayat polls,” a powerful Kurmi leader said.

A “massive rally” of his caste members has been planned later this month to pile pressure on the government, he added.

Marandi, however, did not rule out suitable amendments to the Panchayati Raj Act, saying “legal opinion” has been sought on the matter.

Sources said some changes might be made to the provisions during the budget session before the rural poll dates are announced.

The sources said the government’s recent inclination towards the rural belt, particularly the tribes, is seen as a “rehearsal” for the panchayat elections.

The BJP has been fighting hard to shed its “urban middle class” image and most of its recent organisational programmes have focussed on the rural population.

Another potential “worrying factor” for the government is the likelihood of “indirect” participation of extremist organisations in the elections.

The sources said the government’s hardline approach towards ultra-Left rebels was due in part to possibility of their participation in the polls.

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