The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Digvijay in two-child spot

Bhopal/Raipur, March 9: The quality of condoms has taken centrestage in the functioning of grassroots democracy and population stabilisation programmes in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

Sarpanchs and vice-sarpanchs in these states facing disqualification for not adhering to the two-child norm while in office have put the blame on faulty condoms. The courts also appear to be considering stay orders in two cases in Chhattisgarh.

Sarpanch Lakhni Devi of Tidla village was disqualified by the Raipur collector for not adhering to the norm. She moved the high court, saying condoms procured from the state-run primary health centre had been used for 11 years. She successfully argued that her pregnancy and the subsequent birth of a child was the result of poor quality of condoms supplied at the health centre and, as such, the state was as much responsible.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh has shelved a move to disqualify 281 elected representatives who have more than two children, after several of them blamed the quality of condoms.

But his opponents allege that the gesture was meant to please the 4,00,000 elected representatives who can form a massive workforce during polls.

In many cases in Madhya Pradesh, women sarpanchs have convinced district collectors not to act against them as they have little control over the size of the family. Rama Devi, from Harda district, said if she failed to “oblige” her husband, her marital life would be ruined. Devi also questioned why an elected representative should be asked to choose between her family and office.

Senior officials in the two states are prepared to give the “benefit of doubt” in these cases, saying such aberrations should be seen in the context of a vibrant grassroots democracy.

Regarding the cases of faulty condoms, a Madhya Pradesh minister who did not want to be quoted said it was up to the courts and condom manufacturers to take note of the situation.

However, this may be easier said than done. In one case, Ayub Khan earned a reprieve from the high court claiming that his wife became pregnant for the fifth time before the two-child norm became law. Nobody checked the medical records.

In the high court, Khan’s lawyer convinced a divisional bench that the state had no right to punish a person whose wife became pregnant before the law was enacted.

The lawyer went on to dub the provision in Panchayati Raj Act as unconstitutional and wondered how the state could offer such a disincentive. He questioned why members of Parliament and Assemblies were excluded if the idea was that elected representatives should set an example.

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