The High Court observations in the petition challenging the State government’s decision to postpone panchayat elections expose the fact that the grass-root bodies are taken for granted with neither the government nor the State Election Commission showing any genuine interest in filling up a constitutional void. Rather, a mockery is being made of the constitutional mandate by showing no urgency or inclination to install elected local bodies and blaming it on the OBC census and the monsoon.
It is bizarre that the government has submitted before the court that it has taken a “conscious decision” to postpone elections due to the ongoing monsoon season while citing floods and cyclones of the past. The arguments that ink would get smudged and paper would get spoilt pale out and shows the extent to which the government has gone to defend a failure.
There cannot be reasoning to hold a constitutional mandate in abeyance because of rains, and no elections can wait beyond a reasonable point due to unforeseen weather. Let’s not forget the fact that the government has pushed through elections, for both municipalities and the legislative assembly, in far worse conditions when Covid was on the rampage where precious lives were being snatched away by the killer virus, and when Goa was in a state of mourning. In seemingly distressful conditions, both the State government and the SEC showed the need and intent to carry on with the electoral process after issuing SOPs, and here there is a case made out based on the weather.
The blame game between the government and the SEC on delaying panchayat elections highlights the fact that the government was trying to salvage itself from the situation, while the SEC exposed itself as spineless to act on its own, and showed that it was playing an obligatory role to the government. If the government was not in agreement with the five different dates that the SEC zeroed down on, then why did SEC not bring it to the attention of the CEC? It cannot rest its case by saying that the government declined. The authority and independence of the election body are nowhere visible, and by consistently playing to the tune of those in power, it has allowed itself to be a puppet of successive governments.
The court has observed that the frequent delays and postponement of elections is a defiance of a constitutional mandate. The State and the SEC are equal partners in this defiance and are responsible for the vacuum in the functioning of panchayats. The urgency of holding elections was never visible, even before monsoon, and there was no plan in place either. By picking up employees who have absolutely no understanding of panchayat bodies and their functioning and appointing them as administrators, the government has disrespected these grass-root local bodies and belittled the Panchayati raj system.
It is to be seen if the court finds merit in the fresh plea seeking postponement due to the forthcoming Legislative Session from July 11 to August 12.