SEC moots amendment to Kerala Panchayati Raj Act

The State Election Commission has mooted an amendment to the Kerala Panchayati Raj Act, 1944, to disqualify rape accused against whom a charge has been framed by a court from contesting the local body elections.

State Election Commissioner K. Sasidharan Nair, in a proposal to the State government, has suggested that a restriction on this score will go a long way in freeing local self-government institutions from the clutches of criminal elements, especially those involved in sexual offences. Courts usually frame charge for an offence only when a prima facie case is made out against the accused.

Mr. Sasidharan Nair told The Hindu here that there were instances of persons against whom charges had been framed by the courts for serious crimes such as rape contesting and winning the elections and continuing as civic body members. This should be viewed against the fact that 50 per cent of the elected members in the civic bodies were women. Since a member of a local body division represented a very small locality, he would have to interact closely with the people. The member should essentially be a person with an impeccable character.

Moreover, the elected members had a key role in running the Jagratha Samithis, constituted for preventing atrocities against women and children. Each Samithi at the ward and panchayat level was expected to function as an appellate authority for receiving complaints of women and children, and make effective interventions to prevent atrocities. The majority of the complainants would be women and children. The members had an extended role in hearing the complaints, along with other designated personnel such as lawyers, social workers, and police officers, and create an atmosphere conducive for peaceful living for the victims in their locality. Such goals could be attained only by members who commanded respectability among the people, he said.

The amendment completely eliminates the chances of such persons making an attempt to contest the elections and imposes a moral curb on political parties while selecting the candidates. The proposal said the Central Election Commission, in the electoral reforms proposed, had suggested that a rape accused against whom a court had framed a charge should not be allowed to contest elections.

The National Commission constituted for reviewing the Constitution, the core committee on electoral reforms formed by the Union Law and Justice Ministry, and the Justice Verma Committee constituted for review of criminal laws had made similar recommendations, the proposal said.

The Commissioner has submitted a draft Bill for amending the Act.

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