Trampling on grassroots: On T.N. local body polls

Three years after they fell due in 2016, rural local bodies in Tamil Nadu will witness elections in the last week of this month. And, barring any further judicial intervention, urban local bodies are also likely to have elected representatives early next year. It is a travesty of the law that these elections have been delayed. Cities, towns and villages have been under the rule of unelected officials for too long. Under a Supreme Court order, polls for all local bodies will have to be held, except in those districts that have been divided recently to create new ones. It is the first time since local self-government became the third tier of governance under the Constitution that polls have not been held on time in T.N. — timely elections were held every five years since 1996. Administrative lapses and political litigation over ward delimitation in various local bodies in accordance with the latest population figures in the 2011 Census resulted in the unprecedented delay. Originally announced on time in 2016, the notification was cancelled by the Madras High Court, citing irregularities in it. Since then, the issue of delimitation, the announcement of new districts and occasional litigation have contributed to the delay in setting in motion elections to the vital tiers of grassroots democracy.

There have been frequent changes in the mode of electing mayors of city corporations and chairpersons of municipalities. Originally, direct elections were held, but it was changed to indirect mode in 2006. The present regime has changed its mind twice. In 2016, the Jayalalithaa regime opted for indirect elections, that is, only ward councillors would be elected by the people and these representatives, in turn, would elect mayors and municipal chairpersons. The current Edappadi K. Palaniswami government reversed the decision and chose the direct election mode. Recently, it once again changed its mind and restored the system of indirect election, citing “better accountability and collective responsibility”. It claimed that there was scope for conflict between a directly elected head and the councillors, and that this would be eliminated if councillors themselves elected the mayor or chairperson. Beyond all the legal and technical reasons, and political squabbles over the timing of elections, the attitude of the two main parties towards the importance of local bodies has been quite lukewarm. While the posts of the heads of various local bodies are seen as prestigious, there is much politicisation when it comes to devolving funds and letting the various tiers work independently. District panchayats, in particular, are seen as being frequently undermined, as most parties consider them as a redundant third tier among panchayati raj institutions. While the polls are fought bitterly, the State is still some distance away from including local self-government bodies as partners in its development.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 5:34:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/trampling-on-grassroots/article30239173.ece

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