Gram Panchayat seats ‘auctioned’ before elections in Karnataka

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Gram Panchayat seats ‘auctioned’ before elections in Karnataka
 

Bengaluru: Reports of rural voters allegedly auctioning Gram Panchayat (GP) seats to candidates in Karnataka so that they could be declared elected ‘unopposed’ before the two-phase local body elections on December 22-27 have made a mockery of the democratic process across the state.

Taking serious note of rural voters reportedly auctioning their GP seats in Tumkuru, Ballari, Kolar, Kalaburagi and Mandya districts, the Karnataka State Election Commission (SEC) is mulling to cancel polling if the Deputy Commissioners, who are also Returning Officers, confirm the charge, an official said on Monday.

The SEC meanwhile issued a circular to all DCs, stating that the Returning officers must carefully scrutinise “unopposed” seats due to GP seats being auctioned are being reported on day-today basis.

The circular further adds that the Karnataka Panchayat Raj (Conduct Of Election) Rules, 1993, has a provision to allow candidate to withdraw his candidature through third party or through his agent as well, hence, the Returning Officers must be careful and use their discretion before accepting any requisitions that come their way where they have declare winner as an Unanimous.

SEC Secretary S. Honnamba told IANS “If the Deputy Commissioner’s report confirms the charge that candidates were auctioning their seats for cash, election in that Gram Panchayat will be cancelled.”

While SEC commissioner, B. Basvaraju told IANS that the deputy commissioners who are also district returning officers have taken serious note of such “undemocratic incidents” and also filed cases with relevant sections. “For instance, DCs of Mandya, Ballari, Kalaburagi, Tumkuru have taken action already,” he said.

He added that the state election commission at this juncture can not come out with new law and existing laws aren’t enough to punish such activities.

“After hearing these incidents, I feel we need to have stronger mechanisms, which we can think of once the ongoing election process is over. As this kind of exercise needs a lot of deliberations with various stakeholders,” he said.

It may be recalled that allegation that a tahsildar offered Rs 25 lakh to renovate a village temple in Keragodu GP in Mandya district if his wife was elected unanimously, came to light a day after elections to the local bodies in the first phase was notified on Monday.

“The tahsildar has also assured voters of more funds to develop the village if candidates withdraw their nomination, paving way for his wife election unopposed,” a source told IANS.

Similarly, some aspirants are alleged to have offered to pay lakhs of rupees for the post of president and vice-president if they were elected unanimously in a village in Nelamakanahalli GP in the same (Mandya) district.

Similarly, a seat in Madderi Gram Panchayat in Kolar was allegedly auctioned for Rs 5 lakh recently. The Madderi Gram Panchayat has 13 villages under it and the auctioning was for one of the seats from Iragasandra Bedli village.

In another case a GP seat at Bettahalli in Paduvagere Gram Panchayat limits under Amruturu hobli of Kunigal taluk in Tumkuru district was sold for Rs 1 crore in an open auction held recently.

In another case of Yedrami Gram Panchayat in Kalaburgi a video of the alleged bidding that went viral on social media, an auctioneer is seen announcing that the minimum bid amount for the seats at Ward No.1 is Rs 26.55 lakh, and each member would get a grant of Rs 2.5 crore if elected.

The general category seat was auctioned for Rs 8.55 lakh, the SC reserved (woman) for Rs 7.25 lakh, SC reserved (man) for Rs 5.50 lakh, and ST (woman) for Rs 5.25 lakh.

In Ballari, 13 seats of Bailoor village were auctioned, the video of which was shared in social media.

Meanwhile a senior official of the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj told IANS on the condition of anonymity that the biggest hurdle in stemming this rot is that the SEC directly cannot act and all these auctions have taken place prior to even candidates filed their nominations.

“Technically, in those constituencies where bidding took place, the election process hadn’t even begun, though the SEC had announced dates. In legal terms it would be very difficult to prove that if this seat tomorrow is elected unopposed, there is no valid proof such as other candidates were forced to withdraw their nominations. This for a long time, all parties are misusing to their advantage,” the source explained.

The SEC on November 30 declared 2-day election in 5,762 GP seats across the southern state, with polling in 2,930 seats on December 22 and in 2,832 seats on December 27. Vote count is on December 30.

Elections to 5762 local bodies are held on non-party symbol as their 5-year term ends this month-end.


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