In a bid to maintain the highest standards of accountability and transparency, the government of Rajasthan passed the Rajasthan Municipalities (Amendment) Bill 2023 in March. The bill allows for the dismissal of heads of urban local bodies and councillors who are deemed unsuitable for their post following an investigation.
Surprisingly, within a short period of one month, numerous complaints have already emerged against elected representatives at various municipalities and municipal councils across the state, who allegedly, concealed essential information during their electoral filings or for any misconduct while remaining on the post. This has prompted the government to reinforce its position of zero-tolerance towards such unethical practices across the 240 municipalities, municipal councils, and municipal corporations in Rajasthan. Consequently, the authorities have received various complaints against elected representatives in these bodies thus far, leading to the suspension and removal of few individuals from their positions, with investigations initiating in other cases.
The administration is leaving no stone unturned in implementing stringent measures against those who have been found guilty of manipulation, concealed facts, and tampered records in their candidature. The government's efforts have uncovered several cases where councillors have concealed vital information regarding the birth of more than 2 children, which disqualifies them to the elected post.
The majority of the complaints leveled against these individuals pertain to the concealing of such facts, and while the legislative assembly of the state introduced and passed the bill, the complaints have been brought forward to the Department of Local Bodies (DLB) and the bodies' heads. It is crucial to note that some of the complaints may have been politically motivated, as some have alleged political vengeance. Nonetheless, the state government remains steadfast in its objective of ensuring that elected representatives are held accountable to the people they serve, setting a golden standard that other regions can follow.
Political vengeance at play ?
It is widely believed that political vengeance is at play, as rivals have used this opportunity to lodge complaints against elected representatives who may have concealed essential information or made errors in their candidature to secure their positions. As per a report published in Dainik Bhaskar, 104 complaints have been received in a short span of one month, listing various cases from local bodies across the state. One such listed case is of the Sambar Municipality, the chairman was suspended, and the deputy chairman has been given the chair in his place recently.
Likewise, in Ajmer, the BJP counselor Virendra Walia was recently suspended from his post. Authorities in Sri Ganganagar raided Congress counselor, Akshay Dagla's premises, where psychotropic substances were discovered. Subsequently, he was taken into custody and sent to jail. Meanwhile, the Department of DLB is deliberating on the specifics of his suspension from his post as counselor.
Few other case studies illustrate the serious consequences of concealing information by elected representatives. In Rajsamand, BJP Parshad Champalal Kumawat was arrested last week after it was discovered that his wife had given birth to their third child on August 10, 2022. Kumawat had concealed fact in his electoral paperwork, which led to his arrest.
A similar situation arose in Chaksu, where Counselor Vinod Rajoria was suspended on 28th March for suppressing information on having two or more children. Rajoria managed to obtain a stay order from the court to avoid the suspension.
Another case in Bharatpur involved the suspension of Counselor Minu Valmiki from Kama ward number 27 for having more than two children. Minu too, have been granted a court stay on her suspension .
In another instance, the Devgarh Nagar Palika Chairman in Rajsamand, Shobhalal Regar was suspended last week for serving a notice outside his jurisdiction. He was reportedly in conflict with the executive officer over the issue of a councillor's non-disclosure of the number of children they had. A judicial inquiry has been ordered by the DLB while Dinesh Jingar has been appointed as the new Palika chairman.
The significance of the amendment
The significance of the recent amendment to the Rajasthan Municipalities (Amendment) Bill 2023 cannot be overstated. Earlier, the only means of removing councillors and urban local body leaders was by filing an election petition for their disqualification within a month of their election. However, this amendment allows the state government to remove elected representatives who are found to be ineligible or have contested the election by hiding important information.
The amendment bill proposed the insertion of a new clause (e) in sub-section (1) of section 39, which allows for the removal of such members on the grounds of disqualification under section 14 or section 24 or for not fulfilling the requirements of section 21 during the elections.
The UDH minister, Shanti Dhariwal, pointed out during the discussion on the bill that there was no reason for ineligible members to remain in office. If an ineligible candidate wins an election and no petition is filed within one month to disqualify them, they become qualified to hold office for the next five years. Dhariwal added that in such cases, determining the eligibility of the person should not take more than a month. If it is found that an elected representative was not qualified at the time of their election, they can be removed through an investigation.
" The amendment signifies the government's commitment to promote honest and transparent governance, where elected representatives are held accountable to the people they serve. It is a positive development that will certainly help maintain the integrity of local bodies, and in turn, promote good governance at the ground level " says Gopal Sanadhya, a senior advocate and veteran congressman at Udaipur.
Bharat Kumawat, an MLA candidate from AAP in the previous assembly elections (2018), emphasize the importance of impartiality in taking action against elected representatives who have concealed or furnished false information. " It is vital to maintain the integrity of elected offices by ensuring that anyone who engages in such activities faces strict consequences, regardless of their political affiliations" Kumawat says.
Rajesh Singhvi, a former councillor and leading lawyer in Udaipur, underlines the importance of considering legal aspects while taking action against individuals. He says , " It is essential to follow due process to ensure that actions taken against such representatives are fair, transparent, and without prejudice. Political rivalries should not be used as an opportunity to settle personal scores, and it is essential to maintain the integrity of democratic processes."
" It is a welcome move towards promoting transparency and good governance, ensuring impartiality in enforcing it is equally important. The government must adopt a fair approach to curb any wrongful means used to secure positions in elected offices, and the law must be upheld without bias ", says Dr. R.C Tiwari, a retired Prof and Ex -VC of Mewar University, Chittorgarh.
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