Maharashtra: Amid Reports of 'Auction', Panchayat Elections in Two Villages Scrapped

In many villages, candidates have subverted the democratic process by promising to contribute money to developmental activities in return for getting elected unopposed.

New Delhi: Amid reports of panchayat seats being put up for ‘auction’, the Maharashtra State Election Commission (SEC) has decided to scrap elections in two villages – Umrane in Nashik district and Kondamali in Nandurbar.

According to an Indian Express report, ‘auctions’ in these two villages fetched Rs 2 crore and Rs 42 lakh respectively. Gram panchayat elections are scheduled to be held in the state on Friday, but the newspaper reported that in many villages the results are a foregone conclusion after ‘consensus candidates’ – a euphemism for getting elected unopposed after holding an ‘auction’ – have been arrived at.

In one village that the Express‘s reporter travelled to, a candidate who was set to get ‘elected’ unopposed admitted that there had been an auction. “It was through extensive public consultations that we managed to get unopposed candidates. It was decided that the money that would otherwise get spent in the elections would be contributed towards the construction of a temple in the village,” said Kiran Gaware.

Allegations of “auction” and money being spent to buy seats had been doing the rounds for a while. The state’s election commissioner U.P.S. Madan had on January 4 taken cognisance of videos and media reports of ‘auctions, ordering the district collectors to look into them.

Consequently, reports submitted by the district collector, election observers, sub-divisional officers established that auctions had taken place for the posts of sarpanches and members, according to Hindustan Times.

In its statement on Wednesday, the SEC said, “After going through the reports, and the various audio and video recordings, the Commission has decided to cancel the elections to these two villages. The district collectors are directed to take necessary legal action against the people involved in the auction.”

However, the Indian Express report noted that in many cases people who were seen participating in the auction did not file nominations for gram panchayat seats. Winners do not contest the elections but field family members or proxies.

This was supported by inquiries ordered by Nadurbar district collector Rajendra Bharud and his Nanded counterpart Vipin Ithankar. “It transpired that the people who made the winning bid had not filed nominations. But we have filed cases against violation of Model Code of Conduct against them,” Bharud told the newspaper.

It is also hard to track ‘auctions’ since most do not involve a paper trail. Prahlad Ingole, a Shiv Sena leader from Nanded, told the Indian Express that “influential voices” in the village take a call on the candidates and ask them to contribute money for a “common cause”.

“It could be for the construction of a temple, or expansion of a school… usually expenditure that [is] not covered under any government schemes. The hopefuls are taken into confidence and the one who commits the maximum money for the cause is given the green signal to contest. The others are quietly managed,” Ingole said, adding that he wanted to contest the elections but “couldn’t arrange the money”.

Stakes for panchayats elections have been raised since the 73rd and 74th Amendments, which devolved power to local bodies and gave them constitutional status.

The Indian Express report adds that most villages in Pune where candidates will get elected unopposed are near industrial zones. “The people who control these bodies also gain a negotiating muscle with the industries for cornering labour and scrap contracts,” a local Shiv Sena leader told the newspaper.