ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Rethinking the Rotation Term of Reservation in Panchayats

Panchayati raj has attracted women to politics in large numbers and the desire to contest elections seems most keen among those belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes. That 88% of SC/ST members of panchayats were elected from reserved seats confirms that policy has been crucial to the representation of disadvantaged groups. An analysis shows that a majority of women representatives could not get re-elected because their seats were de-reserved in the next election. Reservation motivated 43% of women representatives to contest their first election and its withdrawal dissuaded 39% from seeking re-election. This points to the need to rethink the system of rotating seats reserved for women so that they are given 10 to 15 years of continued opportunity.

Nupur Tiwari ( is Development of the North Eastern Region

COMMENTARYjanuary 31, 2009 EPW Economic & Political Weekly24is mandatory (See the second proviso to Article 243D (4)).A recent survey, commissioned by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj and executed by AC Nielsen-ORGMARG under the guid-ance of an academic advisory committee, provides many new insights into the social and political empowerment of women inPRIs. This large survey covered gram panchayats in 23 states and had a total sample size of more than 20,000, includ-ing EWRs, elected male representatives (EMRs), formerEWRs, and official func-tionaries. Nearly three-fourths of the EWRs in the sample belonged to the SC/STs and other backward communities, and were evenly divided above and below the poverty line. Reservation has played a significant role – four-fifths of all the EWRs were elected from reserved seats. Its role was also evident in that it emerged as an important motivator, persuading 43% of women representatives to contest their first election. Its absence dissuaded 39% of formerEWRs from seeking re-election.A majority of the EWRs had contested only one election (87%) and the pro-portion of first timers in politics was therefore high (86%). Around 14% were re-elected more than once at the gram panchayat level. Further analysis showed that a majority of formerEWRs could not get re-elected because their seats had been de-reserved when the poll came around. While no gender discrimination in panchayats was reported by 60% of the EWRs, acceptability and the ability to raise issues freely in panchayat meetings was mentioned by 94%. A supportive profes-sional environment evidently motivates EWRs to perform better, as 60% to 64% reported an increase in their interaction with line departments and parallel bodies. Even the participation of other women citizens in various activities such as at-tending gram sabha meetings had report-edly increased (68-78%). However, issues related to planning rural development works and identifying families below the poverty line were discussed mainly by the male pradhans and ward members.In the case ofEWRs, prior association with any form of politics was low, and for most, the act of contesting the first election signalled their entry into active politics. Whatever prior association they had was of a limited nature. A significant propor-tion of EWRs said that they were earlier as-sociated with groups or committees and that this association had helped them.While 21% of the representatives claimed to have been self-motivated, about 22% said their spouses had inspired them. This was higher in the case ofEWRs (30%). Interestingly, participation in community groups such as mahila mandals, self-help groups, youth clubs and cooperatives seemed to have played an important role, with 22% of the elected representatives reporting that this had motivated them to take the plunge into electoral politics. However, 8% of the elected representa-tives, mainly in West Bengal, Sikkim, Tripura and Kerala, disclosed that politi-cal parties had motivated them. Husbands (30%) and other family members (12%) were reported to have played an impor-tant role in motivatingEWRs to contest elections for the first time.The economic status of more than half the elected representatives (54%) was above the poverty line (APL). There was a higher proportion of APL individuals among pradhans (72%), as compared to ward members (50%). Almost two-fifths (38%) of all EWRs were reportedlyBPL, the majority being ward members (41%) rather than pradhans (24%). This indicates, overall, that pradhans are better off than other panchayat members. However, not much difference is seen between the eco-nomic status of male and female elected representatives.One-third of the elected representatives reported interactions with the police, local bureaucracy and officials in the line departments to discuss the implementation of schemes and participation in elections campaigns. Taking proactive initiatives to sign petitions, participate in protests, alert the media or notify the police or courts about local problems was mentioned by 24 to35%.That reservation has been critical to the representation of disadvantaged groups was confirmed by the fact that 88% of them had been elected from reservedseats.Approximately 86% of all the representatives surveyed were first-timers in panchayats, while 14.3% had been elected for a second or third term. While 15% of the women pradhans had been re-elected twice or more, the corre-sponding figure for male pradhans was 37%. Of the formerEWRs interviewed, 11%said they had contested but lost the election, while 39% indicated that they did not contest the election because their seat had been de-reserved. A majority of EWRs are not proxies of their male relatives any more. The decision to contest elections was taken on their own by 58% of them. Alongside this big achievement, 15% of women pradhans were able to win elections a second time. Women belonging to the 21-35 age group performed better than those belonging to the 35 years and above age group. Women members of active committees at the village level were more successful at the panchayat level. The survey report points out that dalits also benefited in that reservations inspired and prompted many of them to contest elections. Karnataka, for instance, provided, a 25% reservation in its two-tier panchayati raj system in 1987. This was replaced by the constitutionally mandated 33% in 1993. National Seminar on Participatory Democracy and Human DevelopmentMarch 20-21, 2009Call for PapersNewman College, Thodupuzha, a NAAC accredited ‘A” grade institution in Kerala is organizing a national seminar on “Participatory Democracy and Human Development” during March 20-21, 2009. It is being organized in collaboration with University Grants Commission, New Delhi. The seminar expects papers on various issues that reflect on nexus of participatory democracy with human development. We expectpapers on (1) the ideal and practice of Participatory Democracy; (2) Citizen, State and Politics in Democratic Societies; (3) Party System, Election Process and Quest for Good Governance; (4) PRIs and Participatory Democracy; (5) Participatory Democracy and Social Justice; (6) Gender and Participatory Democracy; (7) Dalits and Participatory Democracy; (8) Civil Society and Participatory Democracy; and (9) Participatory Democracy and Human Development. The abstracts of the papers are expected by February 28, and the final paper by March 15. For details see our web site:

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