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India is the largest and one of the most vibrant democracies of the world, ably running a democratic system for more than six decades. We should be proud of it because very few developing nations have actually been able to run a effective democratic system. The role of Election Commission of India is to upkeep the principles on which the nation was built. The Election Commission over the years enhanced its credibility by fair, fearless and impartial exercise of its constitutional authority in cleansing the Indian electoral system and stands as the custodian of the Democracy.

Today more and more countries are attracted towards democracy, because it is a governance of the people, by the people and for the people. Democracy demands greater devolution of powers not necessarily from the State Government to the local bodies but from the highest power center to the lowest unit of administration and that is why a new slogan called “Lok Sabha to Grama Sabha” has been coined, whereby power has to be returned from the Central Government to Local Government.

The 73rd  and 74th  Amendments to the Constitution of India is a milestone in the process of establishing democratic decentralised administration through local bodies and taking administration to the doorsteps of the people to ensure economic and social justice. The process of conducting elections to the local bodies is a constitutional obligation as per the said amendments. In continuation to the completion of local body elections successfully in Tamil Nadu during October 2006, the Tamil Nadu State Election Commission released a statistical report on it in CD form. These statistical reports contain nature of elections, names of the contestants, seats won by political parties, percentage of votes secured by them, reservation and other relevant information, which are very much sought for by the political parties, election agencies and researchers for further study and analysis..

 

73rd Constitutional Amendment Act (Panchayats)

  1. Formation of Grama Sabha in every village with powers of general supervision over the elected Village Panchayat and the power to grant approval to the annual plans of the Panchayats.
  2. Formation of three tier Panchayats i.e., District Panchayats, Panchayat Unions and Village Panchayats made obligatory.
  3. More or less uniform composition of Panchayats at each level throughout the country.
  4. Reservation of seats for weaker sections of the society like SCs, STs and Women, not only in the offices of members of Panchayats but also in the offices of their Chairpersons.
  5. Duration of office for the elected bodies fixed rigidly as 5 years uniformly and election to Panchayats is brought under the supervision, direction and control of an independent constitutional authority viz., the State Election Commission.
  6. Vestiture of adequate powers and responsibilities.
  7. Powers to impose taxes and provision for grants, assignments etc. from Government funds through constitution of a State Finance Commission.
 

74th Constitutional Amendment Act (urban local bodies)

  1. Devolution of more functions and taxation powers.
  2. Revenue sharing with State Government funds.
  3. Regular conduct of elections.
  4. Reservation of seats for SCs, STs and for women.
  5. Uniform composition of the urban bodies throughout the country.
  6. Prescription of criteria for categorising urban local bodies like Town Panchayats, Municipalities, City Municipal Corporations.
  7. Restriction on the formation of Townships only to industrial areas where the entire municipal services are provided or proposed to be provided by the industry.
  8. Formation of District Planning and Metropolitan Planning Committees.
 

The Tamil Nadu Government as a follow up, to these Constitutional amendments, enacted the Tamil Nadu Panchayats Act, 1994, replacing the Tamil Nadu Panchayats Act, 1958 and also amended the relevant provisions of various Acts relating to the urban local bodies.

As per the newly enacted Panchayats Act, Panchayats are classified into three different levels viz., District Panchayat at the Revenue District level, Panchayat Union at the Panchayat Development Block level and the Village Panchayat at the grass-root level.  All these Panchayats at three levels share the same area at different levels as their jurisdiction but have different powers and functions.  Each District Panchayat has been delimited into what is known as “Territorial Wards” at the rate of one ward for every 50,000 population for the purpose of electing members to represent in the District Panchayat.  Similarly; the areas of every Panchayat union have been divided into Panchayat Union Wards at the rate of one ward for every 5000 population.  The Chairpersons of these two bodies are to be elected indirectly, ie., by and from among the elected members of the respective bodies.  The areas of every village Panchayat have also been delimited into wards for the purpose of election of village Panchayat ward members.  But on account of special reasons like uneven distribution of population within the village Panchayat areas, lack of well formed streets, roads, lanes and by-lanes and consequential adoption of “Block System” of house numbering, the number of wards in a village Panchayat have been fixed in the range of minimum two to maximum five per Panchayat depending upon the number of inhabited areas, population and geographical location. Each ward may have single or multiple ward members provided the number of members allocated to each ward shall not exceed three.   Unlike, the District Panchayat and Panchayat Union Councils, the Chairpersons of village Panchayat ie., Presidents of village Panchayats are elected directly by the voters themselves.  Thus, four direct elections in all ie., one for Village Panchayat Ward Member, one for Village Panchayat President, one for Panchayat Union Ward Member and one for District Panchayat Territorial Ward Member have to be conducted in rural areas.

The urban local bodies have been classified under various categories viz., Town Panchayats, 3rd Grade Municipalities, Municipalities and City Municipal Corporations. They are individual units themselves and each one is in charge of the civic needs of its own area. At Present there are 561 Town Panchayats, 50 Third Grade Municipalities, 98 Municipalities and 10 Municipal Corporations in Tamil Nadu. The Ward Members/Councillors of these urban bodies are elected directly.

Apart from these direct elections, the following indirect elections are also held:-

 

A) Rural Local Bodies  

i) a Vice-President of Village Panchayat – by and from among the elected members of each and every village panchayats.

ii) a Chairman of the panchayat union council – by and from among the members of each and every panchayat union council.

iii) a Vice-Chairman of the panchayat union council – by and from among the members of each and every panchayat union council.

iv) a Chairman of a district panchayat – by and from among the elected members of every district panchayats.

v) a Vice-Chairman of a district panchayat – by and from among the elected members of every district panchayats.

B) Urban Local Bodies       

i) Mayors of City Municipal Corporations and Chairman of Municipalities and Town Panchayats by and from the elected Councillors of each local body concerned.

ii) Deputy Mayors of City Municipal Corporations, and Vice-Chairmen of Municipalities and Town Panchayats – by and from among the elected Councillors of each local body concerned.

iii) Chairpersons of the wards committee in City Municipal Corporations areas having a population of three lakhs and above by and from among the elected Councillors of concerned wards of the Corporations.

iv) Members of the various statutory and standing committees of the respective urban local bodies by and from among the elected Councillors of each local body concerned.

Almost all procedures followed in the general elections ie. those prescribed in the Representation of People Act and the election rules framed thereunder are followed in the elections to local bodies also.  The following direct elections are held on non-party basis viz.

1)      Members of Village Panchayat Wards and

2)      Presidents of Village Panchayats.

 

The other elections viz. members of Panchayat union wards and District Panchayat wards in the case of rural local bodies and the elections of ward councillors of urban local bodies are held on party basis.  The electoral rolls for the local body elections are prepared and printed separately, local body ward-wise.  But they are prepared adopting the entries in the corresponding electoral rolls of the Assembly constituency area.  No separate enumeration of voters as such is undertaken for preparing the local bodies electoral rolls.

The Tamil Nadu State Election Commission, an independent, autonomous Constitutional authority formed under the Constitution of India as per the Provisions of the 73rd  and 74th  Amendments Acts of 1992 is headed by the State Election Commissioner.   As per Article 243-K read with 243-ZA of the Constitution of India, all elections to Panchayats and urban local bodies are to be held under the superintendence, direction and control of the State Election Commission.  The Local Body Elections in Tamil Nadu, hitherto conducted by the Government were taken over by the State Election Commission, for the first time in October, 1996.  The subsequent ordinary elections were held during October, 2001 & 2006.

The task involved in conducting the local bodies Elections for the rural as well as for the urban local bodies in Tamil Nadu was elaborate, enormous, massive, magnificent and gigantic besides complicated.  We have 40,879 wards in Village Panchayats, 6,570 wards in Panchayat Unions, 656 wards in District Panchayats, 8,807 wards in Town Panchayats, 98 wards in third Grade Municipalities, 3,196 wards in Municipalities and 670 wards in Corporations apart from the office of Chairpersons numbering 13,751 and as such it is needless to emphasise the size and magnitude of these Elections.

The Local Body Elections were held throughout the State simultaneously at one stroke in two phases for different offices both in the first and second Ordinary Elections to the local bodies which were held in October 2001 and October 2006 respectively.

 

Similarly, as per the Constitutional mandate to complete the election process before the expiry of the current term of the elected representatives, the next round of ordinary elections was successfully conducted by the Tamil Nadu State Election Commission in October, 2006. A mammoth 1,30,962 posts had to be filled up by the direct elections and 14,884 posts by indirect elections. 20,230 candidates were elected unopposed and 3,68,896 candidates were in the fray for the remaining 1,10,376 posts. This election exercise was accomplished by utilising over 2.5 lakhs ballot boxes in 80,458 Polling Stations and by deploying more than 5 lakhs polling personnel. The rural areas recorded high percentage of polling (76.06%) whereas in the urban areas the poll percentage recorded is marginally less (65.25%). The overall poll percentage in the Local body election, 2006 election is 71.53 which is higher than the previous Ordinary local body elections in 2001 (64.81%).


The Commission has embarked a clear, crisp and comprehensive plan with all purposes and concluded its task successfully thereby strengthening the process of decentralisation and democratisation of grassroot democracy in Tamil Nadu.

 

 
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