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‘Will give befitting reply’: Sarpanches intensify stir against Khattar govt after lathi charge

Sarpanches are protesting e-tendering of developmental projects as they feel government is curtailing spending powers of village councils. Opposition Congress is backing sarpanches.

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Chandigarh: The two-month agitation by sarpanches against e-tendering in development projects has taken an ugly turn for the Manohar Lal Khattar government in Haryana with the agitators resolving to hold a permanent sit-in at Panchkula-Chandigarh border after the police cane charge Wednesday.

The sarpanches have announced that their sit-in would continue until their demands, including abolishing of e-tendering in allocation of contracts for infrastructure projects, scrapping the right to recall law for panchayati raj institutions, are not met by the government.

Haryana Sarpanches Association president Ranbir Singh Samain told The Print over phone that the agitators would remain till the goal is achieved.

Though a Deputy Inspector General of Police met the sarpanches at police headquarters in Sector 6 in Panchkula on Thursday and assured them that the Chief Minister has agreed to meet them on 9 March, the agitators have refused to budge from their stand.

“We have decided to make our dharna permanent till our demands are met. Today, it’s their time and they are not able to spare time to talk with us. Our time will come very soon (parliamentary and assembly elections). We will give them a befitting reply,” Samain told ThePrint.

While the Lok Sabha election is expected to take place in April or May next year, the Haryana polls are due in October.

Calls to panchayat minister Devender Singh Babli went unanswered. This story will be updated if and when a statement is received.

E-tendering was facilitated in February 2021 when the Khattar government amended Rule 134 of the Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) Act to allocate infra works through this new process.

But, panchayats were not functioning at that time, because their term was over and the elections delayed because of Covid. Polls were held in October–November and results came on November 27, 2022.

Since then, the sarpanches are up in arms against the government as they feel it is curtailing the spending powers of village councils by imposing new rules of e-tendering of developmental projects beyond Rs 2 lakh.

Also Read: Haryana sarpanches are gearing up for bigger stir against Khattar govt’s e-tendering rule

Congress comes out in support of sarpanches

Supporting the demand of agitating sarpances, Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda alleged that the government wants to make panchayats and its elected representatives powerless by implementing e-tendering.

Speaking over phone on Thursday, Hooda told ThePrint that the Congress has sought time on 6 March from the Governor for submitting a memorandum against e-tendering and price rise.

Hooda said the Bharatiya Janata Party-Jannayak Janata Party (BJP-JJP) government is continuously working to suppress the voice of the people and weaken democratic institutions. “The government has given evidence of its undemocratic thinking by lathi-charging the farmers, then the youth, then government employees and now the elected panchayat representatives,” he stated.

“By implementing the system of e-tendering, the government wants to keep panches and sarpanches powerless and villages deprived of development.”

Hooda said e-tendering is not always transparent, because the portal on which the bid is made by contractors can be stopped anytime from the backend.

By introducing e-tendering, he said, the government is exhibiting lack of trust on democratically elected sarpanches.

“The voice of the public cannot be suppressed on the basis of batons and bullets in a democratic system. We will request the Governor that, being the guardian of the Constitution, he should intervene and give necessary instructions to the government,” he said.

Hooda said that the Congress will also raise the issue of price rise before the Governor, particularly of the petroleum products and LPG.

Senior Congress leader Kumari Selja met the agitating sarpanches at Panchkula–Chandigarh border on Thursday and deplored the state government’s action of cane charging the agitating sarpanches.

Another senior Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala tweeted videos of police lathi charge on sarpanches on Wednesday, saying that the “Manohar Lal Khattar-Dushyant Chautala government wants to govern through Lathtahtra (rule of baton) rather than Loktantra (democracy).”

On Wednesday, hundreds of panches and sarpanches assembled at Panchkula and announced that they will march towards Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s residence in Chandigarh to press for their demands.

The police used force when the crowd tried to break barriers in a bid to march towards Khattar’s residence. An FIR was lodged against the agitators for “pelting stones”.

The FIR said that senior police officers went to the spot to ask the protestors to vacate the road but they started hurling stones and injured 25 policemen. Samain alleged that at least 200 farmers suffered injuries in the lathi charge.

Before the police action took place, the Haryana government tried to salvage the situation at least twice. On Monday, Haryana Panchayat Minister Devender Singh Babli invited the sarpanches for talks but there was no breakthrough. No solution could come out because the agitating sarpanches want e-tendering to go, Babli said.

On Wednesday, CM’s OSD Bhupeshwar Dayal had reached the protest site and tried in vain to dissuade the sarpanches to end their agitation. Later, the police action came after the negotiations failed.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: JJP, BJP not on same page over e-tendering? Haryana deputy CM’s brother Digvijay backs sarpanches

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