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Sarpanches of Haryana Allege Lathi Charge by Police for Protesting Against E-Tender

The alleged confrontation occurred in Panchkula as they tried to march to CM Residence in Chandigarh.
Sarpanches of Haryana Allege Lathi Charge by Police for Protesting Against E-Tender

Representational Image. Image Courtesy: PTI

New Delhi: Sarpanches of some villages in Haryana on Wednesday tried to march to Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s residence in Chandigarh and had to be held back by the police, which resorted to lathi charge.

According to a report in The Tribune, a large number of police personnel were deployed and barricades set up at the Panchkula-Chandigarh border as members of the Haryana Sarpanches' Association- a body representing the village heads- threatened to march towards Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar's residence.

The police said some protesters tried to jump over the barricades and enter Chandigarh. The protesters claimed that the police "lathi-charged" them despite their protest being "peaceful" and alleged that a few protesters were injured in the action. Many protesters continued to squat on the roads to press for their demands.

What is E-Tendering?

The sarpanches have been protesting for the past two months against the introduction of e-tendering for development works in rural areas. The Haryana government claims it introduced e-tendering for infrastructure projects in villages to ensure transparency, accountability, and faster execution. Under the new system, introduced two years ago, the village panchayat can carry out works up to Rs 2 lakh on their own. Projects of higher value have to be carried out through e-tendering.

The village heads, or sarpanches, see this as an attempt to take away the powers of panchayats. While the system was brought in two years ago, opposition to it began only around two months ago. That is because elections for sarpanches were held in November 2022 after a long gap, due to the Covid pandemic and some court cases.

The newly elected sarpanches now say that the e-tender move is aimed at taking away the power of panchayat raj institutions.

In a report published in The Indian Express, Ranbir Samain, president of The Sarpanch Association of Haryana, said, “This is clear centralisation of powers. Under the new system, the government only needs to take 22 executive engineers of the state’s 22 districts into confidence to control the entire tendering system of nearly 6,200 village panchayats. Politicians at higher levels are eyeing the budget of all village panchayats.”

The Government’s Stand

Khattar has said the e-tendering initiative was part of the government’s zero-tolerance policy towards corruption. He earlier said: “The duty of the panchayats is to ensure smooth execution of development works. Providing timely funds for it is our job.”

Haryana Rural Development and Panchayat Department minister Devender Singh Babli alleged the Opposition was fomenting the stir, with only some sarpanches opposing the e-tenders.

The alleged political angle to the protests is that With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) government standing by its e-tendering policy, the Opposition Congress and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) have supported the protesting sarpanches.

The village sarpanches and other panchayat members hold considerable influence among villagers, with many having dedicated teams of volunteers. In these circumstances, the latest developments are not being seen as a good sign for the BJP-JJP alliance, especially ahead of the poll year of 2024. Apart from the Lok Sabha elections expected to take place in April or May next year, the Haryana Assembly polls are due in October of the same year.

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