Citing the rising number of COVID infections, the Bihar government suspends panchayat elections and plans to create alternative bodies

Published : June 02, 2021 19:23 IST

A health worker collects swab samples of prisoners in Patna, before their court hearing. Photo: PTI

The Bihar government has decided to stall the panchayat elections in the State in view of the Coronavirus pandemic. The tenures of the panchayat representatives are due to end on June 15, but the government has indicated it is not considering their extension.

The decision, which was taken at a meeting of the State Cabinet, led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, on June 1, is reportedly contrary to the wishes of his alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party, as well as the opposition which favour an extension of the panchayats’ tenures.

The Bihar government has also decided to constitute alternative bodies that would discharge the duties of the panchayat members. The arrangement will remain in force till the next elections, which the State Government has indicated will not be anytime soon.

Samrat Chaudhary, the Panchayati Raj Minister, said, "We will constitute panchayat samitis, panchayat courts, suggestion committees in district councils etc., to continue in the absence of the elected members. The State Government will not organise the elections of panchayat in the near future, amid severe Coronavirus infections."

The decision is being seen as the Chief Minister’s tactical move to avoid a drubbing and loss-of-face in the elections. His Janata Dal (United) had underperformed in the November 2020 Legislative Assembly elections. The government maintains that the decision was taken in view of the health crisis across the country as well as in Bihar where health infrastructure has collapsed during the second wave of the pandemic.

The Nitish Kumar government has amended Sections 14, 39, 66 and 92 of the Panchayati Raj Act of 2006, to provide additional powers to the current representatives. It is speculated that the existing representatives and officials of civil administration will be given responsibilities in the envisaged panchayat samitis, panchayat courts, and suggestion committees of district councils.

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