In its first critique of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, the Goa Church has accused it of being "undemocratic and unjust" and interfering with the functioning of the state election commission and other agencies involved in conducting the panchayat polls.
The Council for Social Justice and Peace (CSJP), a social arm of the Roman Catholic church, has also expressed "dismay and apprehension" at the manner in which "village panchayats are being sabotaged by partisan political interests and arbitrary and non-transparent functioning of the Directorate of Panchayats".
"The CSJP voices its objection to this undemocratic and unjust manner of functioning of the state government and its various agencies involved in the conduct of the Village Panchayat elections. The present elections of the Village Panchayats scheduled for May 16 cannot be claimed to be free and fair," CSJP executive secretary Fr Maverick Fernandes said in a statement issued here.
"The arbitrary manner in which the Director of Panchayats has been issuing and withdrawing corrigendums regarding the delimitation of wards proves the vulnerability of this office to political pressures and the absence of any mechanism to check abuse of power in subverting free and fair elections by this office," he added.
Fernandes also questioned the neutrality of the "independent" office of the state election commission.
"The manner in which the Goa State Election Commission has exempted corrigendums issued by the Directorate of Panchayats from the Election Code of Conduct and then using this excuse to postpone elections in a village panchayat brings into question the neutrality of this independent institution in Goa," he said.
An influential voice in Goa's socio-political fabric because of the nearly 26 percent Christian population in the state, this is the church's first direct criticism of the ruling dispensation after the BJP-led coalition came to power last month.
Polling for Goa's 185 village panchayats is scheduled next month.