The Bombay High Court accepted Friday a state government affidavit stating only government servants would be appointed as administrators to gram panchayats whose term has expired. In its interim order, the court also told the state government not to appoint any private person as administrator until further orders.
On Friday, the Maharashtra government submitted an affidavit to a division bench of Justices S S Shinde and M S Karnik, specially assigned to hear a clutch of around 40 petitions challenging the July 13 government resolution (GR) through which the state government had ordered the appointment of administrators to nearly 14,000 gram panchayats by zilla parishad chief executive officers (CEO) in consultation with district Guardian Ministers. The GR pertained to 1,566 gram panchayats whose term ended between April and June, and 12,668 others whose term is set to end between July and November.
The petitions also challenged an ordinance, dated June 25, which amended Section 151 of the Maharashtra Village Panchayats Act by allowing the appointment of administrators in case the State Election Commission (SEC) could not hold elections due to a natural calamity, pandemic emergency, financial emergency or administrative emergency.
On July 22, the high court as an interim measure had directed the state government to first prefer appointing government officials as administrators. It also asked the state government to provide a detailed explanation in case it appointed any private persons.
The Nagpur bench of the HC had, on July 23, put interim stay on the July 13 GR, following which the state on July 27 issued a gazette notification authorising zilla parishad CEOs to appoint administrators in consultation with district guardian ministers.
The affidavit, filed Thursday, through Eknath K Gagare, Deputy Secretary, Rural Development department, stated the state government would “appoint government officers as administrators fully aware and accustomed with the functioning of gram panchayats in preference to private persons”.
In the affidavit, the state government said officials could be chosen from extension officers of Agriculture, Health, Education and Panchayat departments but should not have charge of more than three gram panchayats. It also said the apprehension expressed by the petitioners that decisions of zilla parishad chief executive officers would be “politically motivated and influenced” were “unfounded” and “misconceived” as the suggestion of the district guardian minister would not be binding on the CEOs while making an appointment.
On Friday, after some of the lawyers appearing for the petitioners objected to the appointment of private persons and suggested gram sevaks can be appointed as administrators instead, AG Kumbhakoni submitted that in the interim the state would not appoint private persons as administrators and “extension officers can be asked to take the charge”.
The bench, led by Justice Shinde, accepted the state’s suggestion and noted, “We are of the opinion that the suggestion given by the AG is very fair, the state government can go ahead with the appointment of administrators to gram panchayats whose terms have expired from extension officers.”
The HC further suggested, “…the state government may consider the suggestion given by some of the counsels appearing for the petitioners to appoint gram sevak as administrator. The government may also consider, keeping in view of convenience of state administration, to appoint officers from other state departments. However, we make it clear that aforesaid two categories are merely by way of suggestion for consideration of the state government.”
The court has posted further hearing in the matter on August 24.
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