The Maharashtra government on Monday informed the Bombay High Court that it had appointed government officials as administrators for the 4899 Gram panchayats whose elections could not be held due to covid-19 situation, and that it would not be appointing any “private individuals” to any of the other Gram Panchayats either.
As nearly 15 of 46 petitioners expressed their satisfaction on state’s submissions, the Court disposed of the pleas that challenged the June 25 ordinance and July 13 GR which empowered CEOs of Zilla Parishad to appoint administrators to over 14,000 Gram Panchayats by refusing to intervene and accept the prayer for setting aside the ordinance.
As the remaining petitions had grievances pertaining to implementation of the ordinance and GR, the Court has allowed them to put forth their arguments. It also asked the state government to respond on whether government school principals could be appointed as administrators.
On Monday, the Maharashtra government made submissions to a division bench of Justices S S Shinde and M S Karnik, hearing a clutch of around 40 petitions challenging the July 13 government resolution (GR) through which the state government had ordered the appointment of ‘suitable persons’ as administrators to over 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 have 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.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni informed the Court that the state has appointed administrators to over 4899 village panchayats so far and all are government officials . “We are making concessions that we will not appoint private persons and only government servants will be appointed as administrators.”
The State government also said the apprehension that the persons appointed would be “politically motivated and influenced” were “unfounded” and “misconceived”.
In the affidavit in reply, the state government had earlier 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. On Monday, the state said it would not restrict appointments to extension officers, but government servants from any department can be appointed as administrator.
The Court posted further hearing on the remaining pleas to September 14.
Moreover, responding to the arguments made by advocate Siddheshwar S Thombre appearing for ex- Sarpanch that they would be most suitable persons to be appointed as administrators till next elections, as similar extension was given to board of directors of the Cooperative societies in Maharashtra, Kumbhakoni said that two were incomparable.
He argued, “There is a difference between gram panchayat and cooperative society. Gram panchayat is a democratically elected body and not voluntarily formed such as co-op societies. Nature of the two institutions is incomparable.”
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