The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court has recently stayed a GR, issued by the state government on July 13, empowering Zilla Parishad CEOs in consultation with district Guardian Ministers to appoint administrators to nearly 14,000 gram panchayats, for which fresh elections could not be held due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The court, however, has not stayed the power of the state government to appoint administrators as per the June 25 ordinance at this stage.
A division bench of Justice Sunil B Shukre and Justice N B Suryawanshi on July 23 passed the interim order that challenged the July 13 GR and the June 25 ordinance, which amended Section 151 of the Maharashtra Village Panchayats Act by allowing appointment of administrators in case the State Election Commission could not hold elections due to a natural calamity, and pandemic, financial or administrative emergencies.
The July 13 GR, issued by Additional Chief Secretary Arvind Kumar, stated that from the point of view of administrative convenience, ZP CEOs will be entrusted with appointing a “suitable person” in consultation with each district’s guardian minister. The order 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.
Senior counsel Dharmadhikari, appearing for the petitioner, had said although the state government was empowered to appoint administrators, which has also been challenged, “such power, by no stretch of imagination could be delegated to an officer of the state by issuing a mere GR”. He submitted that a delegation of power under Section 182 of the Maharashtra Village Panchayat Act must be done by publishing a gazette notification. Government pleader, S Y Deopujari, had opposed the plea and said no interim relief should be granted at this stage.
After hearing submissions, the bench noted that the question raised by petitioner requires consideration in light of provisions under the law. “Therefore, we are inclined to grant interim relief,” it said. The bench, however, said, “We clarify that, by this interim relief, only delegation of the authority to appoint administrator by issuing merely a government resolution, like the one involved here, of July 13, has been stayed by us and we have not granted any stay to the power to the state government as such to appoint administrator, at least at this stage.”
The state government has approached the Nagpur bench to vacate the interim stay, which is likely to be heard this week. Following the Nagpur bench order, the state government on July 27 issued a gazette notification authorising ZP CEOs to appoint administrators.
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