Even as opposition parties in Maharashtra questioned the Maha Vikas Aghadi government’s decision to appoint administrators to nearly 14,000 gram panchayats across the state in consultation with district guardian ministers, in Pune, the Nationalist Congress Party has asked all aspirants to the administrators’ posts to pay Rs 11,000 as a donation to the party fund. Pune District president of the NCP Pradip Garatkar issued instructions to taluka heads of the party on July 14, a day after the state government ordered the appointment of administrators.
On account of Covid-19 and the lockdown, the state election commission had earlier postponed elections to all gram panchayats whose elected bodies’ term comes to an end between the imposition of the lockdown and October-November 2020 and recommended appointment of administrators. In Pune district, 750 gram panchayats will require administrators and a couple of thousand aspirants could apply for the posts. Most of these are currently controlled by the NCP and the BJP.
“…all taluka presidents (of the party) have been given guidelines regarding appointing administrators based on lists of their gram panchayats that would have gone to polls. Following those guidelines strictly, application forms as attached must be filled out by all applicants and submitted along with a non-returnable party fund donation of Rs 11,000 that must be credited to the official bank account of the NCP Pune district,” says the letter signed by Garatkar. Details of the bank account were included.
The Government Resolution (GR) on the appointment of administrators was issued by the Rural Development Department headed by Minister Hasan Mushrif of the NCP.
The ‘application form’ for the post of administrators attached with Garatkar’s letter also bears the name of the NCP Pune District. It seeks details including caste, educational qualifications, previous experience in governance / social work and any post held within the party.
Pune Divisional Commissioner Deepak Mhaisekar who has been quarantined after a staff member tested positive for Covid-19 said he has been working from home this week and is not aware of the Pune district NCP’s move to seek party fund donations from applicants. Asked whether the alliance partner parties will be similarly seeking applications and whether Garatkar’s letter is as per government policy, Mhaisekar said he would have to read the July 13 GR first.
While Garatkar himself did not answer phone calls, Maharashtra minister and Nationalist Congress Party spokesperson Nawab Malik said no party has given any instructions regarding seeking applications for the post of administrators. “If they are preparing for the coming elections and preparing candidates, that is fine. If they are doing this for the posts of administrators, that is wrong,” Malik told The Indian Express.
The Pune District NCP chief’s letter specifically asks for the process of accepting applications to be completed and application forms along with the receipt for the party fund donations to be submitted by July 20.
Nearly 50 per cent of Maharashtra’s 28,000-odd Gram Panchayats would have gone to polls between March and November this year. On July 13, a GR issued by Additional Chief Secretary Arvind Kumar said that from the point of view of administrative convenience, Zilla Parishad CEOs would be entrusted the work of appointing a suitable person as administrator for each Gram Panchayat. It added that the appointments will be made in consultation with each district’s guardian minister. The order pertains to 1,566 Gram panchayats whose term ended between April and June and 12,668 Gram Panchayats whose term ends between July and November.
The involvement of local political leaders in the appointment of administrators is seen as the biggest opportunity for the Shiv Sena, Congress and Nationalist Congress Party to seize control of village-level politics since losing the initiative to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the years after 2014. The Bharatiya Janata Party reacted sharply, with former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis saying this amounted to “misuse” of government force to take political control of gram panchayats and gram panchayat funds.
From sarpanches to Members of Parliament, leaders not aligned to the current Maha Vikas Aghadi regime said involving district guardian ministers in the process of selecting administrators was a blatantly political move, though Bharatiya Janata Party leaders downplayed suggestions that it would kick off an exodus of grassroots leaders into the three ruling parties.
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