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 (NCP) has asked all aspirants to the posts of administrators 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 several thousand aspirants could seek to be considered for the posts.
“…all taluka presidents (of the party) have been given guidelines towards 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.
Calling the Pune NCP unit’s move illegal and corrupt, Leader of the Opposition in Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Devendra Fadnavis said the state government should file a criminal case against the party unit. “How can a political party even seek applications for a government-appointed post? An offence should be booked immediately,” the former chief minister told The Indian Express. “This letter shows the true intention of the state government. They are going to give these posts only to their own party workers.”
He said the letter by the NCP Pune district president is evidence of corruption and the Pune district administration should file a police complaint in the matter.
Fadnavis said the decision to appoint ‘any suitable person’ as administrators is itself unconstitutional. “When elections cannot be held due to some reason, then the Gram Sewak or other government official should be appointed administrator. The Maha Vikas Aghadi government has amended the law to select any person as administrator. This is unconstitutional and we will oppose it,” he said.
Nearly 50 per cent of the state’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.
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 policy, Mhaisekar said he would have to read the July 13 GR first.
NCP district chief Pradeep Garatkar said that the decision to seek applications was taken at district level. He said the state unit was not aware of it. ‘It was due to a few taluka unit chiefs’ insistence that the step was taken. However, the letter has now been withdrawn,” he told The Indian Express after the matter snowballed on Thursday. “There is politics being created about the letter which was due to a mistake at the local level,” Garatkar said, adding the letter now stands withdrawn.
Maharashtra minister and NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said no party has given 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.
The involvement of local political leaders in the appointment of administrators is seen as the biggest opportunity for the Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP to seize control of village-level politics since losing the initiative to the BJP in the years after 2014. The BJP reacted sharply, with former chief minister Fadnavis saying this amounted to “misuse” of government force to take political control of gram panchayats and gram panchayat funds.
On Wednesday, BJP leader and former finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar wrote to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, calling the amendment to the law to permit the appointment of any suitable person as administrator a ‘blot’ on democracy. “During the Covid-19 pandemic there has been large devolution of Finance Commission funds and that is the reason that the government wants its party workers and office bearers in the posts of administrators,” Mungantiwar’s letter said.
– With inputs from Ajay Jadhav in Pune
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