By LE Desk
Mumbai, April 2: The Bombay High Court on Thursday set partially aside the July 13, 2020, government resolution (GR) empowering the chief executive officers of zilla parishad to appoint administrators to over 14,000 gram panchayats due to the pandemic.
The court in its order ruled that the need for consultation with the district guardian ministers was not necessary before making appointments.
A division bench of Justice S S Shinde and Justice M S Karnik passed a ruling on clutch of petitions, challenging the July 13, 2020, GR through which the state had ordered the appointment of “suitable persons” as administrators to over 14,000 gram panchayats by zilla parishad CEOs in consultation with district guardian ministers, The Indian Express reported.
The GR pertained to 1,566 gram panchayats whose term ended between April and June 2020 and 12,668 others whose term was to end between July and November 2020.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni had submitted that the GR provided only an advice of the guardian minister, however, the same was not binding on the CEO of zilla parishad, and therefore, the apprehension of “political interference” was without any basis.
The court observed, “Considering the role and responsibility of the Guardian Minister for a particular district and his significance, being an integral part of the ruling dispensation, it is but obvious that the CEO will give utmost importance to the ‘advice’ of the Guardian Minister. Such advice which has the effect of partaking the character of an ‘order’ would defeat the constitutional scheme of free and fair elections. The entire object of appointing an independent administrator is to ensure impartiality in the election process.”
It added that while there was no doubt that the state had authority to delegate powers to the CEO, the conditions imposed come in the way of “free and fair elections”. They needed to be struck down as they hit the “edifice of constitutional scheme of ensuring impartial election process”.
“The CEO should have a free hand in the appointment of an administrator without a semblance of any political influence in appointment of an administrator,” the bench noted.
It added that it was required to interfere in the procedure envisaged by the GR, seeking advice of the guardian minister before appointing administrators to gram panchayats.
The bench said, “The petitions therefore succeed. The impugned GR dated July 13, 2020, to the extent of seeking advice of the guardian minister in the matter of appointment of an administrator is quashed and set aside.”
The court also noted that elections in many of the gram panchayats were already held after easing of the lockdown.