The Bombay high court (HC) allowed the state to appoint administrators for gram panchayats whose terms have expired after it was assured that only government servants would be appointed for the role.
The assurance was made by the state through an affidavit filed in reply to around 40 petitions, challenging the July 13 decision of the government, which empowered chief executive officers (CEOs) of zilla parishads to appoint administrators in consultation with guardian ministers. The appointment was necessitated as elections could not be conducted in view of the Covid-19 situation.
The court, however, stressed that private individuals should not be appointed as administrators and also asked the state to consider the suggestions of the petitioners to appoint gram sevaks or officials of other state departments as administrators.
The division bench of justice SS Shinde and justice MS Karnik, while hearing all the petitions that were filed at the seats of the HC at Mumbai, Nagpur and Aurangabad, was informed that the grievances of the petitioners had been addressed in the affidavit.
The state’s affidavit said that the government had a large pool of extension officers from the health, agriculture, education and panchayat departments, who could be appointed as administrators.
Advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni further submitted that the CEOs would only have consulted the guardian ministers with regards to the ground realities and also the reputation, competence and capabilities of every person under consideration for the role. He further submitted that ultimately the CEO of the zilla parishad concerned would be selecting the administrator and not the guardian minister of the district.
Kumbhakoni then drew the attention of the bench towards the category of officers who would be considered for being appointed as administrators and said that conditions were imposed for such officers too, and no officer would be given the responsibility of more than three gram panchayats at a time. In all, there are around 14,000 gram panchayats in the state, whose terms expired on May 5, while the term of some expired on Friday.
Kumbhakoni added that only if there were no suitable officers to fill the post of an administrator, would private persons be considered for the role.
Some of the petitioners submitted that in such a scenario, the CEO should consider officers from departments other than those mentioned in the affidavit.
After hearing the submissions, the court observed that the submissions made by Kumbhakoni were fair, and the state government could go ahead with the appointments from the four categories: extension officers from health, education, agriculture and panchayat departments. The court also asked the state to consider the suggestions of the petitioners to appoint gram sevaks or officers from other departments as administrators. The bench then posted the matter for hearing at a later date after observing, “We hope that AG (advocate general) abides by [his] statement and would not appoint any private individuals to gram panchayat whose term ends today [Friday] and already expired.”