The Bombay high court (HC) on Wednesday, as an interim arrangement, directed the state to prefer appointment of government officials as administrators to around 14,000 gram panchayats across Maharashtra for which fresh elections have not been held due to the Covid-19 situation. The directions were issued after petitions challenged a June 25 ordinance, which amended the Gram Panchayat Act, and a July 13 government resolution which empowered the state to appoint private persons as administrators. The HC also asked the state to give a detailed justification on appointment of private persons as administrators.
As several petitions have been filed across all three seats of the HC, on Wednesday, the state government requested the Chief Justice of the Bombay HC to assign a bench to hear all the petitions together.
Through the July 13 GR, Maharashtra government ordered appointment of administrators to all gram panchayats by zilla parishad chief executive officers (CEO) in consultation with their respective district guardian ministers.
The division bench of justice Nitin Jamdar and justice Abhay Ahuja, while hearing the petitions, was informed by advocate Deepshika Godbole, representing one of the petitioners, that Maharashtra had a total of 28,813-gram panchayats, of which 4,112 in Amravati division, 2,885 in Pune division, 2,500 in Nashik division, 2,473 in Aurangabad division, 1,525 in Nagpur division and 813 in Konkan division are slated for fresh elections. The petition said that the ordinance was issued with ‘political motive’ and to ‘wield and fortify political power’ to gain political supremacy, as guardian ministers are given authority to decide appointments.
On the part of the state, advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni submitted that the ordinance did not prohibit the state from appointing private persons as administrators. Kumbhakoni said that with nearly 40% vacancy in revenue department and other officials on Covid-19 duty, the state had issued the GR to appoint private individuals as administrators. Such individuals need to be residents of the village and their names should be on voters list, the state said.
After hearing submissions, the court, as an interim measure, asked the state government to prefer appointment of government officials as administrators to gram panchayats and give detailed reasons if private individuals are appointed. HC posted further hearing on three pleas to Monday, July 27.