Monday, November 3, 2014

Expelled and disqualified panchayats might still remain in office


The State government appears set to withdraw the notifications disqualifying 14 Gram panchayats and one Zilla panchayat of Rangyang Yangang constituency who were removed from their posts after they were expelled from the Sikkim Democratic Front. The 15, it may be recalled, were expelled from the SDF for their alleged anti-party activities in backing the candidature of independent candidate RN Chamling who went on to win the bye-elections.
The 15, of whom, it now transpires, four won the panchayat elections as independents, were disqualified by the Secretary, Rural Management and Development Department, through a Gazette Notification quoting sub-section 4 of Section 29 of the Sikkim Panchayat Act, 1993 and subsequent amendment Act of 2010 on 19 September 2014.
The Panchayat members have challenged their removal in the High Court of Sikkim alleging that the concerned authority has not followed prescribed procedures and that the amendment dealing with removal itself was vague.
The plea has found some traction with High Court which has stayed their dismissals.
Acting Chief Justice Sushil Kumar Sinha, while passing the Stay Order, states that “… the effect and operation of the impugned order dated 19.09.2014 (Annexure P-1) and the impugned Circular dated 27.09.2014 (Annexure P-2) vis-à-vis petitioners shall remain stayed till the next date of hearing.”
As per the Section sub-section 4 of Section 29 of the Sikkim Panchayat Act, 1993 and subsequent amendment Act of 2010, the concerned authority is required to give adequate opportunity to the Panchayats to argue their defence while in the present case they were not even issued show-cause notices.
Meanwhile, the indication that the State Government was planning to withdraw the notification dismissing the 15 panchayat members in question came up during the last hearing of the case on 27 October.
During the hearing, the Additional Advocate General informed the Court that the Government may withdraw the impugned notification. The High Court has granted four weeks time to respond on the writ filed by the expelled panchayats and Zilla Panchayat.
Two separate writs were filed in the High Court [separately by the Independent Panchayats and the expelled SDF party panchayats] challenging the action of the Rural Management & Development Department, essentially the office of the Panchayat Director, which has been accused of not having followed proper procedures.
In the writ petition challenging the RM&DD Notification, four of the 15 dismissed panchayats, argue that they were shocked by the ruling party’s announcement that it had expelled them since they had been elected to office as Independents and hence there was no question of them being involved in “anti-party” activities as accused since they did not belong to any party.

The other 11 panchayats, those belonging to SDF, in their challenge to the government action in removing them, argue that the basis for the action taken against them was not enough as per the Act in question and also raise the Secretary RM&DD’s failure in first issuing them a show cause notice.  

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