Wednesday, July 10, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

High Court says no to panchayat poll
Existing members can continue till August 2003
Tribune News Service

Quotable Quotes

* The panchayats are to democracy what primary schools are to education.

* A weak baby seldom grows into a healthy youth.

* A child who makes a bad beginning shall never grow up into a good and responsible adult.

* We cannot pollute the panchayats by acting on the consideration of party politics. 

Chandigarh, July 9
Nearly four months after coming to power, the Punjab Government today suffered its first major setback when Mr Justice Jawahar Lal Gupta and Mr Justice N. K. Sud of the Punjab and Haryana High Court ruled, “the mere fact that the Congress party has won the elections to the Assembly cannot mean that the elections to gram panchayats have to be held afresh”.

Delivering the verdict on a petition challenging the state’s decision of holding elections to the gram panchayats a year before the expiry of its five-year term, the Judges further ruled: “There is no general power with the government for the dissolution of the panchayats prior to the expiry of the prescribed term of five years.... The panchayats can be dissolved before the expiry of five years only in accordance with the law, if any, promulgated by the state. In case of dissolution of a panchayat, a fresh election has to be completed within a period of six months from the date of dissolution. The newly elected persons shall hold office only for the remaining part of the term and not for the full term of five years. In case, the unexpired term is less than six months, a fresh election may not be held....”

Giving details, the Judges added: “It is the admitted position that the elections were held in June, 1998. The first meeting was held in August, 1998. Thus, the existing members have a right to continue till August 2003. If the state government holds the elections in June, 2002, as it proposes to, the newly elected members can hold office only till August, 2003. Not longer than that”.

In their detailed order, the Judges held: “It may be mentioned that the power to announce elections at ‘any time’ and to dissolve the panchayats cannot mean that the tenure as laid down by the Constitution can be curtailed at the whim and caprice of the authority.... The provisions of Sections 29-A and 209 would only mean that elections to the gram panchayats can be announced at any time within six months preceding the date of completion of the term. During this interval, if the authority finds that it is in ‘public interest’ so to do, it can order the dissolution of the existing panchayats. Not otherwise”.

The Judges added: “If the panchayats are dissolved and the remaining period is less or more than six months, the newly elected persons can hold office only for the remainder of the term. That being the position, the elections if held more than six months before the expiry of the term, the elected members shall hold office only for the remaining period. Not for five years”.

Regarding the government’s claim that the state would save crores of rupees if elections to panchayats, panchayat samitis and zila parishads were to be held together, the Judges observed: “During the course of hearing, Punjab’s Additional Advocate General produced the original file before us. The memorandum placed before the Council of Ministers was shown to us. There is not a word about the saving of money. A co-terminus term was the basic reason for ordering the elections. Assuming that the state is really interested in saving money, it could have held the elections to the three organs at the village, group of villages and the district levels viz the panchayats, samitis and the parishads in or after February, 2003, viz six months before the expiry of the term...”

Speaking for the Bench, Mr Justice Jawahal Lal Gupta observed: “A majority of our people live in the villages. They constitute the strength of our nation. The panchayats are the symbol of democracy at the grass root level. These are to democracy what primary schools are to education. A weak baby seldom grows into a healthy youth. A child who makes a bad beginning shall never grow up into a good and responsible adult. The tradition that we establish at the level of the village panchayats shall be the index for the elections to the state legislative assemblies and Parliament.

“We cannot pollute the panchayats by acting on the consideration of party politics. Strengthening the institution of panchayats by observance of the letter and spirit of law alone can ensure lasting gains and give firm roots to a government by and for the people”.

In their petition, Punjab Panchayati Union and others had earlier stated that the decision to hold the elections has been “initiated with a mala fide intention by the present government of Punjab to cash on the prevailing mood. The state, on the other hand, had contended that the government had taken a conscious decision to conduct simultaneous elections to the three Panchayati Raj institutions as they were supposed to work in complete cohesion and co-ordination.


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