Bombay High Court: Quoting a phrase from a story of a Roman Ruler Julius Caesar that, “Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion”, Bharati H. Dangre, J., remarked that,
“…those who are vested with the powers are to be made more accountable and transparent in their functioning and subjected to social audit with a view to minimize their discretionary decisions.”
Instant matter was the one that falls under the category, wherein people associated with public figures must not be suspected of being part of any wrongdoing.
Petitioner, was the Sarpanch of a Gram Panchayat who came to be disqualified from her post by respondent 3 and upon appeal preferred by her to the Additional Divisional Commissioner, the said appeal came to be dismissed.
Being aggrieved by the action of disqualification, petitioner approached this Court by filing the present petition in order to seek relief of quashing and setting aside of the impugned orders and her reinstatement on the post of Sarpanch.
Petitioner was directly elected as a Sarpanch on a post that was reserved for OBC Women.
Respondent 6 preferred a complaint alleging that the petitioner in her capacity as Sarpanch, had individually benefitted her husband and his brother by allotting work to them and further by disbursing a cheque from the account of Gram Panchayat.
The above-stated act resulted in disqualification under Section 14(1)(g) of the Maharashtra Village Panchayats Act and the petitioner was liable to be disqualified from the post of Member.
Analysis, Law and Discussion
High Court stated that in order to attract the disqualification by virtue of Section 14(1) (g) of the Maharashtra Village Panchayats Act, it is imperative to establish that the petitioner has directly or indirectly, by herself or through her partner, had any share or interest in any work done by the order of the Panchayat, or in any contract with, by or on behalf of, or employment with or under, the Panchayat.
Bench noted that though it was established that some amount had gone into the account of the husband of the petitioner, but it fell short of establishing her involvement either directly or indirectly, in allotting work to her husband under the order of the Panchayat or any allotment of any contract under the Panchayat.
Further, various entries of the amounts debited to the account of the Gram Panchayat, the entries which were referred to by the Collector showing huge amounts being disbursed, in favour of Ramchandra Rupchand Pawar had been completely lost sight of by the Collector by accepting the submission of the petitioner that since family was not residing together under the same roof, the connection could not be established.
Elaborating further, Court expressed that the entries of huge amounts in favour of other family relations of the husband of the petitioner also deserve to be looked into, to ascertain whether the petitioner had any interest in allotting the work to her close relations and merely because they were not residing under the said roof, would not absolve her of the burden to come clean.
The standard of probity in public life should be not only conviction in Criminal Court, but propriety demand that by suitable independent authority, specially constituted for this purpose, determine the conduct of the public functionary.
This Court directed that the matter be remanded back, since the Additional Commissioner had shifted his focus on the report of the Block Development Officer, which merely reiterated that the signature on the disputed cheque, which had been encashed in the petitioner’s husband account.
The authority concerned shall determine as to whether the said amount encashed in the petitioner’s husbands account was in view of the interest shown by the petitioner in allotting the work of laying murum to the husband by using her office as Sarpanch and in absence of said material, being probed into, the impugned order cannot be sustained. [Anusaya v. State of Maharashtra, 2022 SCC OnLine Bom 231, decided on 27-1-2022]
Advocates before the Court:
Mr. R.R. Imale, Advocate for the petitioner.
Mr. K.B. Jadhavar, AGP for respondent 1 to 3.
Mr. M.S. Deshmukh h/f Mr. U.L. Momale, Advocate for respondent 6. Mr. S.G.Jadhavar, Advocate for respondent 5.