While the Maharashtra Village Panchayat Act, 1958 does not specify how Gram Sabha meetings should be conducted, the Bombay High Court has ruled that a Sarpanch conducting repeated Gram Sabha meetings is not in breach of the law.
The disqualification of the Sarpanch of a hamlet in the Jalna District for holding four Gram Sabha sessions in a short space of time was overturned by Judge Arun Pednekar of the Aurangabad bench in the case of Manohar s/o. Dnyaneshwar Pote v. Collector, Jalna and Ors. ( Writ Petition No. 9427 of 2022 )
FACTS OF THE CASE :
On February 12, 2021, the Sarpanch who filed the petition was chosen. On September 3, 2021, which was nearly seven months later, he led the inaugural Gram Sabha meeting. He then had three more meetings before the Financial Year 2021–2022 ended.
A villager submitted a petition to the Collector asking for the petitioner to be removed from his position as sarpanch on the grounds that he had broken Section 7 of the 1958 Act. According to Section 7(1) of the 1958 Act, there must be four meetings during the fiscal year and no more than four months may pass between meetings.
The Collector, Jalna, disqualified the petitioner from the position of sarpanch on September 8, 2022. He argued that there is no justification for holding four consecutive meetings in such a short amount of time and that the first meeting was not held inside the first two months of the fiscal year.
The petitioner claimed that COVID-19 was in use at the time of his election and that government orders had been issued to prevent Gram Sabhas from acting in a certain way. Also, from April 5, 2021, to June 15, 2021, the Collector issued prohibition orders in accordance with section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code. After the prohibitory orders were withdrawn, he held the necessary number of meetings during the pertinent financial years, according to the petitioner.
The Gramsevak sided with the petitioner and argued that the 1958 Act did not stipulate that the first meeting must take place during the first two months of the financial year. Indeed, this is a rule that was created by the Act. The Gramsevak contended that disqualification cannot result from Rule violations.
The court noted that the Gram Sabha meetings were ordered to be postponed until further orders or for a term of one year in accordance with a government circular issued by the Departments of Revenue and Forest, Disaster Management, Relief, and Rehabilitation on May 12, 2020. After its initial duration, this order was kept in effect.
On April 5, 2021, the Collector also issued orders in accordance with section 144 CrPC. The court determined that the petitioner had not broken any laws as a result.
The petitioner complied with the 1958 Act, the court ruled, even if COVID-19, when the State had ordered that no Gram Sabha meetings be held, is excluded because he unquestionably presided over the four meetings.
The court reaffirmed that a member of the panchayat who has been elected would not be disqualified for failure to discharge a statutory duty unless the member is unable to explain the failure.
“…the petitioner (Sarpanch) has held four  meetings of Gram Sabha after lifting of the prohibitory orders under the Disaster Management Act and prohibition under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code and thus he has not violated provisions of Section 7 of the 1958 Act, which contemplates that there has to be four meetings every financial year and that there should not be a gap of more than four months in between two meetings…the Act does not contemplate holding of meetings in a particular way”, the court observed.
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JUDGEMENT REVIEW BY SREYA MARY.