PANAJI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday (September 6) stayed the disqualification of two elected members (Sarpanch and Ward member) of the Anjuna Panchayat, GoGoa. The Court, while issuing notice to the State Government of Goa, also restored the position of the sitting Sarpanch and Ward Member. The proceedings before BDO(Block Development Officer) who was given 15 days to decide as regards disqualification proceedings were also stayed.
The bench comprising Justices Surya kant and Justice Dipankar Datta was hearing an SLP against a Bombay HC judgment which had directed that the two panchayat members would stand deemed to be disqualified under Section 12(1)(d) of the Goa Panchayat Raj Act, 1994.
A Suo Moto Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was initiated by the High Court of Bombay at Goa, which was concerned with illegal and unauthorized constructions at Anjuna Beach. The High Court directed the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority (“GCZMA”) and the Secretary of Village Panchayat of Anjuna-Caisua to conduct an inspection, revealing around 275 illegal structures at Anjuna Beach.
Subsequently, the village panchayat held meetings where owners were asked to provide documents related to these structures. Allegations of illegal construction were made against the petitioners, and the High Court instructed them to submit a preliminary affidavit
disclosing their interests in these structures. The High Court ultimately ruled that the petitioners were deemed to be disqualified under Section 12(1)(d) of the Panchayat Raj Act, 1994, based on the minutes of meetings provided by the Secretary of Village Panchayat Anjuna-Caisua, suggesting the their involvement in meetings with personal interests. Aggrieved by the same, the petitioners preferred an SLP before this court.
The petitioners, represented by Senior Advocate Atmaram NS Nadkarni, argued that the High Court disqualified them hastily without granting them an opportunity to respond, thus violating the principles of natural justice. They pointed out that a notice was served on August 22, 2022023, at 5 p.m., and the disqualification order was issued the following day.
Sr Adv Nadkarni relied on the decision of Ravi Yashwant Bhor v. District Collector, Raigad and Others (2012) 4 SCC 407 where it was held that “an elected member can be removed in exceptional circumstances giving strict adherence to the statutory provisions and holding the enquiry, meeting the requirement of the principle of natural justice and giving an incumbent an opportunity to defend oneself from being removed from the said post.”
The plea further questioned the decision of HC directing the BDO to give a final decision within 15 days. It stated
“This is arbitrary having regard to the fact that since there are disputed questions of facts which would require a full fledged-hearing as well as leading of evidence, the period of 15 days would do not give the petitioners an opportunity to buttress its case”
The petitioners submitted that they were not present in the hearings as regards adjudication of Show Cause Notices issued with respect to properties of persons related to the petitioners. The petitioners further submitted that the disqualification dehors the established procedure under Sections 12 and 55 of the Goa Panchayat Raj Act, 1994 The plea stated “High Court has misconstrued the meaning of “pecuniary interest” as arising in Section 12, in so far as the property of the uncle of the Petitioner No.1 is concerned. It is the personal property of his uncle which was purchased by the uncle of the Petitioner No. 1 in the year 2002 and the same would by no stretch be inherited by the Petitioner.
The Petitioner does not stand to derive any benefit out of the said property and thus, the High Court has erred holding that Section 55(4) of the said Act is attracted.”