10 Oct 2023 2:05 PM GMT
The Calcutta High Court has dismissed challenges against the selection of an elected candidate belonging to the Scheduled tribe category as the Pradhan of a gram panchayat, against a seat reserved for ST candidates.Since the incumbent was the only candidate who was eligible for the post, which had been reserved for members of the ST community, she was to be elected as Pradhan unopposed....
The Calcutta High Court has dismissed challenges against the selection of an elected candidate belonging to the Scheduled tribe category as the Pradhan of a gram panchayat, against a seat reserved for ST candidates.
Since the incumbent was the only candidate who was eligible for the post, which had been reserved for members of the ST community, she was to be elected as Pradhan unopposed.
The petitioners had challenged her appointment on the grounds that she belonged to a minority party, and did not enjoy the confidence of the people of the village, which may lead to the village “suffering.” Petitioners wished to ‘co-opt’ the seat belonging to the ST community and utilise it to place a candidate of their choice.
In dismissing the plea, a single-bench of Justice Amrita Sinha held:
I am not inclined to accept the aforesaid contention of the petitioners. The election of the Pradhan is yet to be held and the candidate is yet to prove her credence. Prior to giving her an opportunity to serve the people, she ought not to be taken as an incompetent person to assume the office of Pradhan. An opportunity ought to be given to the candidate to prove her credibility. The provision to co-opt clearly mentions that in case of non-availability of persons of reserved category, co-option is permissible. This is not a case of non-availability of reserved category person.
Petitioners had argued that they were not going to accept the respondent as Pradhan and that they intended to rely upon Section 20 of the WB Panchayat Elections Act 2003, which laid down the procedure to co-opt the seat of persons in respective categories.
Counsel for the respondent submitted that she was highly interested to take charge of the post, but was forcefully restrained from doing so and was compelled to seek police help.
It was submitted that she was the only candidate from the reserved category who could be appointed as Pradhan and that the petitioners were intentionally spreading false narratives about her incompetence.
State counsel submitted that the seat in question was reserved for a candidate belonging to the Scheduled Tribe community, irrespective of whether they belong to the majority party or not, and that the private respondent was the only elected member from the reserved category who was eligible to be pointed as Pradhan.
Court observed that if the petitioner’s submissions of ousting the reserved category candidate on the sole grounds that they perceived her as incompetent were to be accepted, and their prayer for co-opting her seat be granted, then the same would “defeat the reservation process.”
If the elected reserved category candidate is not allowed the benefit of reservation, then the reservation policy will be frustrated. Reserved category member elected from the minority party will never get a chance to hold key posts and seats. Co-option ought not to be exercised if the reserved category candidate is available. If none is available from the reserved category, then co-option may be resorted to, it was held.
Accordingly, the Court dismissed the pleas, and observed that the members of a Gram Panchayat ought to function as a team to serve the electors, and avoid in-fighting amongst themselves.
The sole intention of the members of the Gram Panchayat should be to act as a team and serve the electors of the Panchayat. There ought not to be any infighting in between the members and the Panchayat should behave as a single entity, it observed.
It parted by advising that while there may be a process for removal of the Pradhan a year after her election, the members of the majority party should not make things difficult for her, which may ultimately lead to her removal.
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Cal) 314
Case: Srimanta Malik & Ors. Vs. The State of West Bengal & Ors.
Case No: WPA 23176 of 2023
Click Here To Read/Download Order