Quashing a Government Order and subsequent notification, calling for applications to fill up the post of Director at Social Audit Society of Tamil Nadu (SASTA), the Madras High Court on Thursday held that social activists and persons experienced with working at grass root level in rural areas towards implementation of social welfare schemes shall be more suited for the post.
The Judgment rendered by Justice A Anand Venkatesh, has held that only an independent Director who cannot be influenced by the Government or any local body and one who has sufficient experience in social audit, will be able to do justice to the post.
Facts & Contentions:
The Petitioner served as an Additional Director of the Department of Rural Development & Panchayat Raj in the year 2016 and was also posted as the Director of Social Audit Society of Tamil Nadu ("SASTA").
Aggrieved by the G.O.M No. 60, dated 21.05.2019 issued by the State of Tamil Nadu (Respondent 1) and the consequent notification issued by the Director of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (Respondent 2) calling for applications to fill up the post of Director, Social Audit Society of Tamil Nadu, the Petitioner filed a writ under Article 226 seeking directions to the Government to frame Rules/norms for the selection and appointment in accord with the provisions of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 ("MGNREG Act,2005) and MGNREGA Audit of Scheme Rules 2011 (Audit of Scheme Rules, 2011) and also to direct the Respondent(s) to consider his appointment.
It was contended by the Counsel for the Petitioner that the said G.O. & subsequent notification was a means to warrant that only a bureaucrat continued as a Director of SASTA and that the Respondent(s) did not want the SASTA to function independently.
This was evident as the G.O. was totally silent about the most relevant aspects of having experience of social audit, the Counsel for Petitioner averred.
While referring to the G.O, the Counsel urged that the selection was restricted only to persons who had worked in Government Departments or who had affiliation with the Government Department or were only retired bureaucrats.
Further, it was argued that there was absolutely no focus on social audit or the persons who were involved in social service or the social activists working for the welfare of the people.
Vide a common affidavit, the Respondent(s) contended that the SASTA was formed only to facilitate the Gram Sabha to take up social audit through trained Village Panchayat Resource Persons and Block Resource Persons and experience in formulating and operationalizing various scheme as well as ensuring that Government funds were properly utilized was enough experience for the post of Director of SASTA.
What the Court held:
The Court quashed the impugned Government Order and subsequent Notification and directed the State of Tamil Nadu to issue a fresh Government Order prescribing the qualifications for the appointment of independent Director of Social Audit to SASTA, strictly in accordance with the MGNREG Act, 2005 and MGNREGA Audit of Scheme Rules, 2011 within four weeks.
The Court, while holding that it was not interested in the personal grievances of the Petitioner and that he must not be made eligible as he had already held the post for more than 4 years, emphasized that it was more interested in bringing persons who had sufficient experience in social audit as Directors of the SASTA.
"Till now, the Government of Tamil Nadu has managed to run the Society, with the Secretaries and the Additional Secretaries, without appointing an independent Director for Social Audit. From the Government order and the notification, it is clear that the Government wants to continue to have this control by prescribing such qualifications, which will suit the existing or retired bureaucrats"
It was held that only those persons who had directly worked with the grass root level people in the rural areas were more suited to the post of director as only such persons could warrant independence of the body in its functioning.
The Court also emphasized that it was extremely important to have only such a person heading the body who was independent and one who could not be influenced by the Government.
It was held,
"Only those persons will be able to maintain independence and ensure that the scheme is properly implemented and ensure that the money actually reaches the poor persons who have been given the minimum guarantee of 100 days employment. Thousands of crores of rupees are being spent towards this scheme and the audit comes within the scope of Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Therefore only an independent Director who cannot be influenced by the Government or any local body, who has sufficient experience in social audit, will be able to do justice to the post, in accordance with the objects of the MGNREG Act, 2005 and Audit of Scheme Rules, 2011"
Arguments on behalf of the Petitioner were led by Senior Advocate R. Vaigai. The Respondent (s) were represented by Additional Advocate General S.R. Rajagopal, Special Government Pleader J.Pothiraja & Additional Central Government Standing Counsel M. Sundar.
Click here to download the Judgment