The Bombay High Court while upholding the removal of a female Sarpanch has said that the very object of women empowerment would be frustrated if, under the guise of advancing the interest of women, gross misconduct of a particular woman is condoned.

A Single Bench of Justice N.J. Jamadar observed, “Empowerment of woman by providing political representation has been one of the main features of strengthening the democracy at the grass root level. Participation of woman in local-self governance is considered a measure of ensuring a greater probity in public life. However, the very object of woman empowerment would be frustrated, if under the guise of advancing the interest of women a gross misconduct of a particular woman is condoned.”

The Bench noted that the reason assigned by the Minister (Rural Development) that unseating a democratically elected woman Sarpanch would be contrary to the policy of women empowerment is unworthy of acceptance.

Advocate Shashank Mangle represented the petitioner while Advocate Harshad Inamdar and AGP V.S. Nimbalkar represented the respondents.

In this case, a petition under Article 227 of the Constitution was filed assailing a judgment passed by the Minister (Rural Development), whereby and whereunder the appeal preferred by the respondent i.e., the female sarpanch against an order of removal from the office of Sarpanch of Village Panchayat, Ambivali, Tal. Mahad, Dist. Raigad, came to be allowed by setting aside the order passed by the Divisional Commissioner, Kokan division, under Section 39(1) of the Maharashtra Village Panchayats Act, 1959.

The said woman sarpanch was alleged to have committed misconduct by withdrawing an amount from a village committee in breach of the rules.

The High Court after hearing the arguments of parties asserted, “… the act of respondent No. 1 to change the mandate to operate the bank account contrary to the Government Resolution can only be said to be driven by the desire to overcome the impediment in operating the bank account. Such maneuvering of the proceedings and accounts to cause benefit to a person to the detriment of the interest of the Village Panchayat can only be termed as misconduct.”

The Court said that it cannot be urged that the Sarpanch was not the ultimate beneficiary and hence the only issue that arises for consideration is whether the Minister was justified in insulating the Sarpanch from the consequences which entail the proved misconduct.

“The Minister (Rural Development) lost sight of the fact that removal of an office bearer for proved misconduct also serves a larger public interest and strengthens democracy. In any event, where the post of Sarpanch is reserved for a woman, upon removal of respondent No. 1 from the said office, in the consequent election only a woman candidate could have been elected to the office of Sarpanch of village Ambivali”, noted the Court.

The Court, therefore, concluded that the Minister was clearly in error in setting aside the well-reasoned order of the Divisional Commissioner and hence, the petition deserves to be allowed.

Accordingly, the Court allowed the plea, quashed the order of the Minister, and restored the order of the Divisional Commissioner.

Cause Title- Sandip Ramesh Khidbide v. Pratima Prakash Gaikar & Ors. (Neutral Citation: 2023:BHC-AS:10394)

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