The Kerala High Court while dealing with a Writ Petition challenging the order of Respondent No.1, Grama-Panchayat, dismissed the order and held the orders of Panchayat as ultra vires to the powers vested in them.

The Bench headed by Justice N. Nagaresh said that “It is a travesty of justice that some of the Panchayats in Kerala often exercise powers not vested in them impeding regular statutory processes and putting citizens into unwanted litigations." Further, the Bench held that the Panchayat institutions can exercise only those powers conferred on and vested with them by the legislature.

"Local Self Government Institutions cannot take a view different from the views of other statutory bodies and stop or create hurdles for the entrepreneurs in going ahead with projects which are permitted under laws", noted the Court.

Advocate Philip J. Vettickattu appeared for the Petitioner while Advocate K. Seena represented the Respondents.

In this case, the Petitioner obtained a license for setting up a Querying Unit. The Petitioner obtained all the required licenses from the Director of Mining and Geology, under the Kerala Minor Metal Concessions Rule, 2015. Further, the Petitioner obtained Environmental Clearance from the District Environmental Impact Assessment Authority.

The Petitioner further required permission from the Panchayat Authorities under Sections 232 and 233 of the Kerala Panchayati Raj Act, 1994. The permission was denied by the Panchayat Authorities. Aggrieved by the order of the Panchayat, the Petitioner approached the High Court.

While examining the powers granted to Panchayat under Sections 232 and 233 of the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act, the Court held that “The Panchayats cannot act as if they are protectors and enforcers of all public interests and exercise powers not vested with them. In the present case, in the matter of Section 233 of the Panchayat Raj Act, 1994, the power of the Panchayat is laid down in the Act with clarity.”

The Court noted that under the scheme of Panchayat Raj, the State legislature may endow the Panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government.

Further regarding environmental assessment, the Court said “State and District Environmental Impact Assessment Authorities are expert bodies who give Environmental Clearances. When such specialised and expert statutory bodies are created, Panchayat Committees, who cannot claim expertise in those areas, cannot take a view contrary to that of other competent statutory authorities.”

The Court also said that the citizens who opt for start-ups and entrepreneurship should be able to rely on the decisions and clearances given by specialised statutory bodies and go ahead with their projects.

Accordingly, the Court set aside the order of Grama-Panchayat and issued an order to grant permission to the Petitioner for conducting business.

Cause Title: Sinoj Thomas v. Balal Grama Panchayat & Anr.

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