Mahatashtra rural development minister defends move to appoint administrators for gram panchayats 

After strong opposition from the social activist Anna Hazare for the appointment of administrators on 14,234 gram panchayats, the Rural Development Minister Hasan Mushrif in a letter wrote to him said the government has taken a decision based on the 73rd amendment to the Constitution, high court and Supreme Court judgements delivered in the past and due to the present coronavirus crisis. Mushrif clarified that the government cannot give an extension to the general body of gram panchayats whose tenure has come to an end.

Mushrif said the decision to appoint administrators has not been taken with any political motive but it was the only option available in the present situation till the fresh elections are held. It is expected that the Chief Executive Officer should appoint a suitable efficient person in a democratic way on the advice of the Guardian Minister. The government hopes the administrators will play a crucial role in the functioning of gram panchayats to tackle the Covid-19 crisis. Mushrif in an interview with Free Press Journal had said it is very clear that amidst uncertainty because of the present Covid 19 crisis, the fresh elections could not be held and therefore appointment of administrators was the only alternative.

Mushrif said according to the 73rd Amendment made in 1992, the term of Gram Panchayat has been fixed at 5 years. Gram Panchayats in 13 districts whose term ended in 2005 were given extension. However, after the Maharashtra State Election Commission took objection the extension was cancelled. The Election Commission had at that time ruled that there was no provision in the Constitution. Subsequently, the High Court and the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Election Commission. The High Court went even further and said that the term of the Sarpanch, the Deputy Sarpanch, and the members cannot be brought through the back door by giving such an extension.

Further, Mushrif argued that because of the coronavirus pandemic it was not possible to hold elections till November-December. There is a paucity of Extension Officers who can be appointed for the functioning of these Gram Panchayats. The Minister has informed that the government has promulgated an ordinance for the appointment of administration through an amendment to the Gram Panchayat Act during the present crisis.

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