32-yr-old from Cuddalore secure panchayat presidents' rights to convene Gram Sabhas

A 32-year-old panchayat president from Rajendrapattinam village panchayat in Cuddalore had knocked on the doors of the Madras High Court and upheld the rights of all the panchayat presidents to conduct Gram Sabha meetings at any time without the interference of authorities.
A Gram Sabha meeting being conducted (File Photo)
A Gram Sabha meeting being conducted (File Photo)

Chennai

Justice N Anand Venkatesh passed the orders on a plea by T Suresh, 32, village panchayat president of Rajendrapattinam village challenging the order of the district administration dated 18.02.2021 restricting the petitioner to conduct the Gram Sabha meeting that he scheduled for 24.02.2021.
After eight months of the legal fight, T Suresh not only got a judgement in favour of him but also for all the panchayat president that the Gram Sabha meetings can be conducted by the president and authorities could not stop them unless there is a situation like the outbreak of a pandemic.
Hailing from a poor family Suresh had completed engineering in electrical and electronics and got placed in Singapore. He decided to quit his well-paid job in 2016 for making a plunge into the village panchayat elections. However, the local body polls were deferred in 2016.
Without getting dejected, the youth had again preferred to file nominations in 2019 for Rajendrapattinam Village Panchayat, Viruduchalam Block of Cuddalore district. Suresh had beaten all the odds and returned as a successful candidate in December 2019 rural local body elections.
Narrating his legal fight to set his right to conduct Gram Sabha, Suresh said after the pandemic fuelled lockdown in March 2020, he was all set to hear his people through a sabha on the Gandhi Jayanth. However, the state government cancelled the meeting on the evening of October 1, 2021.
“Even as I had taken all the steps to conduct the meeting, it was cancelled by the district authorities. When I tried to convene the gram sabha on January 26 for the Republic Day, the officials from the rural development department again pressurised me to cancel the meeting,” Suresh said to DT NEXT.
Though being elected as president, Suresh bore the pain as he was stopped from conducting gram sabha. “ As per section 3 (2) (A) of Tamil Nadu Panchayat Act 1994, the village panchayat president has all the rights to convene the gram sabha. Therefore, we panchayat council had decided to conduct a gram sabha meeting of my on 24.02.2021,” Suresh said.
He further stated that a communication dated 18.02.2021 from Assistant Director, Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RD&PR) Department, Cuddalore district informed him citing a G.O. (Ms) No. 245 RD&PR dated 19.11.1998 that the gram sabha could be conducted only on four government holidays, i.e., January 26, May 2, August 15 and October 2.
“This is a complete misinterpretation of the G.O and taking the opportunity to illegally restrict the panchayat president to exercise his/her right to convene the gram sabha Section 3 (2-A) of TN Panchayat 1994. Panchayat presidents can conduct gram sabha at any time there is a necessity. Since the officials demanded us to cancel the gram sabha meeting, we preferred a writ petition before the Madras High Court on 22.02.2021,” he noted.
After hearing for four months, Justice N Anand Venkatesh on October 6, 2021, held that the gram sabha meetings could be conducted by the panchayat presidents. The judge said that the orders/circulars by the government restricting the panchayat presidents from conducting meetings will confine itself only to the pandemic period. “Government circulars directing the panchayat presidents could not be applicable during normal times,” the judge held.
R Shunmugasundaram, Advocate General (AG) also submitted that the restriction by the government only on the grounds of the pandemic. The judge also made it clear that the 4 days, that has been mentioned in the circular dated 18.02.2021, is only the minimum number of times that gram sabha meetings should be convened in a calendar year.
“The judgement has come as a ray of hope for all the village panchayat presidents. As the authorities could not stop us from exercising our rights as elected representatives of the village people,” he added.

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