Punjab suspends 2 senior IAS officers, tells HC its rolling back panchayat poll notification
The suspension orders, issued by chief secretary Anurag Verma, came hours after the Punjab government informed the high court that it is withdrawing its notification dissolving all gram panchayats in the state, a move that is being seen as a major embarrassment for the Bhagwant Mann-led AAP regime
The Punjab government on Thursday suspended two senior IAS officers of the rural development and panchayats department with immediate effect for taking a “technically-flawed” decision regarding the dissolution of panchayats.
The suspension orders, issued by chief secretary Anurag Verma, came hours after the Punjab government informed the high court that it is withdrawing its notification dissolving all gram panchayats in the state, a move that is being seen as a major embarrassment for the Bhagwant Mann-led AAP regime.
The 1994-batch IAS officer Dhirendra Kumar Tiwari, principal secretary, rural development and panchayats, and 2009-batch IAS officer Gurpreet Singh Khaira, director, rural development and panchayats and ex-officio special secretary, rural development and panchayats were suspended under the provisions of rule 3(1) of the All India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1969, according to an official order. The headquarters of the two officers will be Chandigarh and they be entitled to subsistence allowance, adds the order.
Though no reason for suspension was mentioned in the official order, rural development and panchayats minister Laljit Singh Bhullar, in a statement, said the state government has suspended the two top functionaries with immediate effect for taking a “technically-flawed” decision regarding the dissolution of panchayats. The decision was taken after the matter came to the notice of CM Mann, he added.
On August 10, the state government had notified the dissolution of panchayats and declared elections to gram panchayats, panchayat samitis and zila parishad under the Panchayati Raj Act, triggering a political uproar with Opposition parties flaying the government decision of dissolving local bodies as “unconstitutional.”
While panchayat elections were to be held on December 31, zila parishad and panchayat samiti polls were slated for November 25. Shiromani Akali Dal general secretary Gurjeet Singh Talwandi had challenged the notification.
There are 13,241 panchayats, 22 zila parishads and 152 panchayat samitis in the state.
Earlier, advocate general Vinod Ghai submitted before a bench of Chief Justice Ravi Shanker Jha that the Punjab government will withdraw the poll notification withdrawn within two days. Ghai, however, told HC that polls would be held before December 31 and schedule for the same would be announced by the state election commission.
The submissions were made during resumed hearing of a PIL filed by SAD leader Talwandi by way of a public interest litigation (PIL), challenging the August 10 notification. There were also petitions by panchayat members from different parts of the state—initially filed on August 17.
The AG further said that to take over management from elected representatives of panchayats and other such bodies, many officers were required to be deputed in place of elected members. As state has witnessed large-scale damage due to floods, officers are required now for the assessment of damages and can’t be deputed for panchayat elections. Hence, decision to rollback dissolution of panchayats was taken at the CM’s level.
He also said that any order on freezing grants etc. passed pursuant to the August 10 notification would also stand withdrawn in view of this decision of the state government.
In view of AG’s statement, the court disposed of the PIL and other petitions filed challenging the government decision.
Minister Bhullar said the government has initiated efforts to conduct timely elections for the village panchayats, “The process of revising voter lists, demarcation of wards and implementing a 50% reservation for the elections was very long, but due to the floods in the state, the operation was halted as the officers and employees were engaged in relief efforts,” he said.
The opposition slammed the AAP government over its “U-turn” in the court. Leader of Opposition Partap Singh Bajwa asked the Mann government why action was not taken against Bhullar. “Why has @BhagwantMann not taken any action against the rural development minister? The notification could not have been made without his knowledge, and if it had been made without his knowledge then it shows the incompetence of the minister,” the Congress leader posted on X, previously known as Twitter. BJP national general secretary Tarun Chugh alleged that the AAP government’s decision to withdraw its order on dissolution of panchayats once again demonstrated its “unconstitutional” functioning. The Akal Dal also demanded dismissal of minister Bhullar.