NEW DELHI: Panchayats can formulate their own programmes of economic development and social justice as they enjoy a Constitutional status, the Supreme Court has ruled.
The apex court said Article 40 and Articles 243 to 243-O envisages that the framers of the Constitution had envisaged village panchayat to be the foundation of the country's political democracy - a decentralised form of government where each village was to be responsible for its own affairs.
Bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhya passed the ruling while allowing an appeal filed by the village panchayat of Calangute in Goa challenging a Bombay High Court order which had taken the view that the local body cannot challenge any decision taken by the executive authority.
In this case, the Additional Director of Panchayat-II had overruled a resolution passed by the panchayat quashing the permission granted to a private company for carrying out certain commercial activities.
Though the panchayat appealed against the official's decision the high court dismissed it following which it appealed in the apex court.
"The primary focus of the subjects enumerated in the Eleventh Schedule is on social and economic development of the rural parts of the country by conferring upon the Panchayat the status of a constitutional body.
"Parliament has ensured that the Panchayats would no longer perform the role of simply executing the programmes and policies evolved by the political executive of the state.
"By virtue of the provisions contained in Part IX, the panchayats have been empowered to formulate and implement their own programs of economic development and social justice in tune with their status as the third tier of Government which is mandated to represent the interests of the people living within its jurisdiction", the Bench said.
The apex court said the Constitution's Preamble, Part IV and Part IX must guide our understanding of the Panchayati Raj institutions and the role they play in the lives of the people in rural parts of the country.
"The conceptualisation of the village panchayat as a unit of self government having the responsibility to promote social justice and economic development and as a representative of the people within its jurisdiction must be borne in mind while interpreting the laws enacted by the state which seek to define the ambit and scope of the powers and the functions of Panchayats at various levels.
"An analysis of Article 40 and Articles 243 to 243-O shows that the framers of the Constitution had envisaged village panchayat to be the foundation of the country's political democracy - a decentralised form of government where each village was to be responsible for its own affairs," the Bench said.
According to the court by enacting the Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) Act, Parliament has attempted to remedy the defects and remove the deficiencies of the Panchayati Raj system evolved after independence, which failed to live up to the expectation of the people in rural India.
"The provisions contained in Part IX provide firm basis for self-governance by the people at the grass root through the institution of panchayats at different levels.
"For achieving the objectives enshrined in Part IX of the Constitution, the state legislatures have enacted laws and made provision for devolution of powers upon and assigned various functions listed in the Eleventh Schedule to the Panchayats", the court said.
Hence it directed the High Court to issue notices on the issue raised by the panchayat and decide the matter on merits. PTI
TIME LINE: THE CASE
2006: Calangute panchayat grants permission to builder for construction at Porbawado, Calangute. Locals complain that builder has blocked access to well and chapel.
MARCH 2008: Following complaints, Calangute panchayat passes resolution for revocation of occupancy certificate.
MARCH 2009: The panchayat passes another resolution and revokes permission to the company.
2009: Company challenges the ruling on grounds that it was contrary to rules of natural justice.
JULY 2009:Panchayat revokes earlier resolution and issues notice to the company to stop further construction and fixes site inspection for August 4, 2009.
2009: Company challenges panchayat notice before Additional Director of Panchayat, who passes ex-parte interim order.
JULY 2009: Company applies for permission to use property as guest house, but panchayat rejects application. Company then challenges the decision.
FEBRUARY 2010: Additional Director of Panchayat passes final order, directing panchayat to reconsider application of the company for grant of permission to use the property for running a guest house.
2010: Panchayat challenges order in High Court, but High Court dismisses petition.
Panchayat then challenges matter before Supreme Court.