In a significant development, the Punjab government has informed the Punjab and Haryana High Court that it intends to withdraw its notification regarding the dissolution of panchayats. State Advocate General Vinod Ghai conveyed to the high court bench, comprising Chief Justice RS Jha and Justice Arun Palli, that although elections for panchayats would be conducted by the year’s end, the notification for panchayat dissolution would be retracted. This announcement was made during a hearing on a public interest litigation (PIL) initiated by Gurjeet Singh Talwandi, a Shiromani Akali Dal general secretary, challenging the aforementioned notification.
The state government, on August 10, had issued a notification declaring the dissolution of panchayats and scheduling elections for the members of gram panchayats, panchayat samitis, and zila parishads as per the Panchayati Raj Act. The panchayat elections were initially slated for December 31.
Subsequent to the Advocate General’s statement, the high court has disposed of the PIL.
On August 17, both panchayat members and zila parishad representatives contested the August 10 notification, presenting their challenges to a different bench for consideration.
In its defense, the government stated that approximately ₹1,000 crore was present in the bank accounts of gram panchayats, and there were concerns about possible misuse or unnecessary expenditure to attract village residents for personal gain by elected panchayat representatives. In the public’s best interest, the government had assumed control over these funds, intending to transfer them to the newly elected panchayats for developmental projects.
The government asserted its constitutional duty and authority to conduct general elections for panchayati raj institutions under Section 209 of the Punjab Panchayati Raj Act, 1994. The August 10 notification adheres to constitutional provisions.
Explaining the context, the government mentioned that the term of gram panchayats was calculated from their first meeting on January 10, 2019, and subsequently dissolved on August 10, 2023, within six months of the term’s conclusion. Previous exercises have followed a similar timeline. The government cited an instance when gram panchayats were dissolved on July 16, 2018, before elections held on December 30, 2018.
Punjab houses 13,241 gram panchayats, 22 zila parishads, and 152 panchayat samitis. There are indications that the government might also retract the dissolution notification for zila parishads and panchayat samitis, which are slated for polls on November 25. Further clarity on this matter is anticipated during proceedings before the coordinating bench, where the initial challenge to the August 10 notification was presented.
Sources By Agencies