(1.)THE subject matter of the present writ petition is a notice issued by the Deputy District Development Officer, respondent No. 1, for the holding of a meeting of Gram Panchayat, Bardala for considering a motion of no-confidence against the Sarpanch of that Panchavat. THE case with which petitioner Gangasahai, the Sarpanch, has come to this Court is like this: THE petitioner was elected as Sarpanch of Gram Panchayat, Bardala in Tehsil Nadoti district Sawai Madhopur at the last general Panchayat election held in 1964. It is stated that though the Panchayat's term of 3 years had expired, the Government have extended the same. Respondents Nos. 3 to 14 are the Panchas of the Gram Panchayat who were also elected at the last general Panchayat election. Petitioner's case is that inspite of an earlier motion of no-confidence, that was tabled against him and which was to be considered at the meeting of the Gram Panchayat on 16-2-68 having lapsed, the second motion of no-confidence on the basis whereof the meeting of the Gram Panchayat is sought to be convened, is wholly incompetent. As regards the alleged meeting of the Gram Panchayat on 16-2-63, the petitioner submits that notice of that meeting was given to the concerning Panchas, that the Tehsildar of Nadoti one Shri Om Prakash was appointed by the Deputy District Development Officer to preside over the meeting, that the said Tehsildar visited the village Bardala for the holding of the meeting, that at 12 O'clock at the scheduled time for the meeting the Tehsildar made an announcement for commencement of the meeting, that the petitioner and two other Panchas were present inside the Panchayat Ghar after the announcement of the meeting by the Tehsildar, but thereafter the other Panchas had not attended the meeting and the Tehsildar waited for half an our for the requisite quorum prescribed under the law and as the same was not present, the meeting was terminated. Petitioner's case further is that inspite of these being the events the Tehsildar tried to give a wrong complexion altogether to the events that had taken place at the meeting and had wrongly put up a notice, a photostat copy whereof has been filed along with the writ petition to the effect that the meeting was postponed at 12 o'clock on account of obstructions. According to the petitioner, the averments in the aforesaid notice about there being any obstruction in holding the meeting were false. THE petitioner thus maintains that the meeting having been properly convened by the appropriate authority and it having commenced under the presidentship of the Tehsildar at the appointed time, the only result of the requisite number of Panchas necessary for the quorum not attending within the time permissible was that the motion of no-confidence lapsed and in that situation rule 15 (8) of the Rajasthan Panchayat and Nyaya Panchayat (General) Rules, 1961, hereinafter to be referred as the "rules", precluded the holding of a second meeting for a vote of no-confidence against the Sarpanch within a period of 6 months. THE petitioner submitted his own affidavit, the affidavits of the two Panchas who, according to him, were inside the Panchayat Ghar namely, Karanlal and Chiranjilal, the affidavits of two police officers namely, Circle Inspector Shri Kailash Chandra and the Station House Officer of Gadmore Shri Mohanlal as also some other affidavits.
(2.)THE writ petition has been opposed by the respondent. THE reply of respondents Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13 and 14 is that there was a serious threat of breach of peace on that day due to the mechinations of the Sarpanch and his followers who wanted to avoid a proper expression of the will of the members of the Panchayat in the matter of confidence in the Sarpanch. According to the respondents, a big crowd had collected in the village on that day and from before the time fixed for commencement of the meeting the crowd had collected in the street outside the Panchayat Ghar and the persons in the crowd, according to the respondents, were carrying weapons including lathis and they further submitted that the Sarpanch and his followers were preventing other Panchas from going inside the Panchayat Ghar to participate in the meeting. Tehsildar, who is respondent No. 2, denied the averments made by the petitioner and he took the stand that on that day there was a huge crowd outside the Panchayat Ghar and there were two rival groups who were supporting the Sarpanch and the other persons against him in this matter respectively. He was, according to him, apprised right from the beginning that there was a serious apprehension of breach of peace there and at 11 15 a. m. the Inspector of Police Shri Kailash Chandra who had proceeded to the village with a possee of constables on being asked by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate of the area apprised him of the situation. THEreafter he received another communication from the Collector through the mouth of the Naib Tehsildar that the threat to peace was real and it would be for him to see about his own safety. Thus according to the Tehsildar, he was placed in a difficult situation and, therefore, on account of the apprehended breach of peace he did not hold the meeting but right at 12 noon when the meeting was to commence he declared that the meeting was postponed and he then hung a notice to that effect on the notice board through his own peon. THE contesting Panchas, who are respondents, have fallen in line with the version of the Tehsildar, that is, according to them, the meeting was never held and at 12 noon, that is at the time which was fixed for the meeting the Tehsildar declared that the meeting was postponed, though in the affidavits that they put in the beginning they had not said about the commencement of the meeting.
The only point that in the circumstances arises for my consideration is whether it was competent for the Deputy District Development Officer to convene the meeting of the Gram Panchayat for the consideration of the motion of no-confidence against the petitioner. "i may read the relevant statutory provision viz. , rule 15 of the Rules on the consideration of which the fate of the case would turn: R. 15 Meeting for consideration of motion.- (1) Upon delivery of the notice of a motion of non-confidence, the Dy. Distt Development Officer shall, if he finds the notice to be in order, call a special meeting of the Panchayat for the consideration of the motion at the office of the Panchayat on a date and at the time appointed by him. (2) The Deputy District Development Officer shall send, by registered post or by other means, not less than seven clear days before the appointed date of the meeting, a notice of such meeting and of the date and time appointed therefore to every member of the Panchayat including the Up-sarpanch and also to the Sarpanch thereof. (3) The Deputy District Development Officer or any other officer authorised by him in this behalf, shall preside at such meeting, (4) If the requisite quorum is present at the time fixed for the meeting or within half an hour of such time, the presiding officer shall read the motion, for the consideration of which the meeting has been convened and declare it to be open for discussion. (5) The meeting shall not be adjourned and automatically terminate on the expiry of two hours from the time of its commencement unless it is concluded earlier. (6) Upon the conclusion of the debate or upon the expiry of the said period of two hours, as the case may be, the motion shall be put to the vote of the Panchas present and the presiding officer shall not speak on its merits. (7) If the requisite quorum is not present for half an hour from the time appointed for the commencement of the meeting, it shall be adjourned and the notice of the motion of nonconfidence shall lapse. (8) No notice of any subsequent motion, expressing want of confidence in the same Sarpanch or Upsarpanch, shall be made untill after the expiration of six months from the date of such meeting. " Sub-rule (8) prohibits the giving of a notice of any subsequent motion expressing want of confidence in a Sarpanch until after the expiry of six months from the date of the meeting. This sub-rule comes into play when there was an earlier meeting at which the motion of no-confidence was either considered and lost or that on account of the requisite quorum being not there within the scheduled time of half an hour after the time for the commencement of the meeting, the same had lapsed.
In this case the parties are speaking with divided voices. Not a little surprising feature in the case was that even out of the three Government officers who were undoubtedly there on the spot, the two police officers namely, Circle Inspector Shri Kailash Chandra and Station House Officer Shri Mohanlal stated in their affidavits that the Tehsildar made an announcement of the commencement of the meeting at the appointed hour, that the Tehsildar, the Sarpanch and one or two Panchas were inside the Panchayat Ghar after the announcement regarding the commencement of the meeting, that the Tehsildar came out at 12. 30 noon and then declared that the meeting was terminated. They further stated that the notice, the photostat copy whereof has been produced along with the writ petition, was fixed on the notice board after 1230 noon. Since the affidavits filed by the parties as well as by the Government Officers disclosed conflicting versions of the events, I ordered that the three Government Officers should be called for "being cross-examined on their affidavits. Accordingly the three Government officers appeared in this Court and both the parties were allowed to examine and cross-' examine them regarding their respective versions. Though the Government officers concerned have given conflicting versions, they stand on common ground atleast in one respect that there was a huge crowd outside the Panchayat Ghar on that day and that right from beginning there was tension and the authorities of the area were informed before hand that there was likelihood of breach of peace. Even according to the version of the Station House Officer Shri Mohanlal some persons had got into the verandah after the meeting had been declared open and inspite of he and other police officers trying their level best to clear the people from the verandah they were not able to do so. According to him, if persons were cleared from one side the others from the other side would get in. According to the Circle Inspector, the crowd was surging forward after the meeting had been declared open and he had declared that the Panchas should get in. This officer too was convinced that there was a serious threat of breach of peace on that day and he had divided the police party of 20 constables in two parts; one batch of constables consisted of 10 constables with rifles and the other consisted of those who had sticks and in the presence of the crowd he also declared that, if necessary, the party of constables would use their sticks or would even resort to firing under his own instructions which he would convey according to such directions as might be given to him by the superior officers. It cannot be forgotten that this was a meeting of the Panchayat and it is the Panchas alone who were required to express their will about their confidence or lack of it in the Sarpanch. One cannot understand why such a huge crowd should collect in the village on the occasion. One can understand that at an election so many people might be there, but such a big gathering was something out of the ordinary for a meeting of the Panchayat.
Rule 15 of the Rules extracted above, contains two principles necessary for the working of a democratic institution like the Panchayat. It provides in the first instance, that as soon as a notice of a motion of no-confidence is delivered to the Deputy District Development Officer, he has no choice in the matter but has to call a special meeting of the Panchayat for the consideration of the motion. According to sec. 19 of the Rajasthan Panchayat Act, 1953, hereinafter to be referred as the "act", a motion of no-confidence can be moved by any Panch. In other words, even a single member of the Panchayat can table such a motion. This provision has been made to ensure that the elective head of the Gram Panchayat enjoys the confidence of the members of the Panchayat. The other principle is that as the Sarpanch, being the executive head of the Gram Panchayat, has to discharge several important functions to him, he must have some security of tenure so that he may not be inhibited in properly discharging his functions. It is for this reason that it has been provided that once a motion of no confidence has either fallen or it had lapsed under the stated condition, a subsequent meeting for the consideration of a motion of no-confidence cannot be convened for a period of six months next after the meeting. The next safeguard is provided by sec. 19 of the Act itself when it is laid down that a motion of no-confidence to be valid must be carried by a majority of three-fourth of the total number of Panchas. Even so, what is noteworthy is that there must be a meeting of the Gram Panchayat which was once held and at that meeting either the no-confidence motion was voted down or it had lapsed under the stated condition. In this case there is a serious controversy between the parties as to whether the meeting commenced at all at the scheduled time fixed for the purpose on that day. I seriously considered the question whether this Court should decide such a controversy on facts in the exercise of its extra-ordinary jurisdiction. For properly disposing of the controversy evidence has to be scrutinised and then a decision has to be reached. Parties have filed a number of affidavits. Petitioner filed some and in reply the contesting Panchas as well as the Tehsildar filed counter affidavits. Learned counsel for the petitioner made an application before me that these Panchas should be called here for cross-examination. Learned counsel for the petitioner also raised an objection regarding the filing of additional affidavits by the respondents after the hearing had commenced. To decide this controversy on facts properly I will have to look to all the relevant evidence and in a way I will be converting these proceedings into a regular trial of a suit as it were, but I do not consider this to be a convenient method of dealing with the matter. Sub-rule (8) of Rule 15 lays down certain conditions for the Deputy District Development Officer to follow before he exercises his power for convening a certain meeting. It cannot be denied that a meeting was properly convened for 16-2-68 for the consideration of a motion of no-confidence against the Sarpanch and thereafter the Deputy District Development Officer proceeded to convene again the meeting which the petitioner seeks to be injuncted against. In these circumstances when the Deputy District Development Officer was not unaware of the previous convening of the meeting for the motion of no-confidenee against the petitioner by no other than himself then it was his duty to decide as a matter of fact whether the previous meeting scheduled to be held on 16-2-68 at 12. 00 noon was in fact so held or not. This was a jurisdictional fact and it was absolutely necessary for the Deputy District Development Officer in the situation in which the question arose to decide this jurisdictional fact first. It is noteworthy that once a meeting has commenced then the rule does not give any power to the Presiding Officer to terminate the meeting for any reason before the fixed period. The Legislature or the rule making authority perhaps never contemplated that these small cells of democracy will have to be subjected to so much stress and strain. It was not a little surprising that even though a Magistrate of the status of a Sub-Divisional Magistrate was apprised in advance that there was tension in the village and there was a threat to peace yet the machinery under the Criminal Procedure Code for meeting any such threat to peace was not resorted to. If there was real threat of peace as the respondents would have me believe, then a more suitable action could have been contemplated well in advance. It is not unknown that when a big mass of people collects to pose a threat to peace it may be difficult to control the crowd on the spur of the moment. A small contingent of 20 persons could hardly be sufficient to meet the menacing situation. Even bigger number might be insufficient. Howsoever turbulent may be the crowd I do not believe that such state of things have arisen in Rajasthan where they become mightier than the majesty of law itself. Politicians at times are tempted to work in a way that may be of benefit to them for future elections, but this cannot be the attitude of civil servants. In the present case unfortunately the impression is unavoidable that officers have got mixed up with politicians. Civil servants have to place their duty under the law above everything else. It was again unfortunate that in the present case two of the members of the Assembly had gone there to join the rival groups. By saying this I do not mean to suggest that the right of free expression of one's views is not there and that is to be respected, but the right has not to be exercised in such a way as may infringe the law or create a threat to public peace. For a smooth working of democracy rule of law is absolutely necessary and law has to be enforced though at times it may be distasteful. Therefore, when a certain valid notice of motion for no-confidence has been delivered it is the duty of the authorities responsible for maintenance of law and order to ensure that a meeting of the Gram Panchayat is allowed to be held under reasonably peaceful conditions. As I have already observed, the smallest cell of democracy namely, Gram Panchayat is not expected to face a turbulent situation like the one presented in this case and it is the duty of the State to ensure a smooth working of these institutions as long as the Rajasthan Panchayat Act is there.
Now the serious controversy is about the main fact which, as I have already observed, is one of jurisdictional nature namely, whether the meeting of the Gram Panchayat was held as alleged by the petitioner or it was not held at all as alleged by the contesting respondents. This question has, in my view, to be determined by the authority who is competent to convene the meeting under R. 15 of the Rules in the first instance.
Learned counsel for the petitioner invited my attention to sec. 77 of the Act for showing that such an enquiry should be held by any officer authorised by the State Government, as sec. 77 according to him, was wide enough to empower the State Government to get an enquiry in respect of any matter relating to a Panchayat or Nyaya Panchayat. I have considered this matter. R. 15 is a provision relating to the convening of a special meeting of the Gram Panchayat for consideration of a motion of no-confidence against the Sarpanch. In terms of the rule itself it is the Deputy District Development Officer who is to convene the meeting when a notice of a motion of no-confidence has been delivered to him. Therefore, if any other officer were appointed by the Government for the enquiry then that will result in a divided responsibility. That is, while R. 15 casts the duty of convening the meeting on the Deputy District Development Officer, the preliminary work of giving a finding regarding the applicability of sub-rules (6) and (7) will be performed by some other authority. This divided responsibility, in my view, is not contemplated. In these circumstances this duty has to be performed only by the authority who is competent to convene the meeting under R. 15 of the Rules. Learned counsel for the petitioner then submitted and also put in an affidavit that the Deputy District Development Officer is already biased against the petitioner and has made up his mind one way. On the material placed before me, I regret, I am unable to come to the conclusion that there is a personal bias on the part of the Deputy District Development Officer against the petitioner. The Deputy District Development Officer is not alleged to have been present on the scene on 16-2-68. It may be that on the basis of certain material one sidedly brought to his notice he may have tentatively reached a certain conclusion, but from that alone it cannot be said he will not view the matter with an open mind if both the competing versions are placed before him together with the evidence in support thereof. It is further noteworthy that the normal term of the Panchayat that is 3 years, has already expired and the Panchayat is on an extended term. It is, therefore, necessary that the officer should decide this question about the existence of the jurisdictional fact promptly. This should be within a period of two weeks.
In the result, I allow the writ petition in part and direct the respondent No. 1, the Deputy District Development Officer to first collect the necessary material bearing on the question of the actual holding of the meeting on 16th February, 1968 and then in the light of the material so collected by him reach proper conclusion as to whether the meeting was in fact held as alleged by the petitioner or not. If he comes to the conclusion that no such meeting was held, then he shall fix another date for the special meeting of the Gram Panchayat. On the other hand, if he comes to the conclusion that a meeting was in fact held, then he shall not proceed to convene the special meeting of the Gram Panchayat. The parties are directed to place before the officer the material that they have placed in this Court within a period of five days from today. They may also place any fresh material, if they want to do so, within this period and the officer will deal with the matter accordingly. The parties are left to bear their own costs. .