1. The petitioners crave for Writ of Mandamus declaring the action of the 2nd respondent in issuing proceedings No.751/CRP&RD/2019 dated 29.12.2019 according permission to change the location of Village Secretariat from Abbineniguntapalem village to Gorijavoluguntapalem village, Pedanandipadu Mandal, Guntur District, as illegal, arbitrary, contrary to law and principles of natural justice and consequently quash the aforesaid proceedings.
2. The petitioners’ case is thus:
a) Abbineniguntapalem (for short “A.Palem”) village consists of 2435 voters. In the said village, the Village Secretariat was established as per G.O.Ms.No.110 dated 19.07.2019 issued by 1st respondent. From 02.10.2019 the Village Secretariat was functioning. While so, Gorijavoluguntapalem (for short “G.Palem”) village is at a distance of 1 KM from A.Palem village and the population of said village is 1013. As per G.O.Ms.No.110, population between 2000 and 4000 is taken as the base for location of Village Secretariat. As G.Palem is having less than 2000 population, the said village was directed to be functioned through the Village Secretariat of A.Palem. 20 village volunteers were appointed to the Village Secretariat in August, 2019 basing on population, 14 were allotted to A.Palem and 6 to G.Palem Gram Panchayat. They were all paid salaries from August, 2019 by the Village Secretariat established in A.Palem. So also, nine functional assistants were also appointed to the Village Secretariat in October, 2019. One Purnachandra Rao was appointed as Drawing and Disbursing Officer by the 4th respondent. Bank account was also opened with Bank of Baroda, Pedanandipadu Branch for Village Secretariat, A.Palem.
b) Further, A.Palem village is abutting main road leading from Guntur to Pedanandipadu. Whereas G.Palem is at a distance of 1 KMs from the said road and it is difficult to go to G.Palem from A.Palem for the daily needs.
c) While so, 2nd respondent issued proceedings No.751/CRP&RD/S2019 dated 29.12.2019 according permission to change the location of Village Secretariat from A.Palem village to G.Palem village. In fact, a Grama Sabha was held on 02.01.2020 but the proceedings relating to change of Village Secretariat were not brought to the notice of Grama Sabha. The change is made on communal lines for political gains but not in the interest of villagers. No reasons were assigned for change of location of Village Secretariat and the same is arbitrary and contrary to the concept of very constitution of Village Secretariats and the said change of Secretariat will put to irreparable loss and hardship to the villagers of A.Palem.
Hence, the writ petition.
3. Learned Government Pleader for Panchayat Raj took notice for respondents 1 to 3 and Sri I.Koti Reddy, learned Standing Counsel took notice on behalf of 4th respondent.
4. Counter is filed on behalf of 4th respondent interalia contending thus:
a) The Government have intended to establish Village Secretariats to improve the self governance at the village level. For this purpose, guidelines have been issued by the 1st respondent vide G.O.Ms.No.110 dated 19.07.2019. At Clause No.11 (ii) of the said guidelines, it was mentioned about the establishment of Village Secretariats by taking into consideration the population factor. As per clause 11(ii)(b), Village Secretariat has to be established by clubbing two Gram Panchayats, wherever population is less than 2000. The population of A.Palem is about 2800 and G.Palem is about 1165. Hence, the 4th respondent sent proposals to establish the Village Secretariat initially at A.Palem as its population is more than G.Palem. Considering the same, a Gazette notification was issued to establish Village Secretariat in A.Palem village.
b) At the time of establishing the Village Secretariat it was noticed that there was no Panchayat building in A.Palem village. Hence, Village Secretariat was established in a private building in A.Palem. Therefore, subsequently the 4th respondent sent proposals for shifting of Village Secretariat from A.Palem to G.Palem where spacious Panchayat building is available for establishing Village Secretariat. Considering the same, the Government have permitted to relocate the Village Secretariat from A.Palem to G.Palem vide proceedings dated 29.12.2019. Pursuant to the same, the Village Secretariat was shifted to G.Palem village on 17.01.2020.
c) It is stated that there is no inconvenience to the people to access to the Secretariat Office. Further, there are no specific guidelines to establish Secretariat in the village where more population is there. The availability of building and other amenities is important factor than mere population for establishing the Village Secretariat. Therefore, Village Secretariat was established in G.Palem by taking into consideration the availability of big building and internet facility and also availability of Government land for future facilities. There is no political involvement in the change of Village Secretariat. The villagers of G.Palem have gifted Ac.0.15 cents of site for construction of Village Secretariat building if necessary. Hence, the writ petition may be dismissed.
5. Heard Sri N.Srirama Murthy, learned counsel for the petitioners, learned Government Pleader for Panchayatraj & Rural Development for respondents 1 to 3, and Sri I.Koti Reddy, learned standing counsel for the 4th respondent.
6. Severely castigating the proceedings dated 29.12.2019 issued by the 2nd respondent permitting to change the location of Village Secretariat from Abbineniguntapalem Gram Panchayat to Gorijavoluguntapalem Gram Panchayat, learned counsel for the petitioners would argue that the said order is violative of the norms prescribed under G.O.Ms.No.110 dated 19.07.2019 inasmuch as, as per the said G.O. Village Secretariat has to be established for every Gram Panchayat having 2000 population and in consonance with the said guidelines, at first Village Secretariat was rightly established in A.Palem Gram Panchayat since its population is 2435. However, he would strenuously argue, subsequently by virtue of the impugned proceedings, the 2nd respondent permitted to change the location of Village Secretariat from A.Palem to G.Palem Gram Panchayat, which is having a population of 1013, which is less than 2000. He would submit that since its population is less than 2000, originally the said Gram Panchayat was attached to the Village Secretariat established at A.Palem and out of 20 village volunteers, 6 were allotted to G.Palem. In that view, it is neither legally valid nor logically correct to shift the Village Secretariat from A.Palem to G.Palem. Learned counsel would further argue that Village Secretariat was established at A.Palem on 02.10.2019 and Village Secretary of A.Palem was appointed as Secretary-cum-Drawing and Disbursing Officer of Village Secretariat of A.Palem and the said Secretariat has been functioning quite for sometime. Therefore, at this stage it is not apposite to shift Village Secretariat all of a sudden. He would point out that in the impugned proceedings no reason is mentioned for abrupt shifting of Village Secretariat, which is another lacuna in the said proceedings. He thus prayed to allow the writ petition.
7. Per contra, Sri I.Koti Reddy, learned standing counsel for 4th respondent while admitting that G.O.Ms.No.110 dated 19.07.2019 is the guiding beacon for establishment and functioning of Village Secretariats, would however argue that the said G.O. only posits that there shall be a team of functional assistants at the Village Secretariat for a population unit of 2000 persons. He would further submit that in case of smaller Gram Panchayats having less than 2000 population, one team of functional assistants will provide services for one or more Gram Panchayats to cater the needs of population of about 2000. He would thus submit that generally a Village Secretariat will be established for a Gram Panchayat having population between 2000 and 4000 and if a Gram Panchayat is having less than 2000 population, the same will be appended to the nearest Gram Panchayat which is having population of more than 2000 and accordingly, the team of functional assistants will be provided to serve both the Gram Panchayats. However, he would emphasize, the G.O has not perspicuously mandated that Village Secretariat should invariably be located in the village having more than 2000 population, but not in its satellite Gram Panchayat. Therefore, it is preposterous for the petitioners to contend that the shifting of Village Secretariat is illegal or illogical. He would further argue that it is not without any plausible reason that the Village Secretariat was proposed to be shifted under the impugned proceedings. Though A.Palem is larger in population, there is no permanent building available to locate the Village Secretariat in that village and the other amenities are also meagre over there. Hence, the Village Secretariat was established in a private building. Further, he would submit, the internet facility which is crucial and important for functioning of a Village Secretariat is very poor in A.Palem. In contrast, a spacious building and internet with good bandwidth is available at G.Palem and therefore, the Village Secretariat was shifted to that place. Absolutely no political reason is involved in the matter of shifting of the Village Secretariat, he submitted. Finally, he argued that having regard to the public convenience and taking other factors into consideration, policy decision for shifting of Village Secretariat was taken by the respondent authorities and such a policy decision, which is not violative of any law is beyond the pale of judicial review. He thus prayed to dismiss the writ petition.
8. The point for consideration is, whether there are merits in this writ petition to allow?
The establishment of Village Secretarial system at Gram Panchayat level is newly conceptualized by the present State Government. The need for such establishment of Village Secretariats, their aims, objectives, functions, the required work force to achieve the goals sought for were all catalogued and notified to G.O.Ms.No.110 Panchayat Raj & Rural Development (MDL-1) Department dated 19.07.2019 by the Government. This Government Order would spell out broad reasons for establishment of Village Secretariats.
The first reason, it reads out, Article 243-G of Constitution of India vests powers in the State Legislature to endow Panchayat with such powers and authority to function as institutions of self government; as per 73rd amendment of Constitution of India, A.P Panchayat Raj Act, 1994 was enacted creating 3 tier system in Panchayat Raj institution – (i) Gram Panchayat at the village level, (ii) Mandal Parishad at the intermediate level and (iii) Zilla Panchayat at District level with required powers and functions contained in Schedule-XI of the Constitution. As per Schedule-XI, 29 subjects were earmarked over which the preparation for plans and implementation of schemes for economic development and social justice was entrusted to Gram Panchayats; out of them, in Andhra Pradesh 10 subjects have been transferred to Panchayats, but however, due to lack of infrastructure and manpower at Gram Panchayats level, the intended objectives to establish a more meaningful local Government could not be achieved.
The second reason as per the above G.O. is that the Government is committing to revamp delivery systems in the State with an aim to improve living standards of the people through the concept of ‘Navaratnalu’ as core theme of governance.
For the above two broad reasons, it is proclaimed by the Government that the Village Secretariat system is being launched. In simpler terms the need for Village Secretariat system is envisaged thus:
i. Restructuring the delivery systems to function as an effective mechanism to deliver services.
ii. A strong & workable channel for implementation of NAVARATHNALU.
iii. Transparency and accountability in delivery of government services to the citizens.
iv. Ensure convergence among departments providing services at village level.
The objectives of the Village Secretariats are set forth as providing various Government services at the doorstep of the citizens through single window system and ensuring delivery of ‘Navaratnalu’; enabling convergence of lined departments that provide services at the village level; preparation and timely implementation of village plans etc.
10. Be that it may, we are concerned with what norms and guidelines are provided for establishment of Village Secretariats. Clause 10 and 11 are germane in that regard. Clause 10 deals with the structure and composition of Village Secretariats. It says that the office of Gram Panchayat will be termed as “Village Secretariat” and each Village Secretariat will be provided with a Panchayat Secretary who functions as Secretary / Convener of the Village Secretariat. The Village Secretariat consists of Panchayat Secretary as well as functional assistants, who shall be responsible to aid and assist Gram Panchayats in performing its functions, while preserving the autonomy of Gram Panchayats. Subject to administrative convenience the functional assistants working under a Village Secretariat, may cater to the needs of two or more contiguous Village Secretariats.
Then Clause 11 deals with area of operation of functional assistants. It propones that a population unit of about 2000 persons will be taken as a base for providing services by one team of functional assistants. This clause further says that if the population of a Gram Panchayat is more than 2000 and less than 4000, the entire Gram Panchayat is considered as one unit and one team of functional assistants will be provided. In case of smaller Gram Panchayats having less than 2000 population, one team of functional assistants will provide services for one or more Gram Panchayats to cater to the needs of the population of above 2000, for administrative convenience. In larger Gram Panchayats, additional teams of functional assistants will be provided in proportion to the population. Whenever additional teams of functional assistants are proposed in larger Gram Panchayats, the area of operation of additional teams as far as possible will be co-terminus with revenue villages to enable effective services by revenue and survey departments.
11. Now a conjunctive study of Clauses 10 and 11 gives us an understanding that existing Gram Panchayat offices are redesignated as Village Secretariats, which will be managed through Panchayat Secretary who will be the convener of the Village Secretariat. Then the functional assistants are concerned, they work as a team. One team of functional assistants is provided for a Gram Panchayat, whose population is between 2000 and 4000. For this purpose the entire Gram Panchayat is considered as one unit. In case of Gram Panchayats having population of more than 4000 additional teams of functional assistants will be provided in proportion to the population. In case of smaller Gram Panchayats having less than 2000 population, one team of functional assistants working under a Village Secretariat will cater to the needs of two or more contiguous Village Secretariats. So, the teams of functional assistants are distributed on the basis of population of a Gram Panchayat. From this we will understand that not all the Gram Panchayats can have the facility of independent teams of functional assistants. Those Gram Panchayats having less than 2000 population shall depend upon the team of functional assistants working in the neighbouring larger Gram Panchayat. This is the scheme of distribution of the teams of functional assistants on pro-rata basis. Generally, the team of functional assistants will work from the concerned Village Secretariat. Then I gave my anxious consideration to G.O.Ms.No.110. As rightly contended by Sri I.Koti Reddy, learned standing counsel, except mentioning that for a population unit of every 2000, there shall be a team of functional assistants, the G.O. is silent as to wherefrom the functional assistants have to operate in case of their providing services to a larger Gram Panchayat and its neighbouring smaller Gram Panchayat. When the G.O. is silent in this regard and when there is no any statute is governing on the field, the Government have to take a policy decision basing on the convenience of the public, other facilities etc. In the instant case, the submission of learned standing counsel is that in A.Palem there is no own building for establishing the Village Secretariat and hence, the same is housed in a private building. Whereas in G.Palem a separate building is available and further a better internet service facility is also available and therefore, the 2nd respondent permitted the shifting of Village Secretariat from A.Palem to G.Palem. I find force in the submission of learned standing counsel. When statute or executive orders are not inhibiting the establishment of the functional unit of the Village Secretariat at G.Palem, the same cannot be questioned by the petitioners on the ground that it was shifted without considering the convenience of villagers of A.Palem. On that count, writ petition is not maintainable.
12. For another reason also, the writ does not lie. Shifting of Villa
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ge Secretariat from A.Palem to G.Palem is purely a policy decision of the Government and an administrative act. Generally, the High Court will not interfere with the policy decisions, unless, they violate or infringe the provisions of the Constitution or any statute, which is the trite law. In BALCO Employees Union Vs. Union of India (AIR 2002 SC 350 = MANU/SC/0779/2001), Hon’ble Apex Court observed thus: “46. It is evident from the above that it is neither within the domain of the Courts nor the scope of the judicial review to embark upon an enquiry as to whether a particular public policy is wise or whether better public policy can be evolved. Nor are our Courts inclined to strike down a policy at the behest of a petitioner merely because it has been urged that a different policy would have been fairer or wiser or more scientific or more logical.” 13. It is contended on behalf of petitioners that in the impugned proceedings dated 29.12.2019, the 2nd respondent has not assigned any reasons for permitting to shift the Village Secretariat from A.Palem to G.Palem and, therefore, the order suffers the vice of being not a reasoned order. This argument, in my view is not a formidable one for the reason that G.O.Ms.No.110 is silent as to the place of operation of functional team who extend their services for both a larger Gram Panchayat and a small Gram Panchayat as well. In such an event the Government can, for the convenience of the public relocate the Village Secretariat. It is only when the G.O. or any statute stipulates a particular place for the functioning of functional assistants then the respondents shall give cogent and plausible reasons for shifting of the place, that it not the case here. Thus on a conspectus of facts and law, I find no merits in the writ petition. Accordingly, the writ petition is dismissed. No costs. As a sequel, interlocutory applications, if any pending, shall stand closed.