1. In this Writ Petition, the petitioner, who was Grade-I Panchayat Secretary of Battiprolu Cluster Gram Panchayat of Guntur District, is assailing the order of suspension passed by the 3rd respondent against him in proceedings Roc No.367/2020 G4, dated 07.02.2020.2. Initially, the petitioner was appointed as Junior Assistant, through his selection in APPSC Examination, at Kuchellapadu Gram Panchayat, in the year 1994. He was transferred to Battiprolu Gram Panchayat from Addankivaripalem Gram Panchayat on administrative grounds, as per orders of the 3rd respondent in Roc No.1998/2019 G 4, dated 12.07.2019. He joined duty at Battiprolu on 29.07.2019. However, by the impugned order, the 3rd respondent placed the petitioner under suspension on the allegation that the petitioner did not remit Rs.5,96,000/- collected towards property tax and water charges, and failed to remit the Demand Draft issued by Reliance Company of Rs.1,68,350/- to the credit of the Gram Panchayat. Thus, it is complained that, in all, the petitioner is responsible for failing to account for Rs.7,64,350/- to this Gram Panchayat.3. In this Writ Petition, the petitioner has raised several grounds, questioning the basis for issuing the order of suspension and tried to explain the sums of money, which he had allegedly misappropriated or unaccounted for. However, in the course of hearing, the learned counsel for the petitioner, mainly questioned the competence of the 3rd respondent to place him under suspension, referring to the Rules applicable to his service. The le arned counsel for the petitioner strenuously contended that in case of Panchayat Secretary-Gr.I, District Collector is incompetent to exercise such authority, in as much as he is neither the appointing authority nor the disciplinary authority and thus reference is made to G.O.Ms.No.84, Panchayat Raj and Rural Development (Mdl.II) Department, dated 24.02.2010. The learned counsel for the petitioner further relied on a ruling of Division Bench of this Court in Writ Appeal No.68 of 2020, dated 10.02.2020, in this context.4. On behalf of the respondents, a counter-affidavit is filed through the 4th respondent resisting the claim of the petitioner. While referring to nature of alleged misappropriation of funds by the petitioner in failing to account for the funds collected relating to the Gram Panchayat, it is stated that, basing on the report of the 5th respondent-Mandal Prishad Development Officer, Battiprolu Mandal, action was initiated. It is further pointed out that after verification of records by 5th and 6th respondents, the misappropriation of funds as alleged by the petitioner came to light and being Panchayat Secretary, it is his primary duty to see that the collected amounts towards house-tax, water charges etc., are remitted every day to the account of the Gram Panchayat. Thus, it is explained that it is negligence of the petitioner in discharging his duties amounting to serious dereliction, which necessitated to place him under suspension by the 3rd respondent by the impugned proceedings. It is further stated in the counter-affidavit that memo of articles of charge is also framed against the petitioners and it was forwarded to the 4th respondent for service on the petitioner.5. Learned GP for Services-I I referring to the contents of the counter-affidavit and material on record contended that there is any amount of justification in placing the petitioner under suspension due to embezzlement of Gram Panchayat funds. It is further contended by the learned GP that the 3rd respondent has sought ratification of the impugned order of suspension addressing the 2nd respondent-commissioner. Thus, it is sought to contend that there is no violation or infraction of any Rules applicable to the case of the petitioner.6. Now the point for determination is-”whether the 3rd respondent is competent to place the petitioner under suspension?”POINT:-7. Having regard to the gamut for consideration of this case, it is not necessary to go into merits of the claim of the petitioner. In the sense, it is unnecessary to consider whether the acts of alleged misappropriation of Gram Panchayat funds by the petitioner are true and if he, infact, had accounted for the collections whatever he received as Panchayat Secretary Gr.I, Battiprolu cluster Gram Panchayat. In as much as, it is stated that memo of articles of charge is already prepared and being served on the petitioner, it is more desirable that the petitioner places his response to it by means of a written explanation before the concerned authority, appointed as an enquiry officer, for this purpose.8. Suffice to consider the competence of the 3rd respondent in terms of G.O.Ms.No.84, dated 24.02.2010, which refers to Service Rules applicable to the petitioner in the cadre of A.P.Panchayat Raj Subordinate Service. Panchayat Secretary-Gr.I is referred to in Rule-2 of these Rules under Class-A as a ‘Supervisory Post’. Appointing authority to this post as seen from Rule-3 is the Commissioner of Panchayat Raj and Rural Employment. Rule-13 of these Rules states as to who is the disciplinary authority for different categories of Panchayat Secretaries. Sub Rule-1 of these Rules specifically states that the Commissioner of Panchayat Raj and Rural Employment shall be the disciplinary authority for the categories of Panchayat Secretaries Grade-I and II. Sub Rule-2 of these Rules states that the District Collector (Panchayat Raj Wing) shall be the disciplinary authority for the categories of Panchayat Secretaries Grade III and IV.9. Thus, Rule-13 of these rules makes the situation explicit. Thus, it is the Commissioner of Panchayat Raj and Rural Employment, being the disciplinary authority, who is competent to suspend a Panchayat Secretary-Gr.I in terms of Rule-8 (1) of APCS (CCA) Rules. The petitioner, in his reply affidavit, has referred to this situation.10. The learned Government Pleader contended that the petitioner did not raise the question of competence of the 3rd respondent in placing him under suspension, in the affidavit filed in support of this Writ Petition. Such contention cannot stand, in view of clear averments of the petitioner in his reply affidavit. Even otherwise, it being a question of law and the Rule applicable to the cadre of the petitioner viz., Panchayat Secretary, Gr.I, the omission to refer the same in the affidavit, cannot have any bearing nor it is a fatal omission by itself.11. Thus, the 3rd respondent is incompetent to place the petitioner under suspension not being a disciplinary authority, with reference to his service.12. This inference is fortified b y the Judgment in Writ Appeal No.68 of 2020 of Division Bench of this Court dated 10.02.2020 relied on by the learned counsel for the petitioner, where it was held that action so taken by the District Collector against Panchayat Secretary Gr.I remains void abinitio and is without jurisdiction.13. When such is the legal position, the impugned order cannot stand nor can sustain. Any action in furtherance thereto, of serving charge memo on the petitioner, cannot stand on account of the incompetence of the 3rd respondent to initiate and continue disciplinary action against the writ petitioner, who is in the cadre of Panchayat Secretary Gr.I. Consequently, it has to be set aside.14. However, setting aside the suspension order does not prevent the authorities concerned viz., the Commissioner, Panchayat Raj and Rural Employment, from taking necessary action against the petitioner, in accordance with law. This order does not bar exercis
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e of such jurisdiction by the competent authority as disciplinary authority. It has to be made clear in this matter, in as much as it is a serious case where huge funds of Gram Panchayat remained unaccounted for and alleged to be subject matter of embezzlement attributed to the petitioner.15. In the result, this Writ Petition is allowed. Consequently, the impugned order in RoC.No.367/2020 G 4, dated 07.02.2020, is set aside. However, this order does not prevent the competent disciplinary authority viz., the Commissioner, Panchayat Raj and Rural Employment, from taking any action against the petitioner, on the allegations relating to alleged embezzlement of Gram Panchayat funds of Battiprolu Gram Panchayat. No costs.As sequel thereto, all miscellaneous petitions, if any, shall stand closed. Interim Orders, if any, shall stand vacated.