Observing that dereliction of duty in handling public funds is a serious lapse, the Madras High Court Bench on Thursday declined to interfere with the action of a District Collector in suspending the financial powers of a panchayat chief and his deputy following "misappropriation" of NREGS funds to the tune of Rs 2.87 lakh.
"Handling public funds casts a huge responsibility. It will be a serious lapse if there is dereliction of duty," Justice M Jaichandran said dismissing petitions by president and vice-President of Mathur village.
The Collector had ordered seizure of the panchayat cheque book and account book after the alleged fraud came to light in April last. During an inspection by block development officer, it was found a bogus bank account was being maintained and money was being siphoned off by issuing fake fund release orders under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
The Judge rejected the contention of the petitioners that the fraud was committed by a panchayat clerk who was entrusted with all the responsibilities as they were not fully conversant with the rules and regulations.
The petitioners cannot take shelter under the pretext of ignorance of rules though the clerk had been suspended and a case registered against him, the Judge said, adding, "Such actions are not sufficient to prove their innocence. The president and vice-president are responsible for misappropriation of funds in ultimate analysis."
The Collector was right in seizing the cheque book, account book etc. Till the inquiry is complete, the petitioners cannot sign any cheque, the Judge said.