The Punjab and Haryana high court has directed the Punjab vigilance bureau (VB) to scrutinise complaints, register first information reports (FIRs) and start investigations against serving and former sarpanches facing corruption charges.
The high court bench of justice Fatehdeep Singh held that sarpanches are public servant, thus could be investigated by invoking the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The high court also set aside the instructions from the department of rural development and panchayats — which was purportedly issued with the consent of the chief minister stating that the VB could register cases against panchayat heads only after a go-ahead from the department.
The high court has directed director general of police-cum-chief director (vigilance) to constitute teams of senior superintendents of police (vigilance) and senior officials not below the rank of the SP to scrutinise complaints and initiate investigations against panchayat heads. The VB has been asked to submit periodic reports before high court after every 20 days and list out steps initiated till submission of challans.
The order came on a petition of one Charanjit Singh, filed through advocate Divjyot Singh Sandhu in 2015, alleging that investigations were not initiated by the VB against a Kapurthala sarpanch. The probe by the panchayats department had indicted him of embezzlement in the Indira Awaas Yojana, but he was exonerated by the department after issuing show-cause notice.
DEPARTMENT INSTRUCTIONS BAD IN LAW: HC
The high court termed political interference in such matters a “mascot” of modern-day governance and set aside department instructions, which barred the VB from probing against panchayat heads without its sanction. “Such a desire by the legislative and political head of the state cannot override the provisions of law, ….it would be suffice to hold that such an order can by no means put an end to the governance of the law of the land, which prevails and needs to be accepted and respected by all citizens of the country,” the high court said, holding that instructions of the panchayats department are not statutory and are more of a correspondence addressed to the VB.
In a letter, additional secretary, Punjab vigilance department, had informed the VB in 2007 that the state rural development and panchayats minister had brought to the notice of the chief minister that the department was harassing panchayat representative on bogus and false complaints. The CM wanted that preliminary inquiry on corruption charges should be conducted by the department and if the person is found guilty, the VB may take action, stated the letter.