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"At a time when the State is reeling from a pandemic, it is imperative that detailed modalities for holding statutory meetings of local bodies, including for considering ‘No Confidence Motions’, are put in place."
The Allahabad High Court recently directed the State Government to consider framing detailed Guidelines for the conduct of statutory meetings by local bodies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Court has urged that these guidelines be framed as soon as possible, and preferably within three weeks' time.
As stated in the order passed by a Bench of Justices Shashi Kant Gupta and Piyush Agrawal,
The order was passed while dismissing a writ petition moved by a Pramukh of the Kotwali Kshetra Panchayat, Bijnor.
The petitioner had challenged the decision of the District Magistrate, Bijnor, to convene a meeting for consideration of a no-confidence motion issued against the petitioner as per Section 15 of the Uttar Pradesh Kshetra Panchayat & Zila Panchayat Act, 1961.
The petitioner contended that there were about 185 Members in the Kotwali Kshetra Panchayat, District, Bijnor and that this exceeded the number of persons permitted under the COVID-19 Unlock-4 Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on August 29, 2020.
The High Court observed that it was true that the Central Government had issued the Guidelines for a phased re-opening and which limited the number of persons who can congregate for political and other functions to 100 persons.
However, the Court added that it was necessary to conduct statutory meetings of government bodies to uphold the principles underlying a democracy. In this regard, the Bench remarked,
The Court added, that local self-governments are statutorily empowered to manage their own affairs and perform their functions through a democratic process. The members also have rights to elect a Pradhan of their choice and remove him if needed by a motion of no-confidence.
Reiterating that the will of the people is supreme, the Court proceeded to dismiss the plea to stall the no-confidence motion, while also directing the District Magistrate, Bijnor to ensure that all the protocols applicable for social and physical distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic were adhered to while convening the meeting.
The District Magistrate was further asked to explore the possibility of seating the Members of the Kotwali Kshetra Panchayat in two or three separate rooms, a big hall or in an open space. The authorities may also explore conducting a virtual session, the Court added.
With these observations, the plea was dismissed.
In parting, the Court has called for the Government to come out with guidelines to govern such issues as soon as possible.
Read the Order here: