M.P. Kanade, J.
1. By this writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, the petitioners have challenged the legality and correctness of the order passed by the learned Collector, Osmanabad, dated June 28, 1979. By the said impugned orders, the learned Collector, Osmanabad, has suspended petitioner No. 1 from the office of the Sarpanch and petitioner No. 2 from the office of Upa-Sarpanch of Gram Panchayat, village Deolali, District Osmanabad.
2. Elections to the panchayat were held in the village on March 22, 1979. The petitioners and their party members got elected defeating the candidates of the other political party. Again elections were held to the posts of Sarpanch and Upa-Sarpanch on April 9, 1979. In the said elections petitioners Nos. 1 and 2 were elected to the posts of Sarpanch and Upa-Sarpanch, respectively. It appears that the rival candidates who were defeated in the elections were not pleased and, therefore, they tried to create obstacles in the way of the petitioners to take charge of the Gram Panchayat of the said village. It is contended by the petitioners that they received from the rival candidates a letter on April 18, 1979 threatening them to resign and on failure, to meet the consequences. It is further contended by the petitioners that they filed a complaint with the police on April 20, 1979, but the police did not take any steps against the accused persons. There was an assault on the petitioners on April 22, 1979. They had been to the Police Station to lodge a complaint. While returning, they were again assaulted by the rival candidates and their supporters. For the incident dated April 22, 1979, it appears that a crime was registered at Osmanabad Police Station bearing Crime No. 65 of 1979 against the petitioners under sections 147, 148, 149, 323, 324, 325, 336 and 337 of the Indian Penal Code. The petitioners contended that they were not guilty of the offence charged against them, but they had been falsely and maliciously involved in the said case with an ulterior motive to create a ground for their suspension from the posts of Sarpanch and Upa-sarpanch. It appears that by a police report dated May 25, 1979, the Collector of Osmanabad was informed about the institution of the said criminal case against the petitioners. On receipt of the said police report the learned Collector, Osmanabad, by the impugned orders both dated June 28, 1979, while exercising his power under section 41(1) of the Bombay Village Panchayats Act, 1958 (hereinafter referred to as 'the Act') suspended the petitioners from the office held by them in the Gram Panchayat of Village Deolali. The legality and correctness of the said impugned orders are challenged in this writ petition.
3. Mr. N.P. Chapalgaonkar, learned Counsel appearing in support of the petition, raised two or three points. It is submitted by Mr. Chapalgaonkar that section 41(1) of the Act vests a discretion in the Collector to exercise or not to exercise the power given by the said section. Such a discretion entails in its operation the applicability of mind to the facts of the case and the nature of the criminal case instituted against the persons. It is further argued by Mr. Chapalgaonkar that the learned Collector without an application of mind to the facts of the case mechanically passed an order of suspension and thereby illegally exercised his discretion vested in him.
4. Secondly, it is urged by Mr. Chapalgaonkar that the impugned orders are passed in violation of the principles of natural justice. No shows cause notice was issued to the petitioners, nor any hearing was given before passing the impugned orders against the petitioners. Mr. Chapalgaonkar also challenged the vires of section 41(1) of the Act as violating the equality clause of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
5. Mr. S.S. Choudhari, learned Government Pleader, appearing on behalf of the respondents fairly conceded that the learned Collector had not issued any show cause notice to the petitioners before passing of the impugned orders. It also appears that no hearing whatsoever was given to the petitioners before passing of the impugned orders. The learned Government Pleader further submitted that the matter may be remanded to the learned Collector for an effective hearing of the case in the presence of the parties.
6. Section 41(1) of the Act empowers the Collector to suspend from office any Sarpanch or Upa-Sarpanch against whom any criminal proceedings have been instituted or who has been detained in a prison during trial under the provisions of any law for the time being in force. There are cases and class of cases in criminal proceedings. Every criminal proceeding has got to be instituted irrespective of the seriousness of the charge involved in such cases. There may be an institution of criminal proceeding even in respect of a minor offence where the law may prescribe a penalty of one rupee or so. There may be a process of criminal proceedings where a serious charge of murder is leveled against office bearer of a Gram Panchayat. There may be institution of criminal proceedings where the office bearers of a Gram Panchayat may be falsely implicated or a case may be concocted against them in order to get an order of suspension from the Collector under section 41(1) of the Act. It is in this context the law impose a duty on the Collector to apply his mind and to find out as to what kind of criminal cases has been instituted against the office bearer of a Gram Panchayat. It is also necessary for the Collector to go into the criminal case prima facie to find out as to whether such criminal proceedings are instituted in order to dislodge the office bearer of the Gram Panchayat. This can be done only on application of mind to the material placed before the Collector. The Collector while exercising his powers under section 41(1) of the Act cannot mechanically pass an order of suspension merely on a police report. In the instant case the learned Collector has failed to exercise jurisdiction to properly pass an order under section 41(1) of the Act. From the record it appears that the learned Collector has not applied his mind as to the nature of the proceedings and the effect of the said criminal proceedings and also the effect of involvement of the office bearers in the said criminal proceedings vis-a-vis the administration of the Gram Panchayat. It must be stated that the learned Collector has failed to follow the meaning and effect of section 41(1) of the Act and thereby committed an error apparent on the face of the record. On that ground alone the impugned orders deserve to be quashed.
7. Mr. Chapalgaonkar is perfectly right in contending that the impugned orders also suffer from violation of the principal of natural justice. Admittedly, no show cause notice was given to the petitioners and no opportunity of hearing whatsoever was granted to the petitioners before passing the impugned orders. It is on that ground also the impugned orders deserve to be quashed. By passing an order of suspension of an officer bearer from the office of a Gram Panchayat civil consequences are likely to follow. The petitioners are deprived of the rights granted by the Act and if the order of suspension entails in its operation the deprivation of a statutory right, then the authority which passes the order of suspension must give an opportunity to the person whose rights are likely to be affected by the said order. It is on this ground also the impugned orders deserve to be quashed.
8. There is one more aspect that requires to be taken into consideration. The petitioners were duly declared to be elected to the posts of Sarpanch and Upa-Sarpanch. Under section 27 of the Act, the members of a panchayat shall, save as otherwise provided in the Act, hold office for a term of five years. That is a statutory right created under the Act. If criminal proceedings are instituted and the trial continues for a period of more than 3/4 years, the suspension order passed by the Collector may in effect nullify the statutory right granted under section 27 of the Act to administer a Gram Panchayat for a term of five years. It is in this context the Collector has got to exercise his discretion as to whether the order of suspension to be passed or not to be passed. It is incumbent upon the Collector to apply his mind to the nature of a case instituted against the office bearers of a Gram Panchayat. It is also necessary for the Collector to find out as to whether such criminal proceedings are merely a camouflage to dislodge the duly elected members of the posts of Sarpanch and Upa-Sarpanch. A false, concocted and fictitious case can be instituted against the rival candidates. It is, therefore, the Collector while exercising the power under section 41(1) of the Act has got to take into account all these factors after giving due show cause notice to the petitioners and giving them an opportunity to be heard in the matter. The learned Collector has miserably failed to follow the meaning and effect of section 41(1) of the Act. It is, therefore, the said impugned orders deserve to be quashed.
9. It is in this context it is useful to refer to a decision of a Division Bench of this Court in Namdeo Ragho Arote v. State of Maharashtra, : AIR1979Bom285 . It is held by the Division Bench that when power has been vested to be exercised in the discretion of an authority, the authority is expected to act reasonably and after applying its mind to the facts of the case. When discretion is given it is not expected that the power should be exercised by the authority as an automation merely because the requirements of the statute are complied with. Suffice it to say, section 41(1) gives a discretion to the Collector to exercise his power, but he is expected to exercise this discretion judicially. In the instant case, the learned Collector has miserably failed to do so and, therefore, the impugned orders deserve to be quashed and set aside.
10. In the result, the rule is made absolute with costs. The impugned orders dated June 28, 1979, passed by the learned Collector at Exhibits 'B' and 'C' annexed to the petition are hereby quashed and set aside.