1. These two appeals are by the State against the acquittal of the respondent who is the same in both the cases. The respondent was the President of the Panchayat Board of Poigai Village. By an order of the Inspector of Municipal Councils and Local Boards, dated 8th January, 1958 (Ex P-10), the respondent was removed from his office of presidentship. By the same order of removal the Vice-President was asked to take charge of the office of the President of the Panchayat Board. But the Vice-President replied to this communication stating his incapacity to take charge as he was blind. Hence the District Panchayat Officer in exercise of the powers delegated to him by the Inspector of Municipal Councils and Local Boards in his proceedings R.O.C. No. 5044/57, dated 29th June, 1951, appointed under Section 25(3) of the Madras Village Panchayats Act, one Govindaswami, the complainant in this case, to be the temporary President of the Poigai Panchayat and he was directed by the said order to exercise the functions of the President until a new President is declared elected and he assumes office. Certain limitations on his powers were also mentioned in the order of appointment. The order appointing Govindaswami as temporary President was dated 9th March, 1958. It was received by Govindaswami on 12th March, 1958. Apparently he took charge immediately because there is no clear evidence as to when he took charge; it must have been either on 12th March, 1958, or later. He then asked the accused (the respondent herein) to hand over the keys and various other papers to him; but the respondent never did so. The complainant gave notice on 21st March, 1958, calling upon the respondent to hand over charge. It was duly served upon the respondent but still he continued to be recalcitrant and did not hand over charge. A second notice also was sent and it also remained not complied with. Thereupon, after informing the Deputy Panchayat Officer and other officers, the complainant launched his complaint on 27th May, 1958.
2. The Sub-Magistrate of Vellore who heard the case convicted the respondent, finding him guilty of an offence not only under Section 116(3) of the Act but also under Section 116(2) as two cases were filed separately. In appeal the District Magistrate of Vellore acquitted the accused on the ground that a temporary President is not a person who can file the complaint. He has also held in paragraph 4 of his judgment that the prosecution is barred by limitation.
3. The reasoning of the District Magistrate is this. Under the provisions of Section 103 of the Act, a complaint is to be made within three months of the commission of the offence either by the police, or by the executive authority or a person expressly authorised in this behalf by the Panchayat or executive authority; this is certainly not a case where the police has filed the complaint; this is not a case where the complainant has been expressly authorised in this behalf by the panchayat or executive authority to file a complaint. The next question is whether a temporary President falls within the definition of executive authority as that is the only other person competent to file a complaint under the provisions of Section 103.
'Executive authority' has been defined in Section 2, Clause (7) as follows:
2. (7) 'Executive authority' means-
(i) In the case of a panchayat having an executive officer, the executive officer and if there is no executive officer in charge, the President of the panchayat.
4. The District Magistrate says that it is not mentioned in the complaint or in the evidence whether there was any executive authority appointed for this Panchayat Board or not. The complaint being made only by the temporary President appointed by the District Panchayat Officer, the District Magistrate finds that under Section 2(7) of the Act the President cannot include a temporary President or a Vice-President. He, therefore, holds that this complainant is not competent to file a complaint.
5. The first question, therefore, that arises for consideration in this appeal is whether the complaint by this temporary President is competent.
6. Under Section 25(3) of the Act, when the office of President is vacant, then the functions of the President shall devolve on a member of the Panchayat appointed by the Inspector in that behalf. Under the sub-clause to Clause (3) of Section 25 the member of the panchayat so appointed (who shall be styled the temporary President) shall perform the functions of the President subject to such restrictions and conditions as may be prescribed. In accordance with the provisions of Sub-clause (3) the District Panchayat Officer to whom the Inspector of Local Boards and Panchayats under the provisions of Clause (2) of Section 127 has delegated his powers has appointed the complainant as President to discharge all the functions of the President. By the order Exhibit P-1, dated 9th March, 1958, the complainant was empowered to exercise the functions of the President. The President has been defined as meaning 'President of a Panchayat'. Though the complainant is styled as temporary President he is President within the meaning of that expression in the Act. The statute only refers to President, Vice-President and members of the Panchayat Board. There is no provision as such for temporary presidentship and whoever is appointed to exercise the functions of the President becomes the President of the Panchayat, whether it is by devolution of the powers under the statute by appointment by the Inspector of Local Board or under the delegation of powers by him by the District Panchayat Officer. Though the complainant may be styled as temporary President, in law, he is really the President of the Panchayat Board for all purposes. He is, therefore, competent to file the complaint. The reasoning of the District Magistrate that because he is only a temporary President and, therefore, he could not file he complaint is not sustainable. The complaint is, therefore, a valid one.
7. The other question that the prosecution is barred by limitation is dealt with by the District Magistrate in paragraph 4 of his judgment. He states that the previous President was removed from office by letter, dated 8th January, 1958, served on him on or about 24th January, 1958. The complaint was filed on 27th May, 1958. The District Magistrate then observes:
Even though the complainant might have been appointed only by the order, dated 9th March, 1958, the accused should have as per Section 116 of the Act handed over the records as soon as his term of office expired either to his successor in office if there was one or to the other prescribed authority.
8. Under Section 116, Clause (3), any President or temporary President or Vice-President of a Panchayat who fails to hand over any documents of, or any moneys or other properties vested in or belonging to, the Panchayat, which are in or have come into his possession or control, to his successor in office or other prescribed authority...shall be 'punishable, etc' 'Prescribed' means, according to the definition of that word in Section 2, Clause (17) 'Prescribed by the Government by rules made under this Act.' In the original order removing the President he was asked to hand over charge only to the then Vice-President who was appointed as the President in the place of the outgoing President. But the Vice-President promptly replied by stating his inability to take charge of the office and thereafter the present complainant was appointed. There was, therefore, no prescribed authority to whom the outgoing President could hand over charge in view of the refusal of the then Vice-President to take charge of it. The only person therefore, to whom the removed President could hand over charge is the person appointed by the prescribed authority. Though the prescribed authority is the Government, yet by delegation of its functions under Section 127 of the Act the District Panchayat Officer becomes the authority to appoint a President and the person therefore to whom charge may be handed over becomes the complainant in the case by virtue of his appointment as temporary President. That was only on 9th March, 1958 and the order was received by him on 12th March, 1958. Even assuming that he must have taken charge on 12th March, 1958, it cannot be said that the complaint filed on 27th May, 1958, is barred by limitation, as it was within two months of the refusal to hand over charge. The reasoning of the District Magistrate, therefore, even on the ground of limitation is not sustainable.
9. The order of acquittal on the grounds mentioned by the District Magistrate is not sustainable. The order is perverse and it is set aside. The respondent is, therefore, convicted of the offence charged in both the cases. But I think that a sentence of Rs. 25 will meet the ends of justice in each case. The respondent is accordingly sentenced to pay a fine of Rs. 25, in each case, in default to undergo simple imprisonment for two weeks. The excess fine if paid under the conviction by the trial Court will be refunded to him, if that had not been already done.