The Supreme Court has held that the office of lambardar — village revenue official — was not an office of profit and , therefore, a lambardar could not be disqualified from contesting panchayat election.
‘The village level democracy is the bedrock of the Indian national democracy. Being a member of panchayat can be the beginning of a long career in public life,’ said the apex court bench of Justice B. Sudershan Reddy and Justice S.S. Nijjar in its judgment Friday, made available Monday.
Speaking for the bench, Justice Nijjar said that it would seem ‘a little incongruous’ that a lambardar under the Punjab State Legislative (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1952, is qualified to contest assembly election but is barred from contesting the village panchayat election.
‘Therefore, the disqualification introduced though the impugned circular (Of the state election commission) could prove disastrous to democracy at the grassroots level in Punjab,’ the judgment said.
The apex court said this while setting aside a Punjab and Haryana High Court verdict of Dec 5, 2008, and the circular of the state election commission dated April 30, 2008, by which lambardar and anganwadi (rural creche) workers were disqualified from contesting elections to panchayats and zila parishads (district councils) as they held an office of profit.
The high court concluded that the office of lambardar was an office of profit too and, therefore, a lambardar could not contest the election.
The high court held that the anganwadi workers did not hold any civil post under the government, thus they did not hold an office of profit under the state government.
The high court quashed the impugned memorandum in respect of anganwadi workers, giving them the freedom to contest panchayat elections.
The apex court said that the reasons for which high court quashed the impugned circular of the state election commission in respect of anganwadi workers was equally valid for lambardars.
The apex court judges said that there was no material on record to show that the receipt of Rs.900 per month by the lambardar would invariably lead to a saving.
‘Even though the office of lambardar is regarded as a mere relic in this day and age, it still carries with it certain important duties which are to be performed by the incumbent,’ the judgment said.
‘Although purely honorary, being a lambardar gives the incumbent a certain status in the village. In some cases, the office of lambardar has been in the same families for generations,’ the judgment said.
‘For them, it becomes a matter of honour and prestige that the office remains in the family. The office of lambardar is a heritage office,’ the judges said.
‘Therefore, some families would cherish the office of lambardar, even though the incumbent does not get any salary, emoluments or perquisites,’ the apex court said.
The court said that in its opinion the very basis of issuing the circular (by the state election commission) was non-existent and misconceived.
‘On this very basis, the high court has quashed the circular in relation to anganwadi workers. In our opinion, for the same reasons the circular could not be sustained qua the lambardars also,’ the judgment said.