For ‘inhuman attitude’, HC slaps penalty on 2 Punjab IAS officers

The Punjab and Haryana High Court has slapped a Rs 10,000 penalty on two Punjab IAS officers for suspending a woman panch, who had explained her absence from panchayat meetings by pointing out that her husband was suffering from cancer. The Court also slammed the duo for their 'inhuman attitude', abject 'non-application of mind' and for 'abusing powers to suppress democracy at the grass-root level.'

The two, then director (panchayat) Balwinder Singh Sidhu and secretary (rural development and panchayat) Mandeep Sidhu, have been ordered to pay the penalty from their pockets. Passing strictures against them, Justice Ranjit Singh of the Punjab and Haryana High Court has directed the Punjab government to ensure that the two officers 'equally share' the penalty.

The incident dates back to April 2011, when two panches of a gram panchayat in Patiala were suspended for being absent in two meetings. The case made out against one of them, Nirmala Devi, was that her absence had interrupted development work.

Nirmala, however, had explained that she could not attend the meeting (in January 2011) as she had to take her husband, who was suffering from cancer, to hospital. Her husband succumbed to the disease a few months later. Despite the explanation, the director chose to suspend her.

Expressing his disgust over the director's decision, which was subsequently upheld by the secretary, Justice Ranjit Singh has ruled: "If the director had applied his mind to the facts of this case, he obviously could not have been so harsh to Nirmala Devi, whose husband was suffering from cancer and ultimately breathed his last".

Terming the consideration, on which suspension orders were passed, as "cruel", Justice Ranjit Singh held: "Suspending such a panch would not only show non-application of mind but appears to be a result of some cruel consideration actuating with considerations other than merits." Further, the judgment reads: "If such a case did not deserve any sympathetic consideration, which were legally also due to the petitioners, then perhaps there may not be any other case where a reasonable cause for absence from a meeting by a panch can be shown".

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