P. Venkatarama Reddi, J.
1. These three writ petitions can be conveniently disposed of by a common judgment.
2. W.P.No. 15272/88 has been filed by five persons including four Sarpanchs of the Gram Panchayats viz., Ongole Rural, Mukthinuthalapadu, Koppulu and Pelluru Gram Panchayat of Ongole Mandal of Prakasam District. The former Sarpanch of Vengamukkalapalem is also a petitioner in the said writ petition. The writ petition is filed questioning the show cause notice issued by the District Collector, Ongole on 22-12-1987 proposing to cancel the earlier notification dated 3-12-1978 whereby the Gram Panchayat, Ongole Rural was constituted with a view to include the area covered by Ongole Rural Gram Panchayat within the limits of Ongole Municipality. By identical show cause notices issued on the same day, it was proposed to exclude a part of the areas of the other three gram panchayats so as to include the same into the limits of Ongole Municipality. This Court by an order dated 21-11-1988 stayed further proceedings pursuant to the aforementioned show cause notice issued by the District Collector, Ongole.
3. W.P.No. 9456/91 has been filed by the Sarpanches of four Gram Panchayats viz., Koppulu, Mukthi Nuthalapadu, Ongole Rural and Pelluru Gram Panchayats seeking for a declaration that the action of the respondents in not conducting elections to the Gram Panchayats since the year 1987 is illegal and arbitrary and for a consequential direction to conduct elections forthwith.
4. W.P.No. 10240/91 has been filed by the same persons mentioned above questioning the communication dated 18-7-1991 addressed by the District Panchayat Officer, Ongole to the 1st petitioner (former Sarpanch of Ongole Rural Gram Panchayat) stating that he assumed office as Special Officer of Ongole Rural Gram Panchayat on the forenoon of 18-7-1991 and requesting the 1st petitioner to handover the records relating to Jawahar Rojgar Yojana within seven days from the date of receipt of notice.
5. Thus, broadly speaking, the action of the District Collector in rescinding the notification constituting the Ongole Rural Gram Panchayat and excluding certain areas from the other three Gram Panchayats with a view to facilitate their merger into Ongole Municipality has been questioned in these writ petitions. The failure to conduct elections to the said Gram Panchayats and the action of the District Collector in appointing a Special Officer is also being questioned in the latter two writ petitions.
6. The basic question that arises for consideration in W.P. 15272/88 and which has incidental bearing on the other two writ petitions is whether the District Collector, acting under Section 3(2) of the Andhra Pradesh Gram Panchayats Act read with the delegated power conferred on him is justified in initiating the action to exclude the areas of gram panchayats specified above with a view to facilitate their merger into Ongole Municipality.
7. The salient facts are these: The State Government (Municipal Administration Department) issued notification under Section 3 of the A.P. Municipalities Act - G.O.Ms. No. 472, dated 15-6-1978 with an intention to include the area covered by Ongole Rural Gram Panchayat and parts of Koppolu, Mukthinuthalapadu and Pellur Gram Panchayats within the Ongole Municipal area. As a sequel thereto, the District Collector, Ongole issued show cause notices to the aforementioned Gram Panchayats during the years 1981 and 1983 calling for objections against the proposal for inclusion of the areas. While so, the Government (Municipal Administration Department) issued orders in G.O.Ms. No. 255 dated 18-3-1983 confirming the inclusion of the areas specified in the schedule appended to the preliminary Notification into the Ongole Municipality. This notification was challenged by the Sarpanch, Ongole Rural Gram Panchayat in Writ Petition No. 8532 of 1983. This Court by a judgment dated 20-10-1987 quashed the said notification issued under the A.P. Municipalities Act leaving it open to the Government to issue and publish a fresh notification according to law. This Court observed: "The petitioners are assailing the illegality of the final notification issued in G.O. Ms. No. 255 dated March 18, 1983 confirming the preliminary notification issued in G.O.Ms. No. 472 dated June 15, 1978. A reading of G.O.Ms. No. 255, particularly paragraph-1, itself clearly shows that objections were invited even before the issue of the notification on March 24,1978...... The preliminary notification is dated June 15, 1978. Therefore, the objections are to be filed only after issue of the notification but even before that was done the notification was got published in the gazette on March 24,1978. This is an obvious illegality committed by the authorities. Therefore, G.O.Ms. No. 255 dated March 18, 1983 is quashed and the respondents are free to publish G.O.Ms. No. 472 dated June 15, 1978. It does not, however, preclude the authorities to issue a notification afresh and get it duly published in the gazette and other places as required under the law and then consider the objections, if any, of the Gram Panchayats and other affected persons and thereafter finalise the same according to law."
8. It may be noticed that in the meanwhile the term of office of the elected members and Sarpanch expired by 11-6-1986. In view of the policy of the Government not to conduct elections in respect of Gram Panchayats proposed for inclusion in part or in full in a Municipality, the term of office was extended from time to time upto 30-3-1988. While so, in the month of December, 1987 i.e., after the judgment of this court in W.P.No. 8532 of 1983, the District Collector, Ongole issued fresh show cause notices to the four Gram Panchayats concerned for the purpose of giving effect to the proposal to merge the aforementioned Gram Panchayats either in full or in part with the Ongole Municipality. The District Collector after giving opportunity of personal hearing to the Sarpanches and after adverting to their objections, sent up a report to the Municipal Administration Department on 30-5-1988 over-ruling the objections and requesting to issue preliminary notification for the inclusion of the Gram Panchayat areas mentioned above in Ongole Municipality. In the meanwhile, while the respondents were contemplating to appoint Special Officers to the Gram Panchayats with effect from 1-4-1988, the Sarpanches of four Gram Panchayats filed Writ Petition No. 4022 of 1988, etc., in this Court. By way of interim order, this Court directed that the elected body of the Gram Panchayat shall be continued until further orders or till the elections are held. Those writ petitions were disposed of on 19-9-1988 directing the respondents to extend the term of the petitioners by exercising the power under Section 11(2) of the A;P. Gram Panchayats Act and refrain from appointing Special Officers. At the same time, it was made clear in the judgment that it does not preclude the Government from taking necessary steps for including the Panchayats within the Ongole Municipal area after complying with all the formalities required by law. On 6-10-1988, the Sarpanch of Ongole Rural Gram Panchayat also filed Writ Petition No. 15272 of 1988 questioning the show cause notice issued by the District Collector on 22-12-1987. This court by an order dated 21-11-1988 stayed all further proceedings pursuant to the show cause notice issued in respect of inclusion of the Gram Panchayat areas into Ongole Municipality. In view of the judgment of this court rendered in W.P.No. 4022 of 1988, etc., the petitioners were allowed to continue in office upto 31-3-1991. Special Officer was appointed to Ongole Rural Gram Panchayat with effect from the afternoon of 31-3-1991. There is a controversy as to the date on which the Special Officer assumed charge, but that is not relevant for the purpose of this case. The fact remains that as on date, the Special Officer is functioning and no elections are proposed to be held. It may be noticed at this stage that according to Section 11(2) of the A.P. Gram Panchayats Act, the term of office of the Sarpanch, Up a Sarpanch and members of Gram Panchayat can be extended for a- period not exceeding three years. Although it is stated in the counter filed in W.P.No. 5963 of 1991 that this three year period expired by 31-3-1991, in fact their term got extended by five years i.e., from 30-3-1986 onwards on account of pendency of the proposal to merge the Gram Panchayat into Municipality and not holding the elections consequently. It is in the background of these facts that I have to appreciate the contentions raised on behalf of the petitioners. It is contended by the learned Counsel for the petitioners that in the absence of preliminary notification as contemplated by Section 3(1) of the A.P. Municipalities Act, no action could be taken by the District Collector acting under Section 3(2) of the A.P. Gram Panchayats Act to cancel the constitution of a Gram Panchayat. In my view, this argument is devoid of any merit. It has been held by a Division Bench of this Court in K. Nagabhushanam v. Collector, Krishna District, that the cancellation of the notification constituting the villages as Gram Panchayats should precede the inclusion of the said villages in a municipality under Section 3 of the A.P. Municipalities Act. To support its conclusion, the Division Bench relied upon Rule 12 of the A,P. Gram Panchayats (Declaration of Villages) Rules, 1969 framed under the Gram Panchayats Act.
9. Section 3(1) of the A.P. Gram Panchayats Act empowers the Commissioner to declare any revenue village or hamlet thereof or any part of a revenue taluk to be a village for the purpose of this Act and specify the name of the village, by issuing a notification to that effect and in accordance with the rules made by the Government in this behalf. Sub-section (2) of Section 3 empowers the Commissioner to cancel a notification issued under Sub-section (1) by notification and in accordance with such rules as may be prescribed in this behalf. The A.P. Gram Panchayats (Declaration of Villages) Rules, 1988 have been framed to effectuate the provisions of Sub-sections (1) and (2) of Section 3 of the A.P. Gram Panchayats Act Rule 12, in so far as it is relevant, reads thus:
"12. (1) It shall be competent for the Commissioner to cancel a notification under Clause (f) of Sub-section (2) of Section 3 in the following circumstances, namely:
(i) where it is proposed to constitute a municipality or a notified area under Section 389-A of the Andhra Pradesh Municipalities Act, 1965 or a Municipal Corporation for a village or group of villages or part thereof declared as village under Sub-section (1) of Section 3 of the Act;
(ii) where a village declared under Sub-section (1) of Section 3 or part thereof is proposed to be merged in a neighbouring Municipality or a Municipal Corporation or a Notified Area constituted under Section 389-A of the Andhra Pradesh Municipalities Act, 1965 and the residuary area is not, in the opinion of the Commissioner, a viable unit for continuing as a Gram Panchayat:
(iii) xxx xxx xxx
(iv) xxx xxx xxx"
10. It is clear from the said Rule that a proposal to constitute a Municipality for a village or part thereof declared as village under Sub-section (1) of Section 3 of the Gram Panchayats Act is sufficient to clothe the Commissioner with the authority to denotify the village from the purview of the Gram Panchayat. It is not necessary that there should be a preliminary notification under the A.P. Municipalities Act for the purpose of initiating action under Section 3(2)(f) of the Gram Panchayats Act read with Rule 12. The question then is whether there was such a proposal to constitute a municipality for the village or part thereof covered by Ongole Rural Gram Panchayat and the other Gram Panchayats. The Municipal Administration Department of the Government would have been in a best position to clarify this aspect. However, the Municipal Administration Department has not been made a party to the present writ petition. Nevertheless, on the basis of the material available on record, it is not possible to accept the plea of the petitioners that there is no impending proposal to include the areas covered by the four Gram Panchayats mentioned above in Ongole Municipality. 'As already noticed the preliminary notification was issued on June 15, 1978 under Section 3(1) of the A.P. Municipalities Act and the final notification under Section 3(3) was issued on 18-3-1983. The final notification issued in G.O.Ms. No. 255 dated 18-3-1983 was quashed by this Court in W.P. No. 8532/83. While quashing the said G.O., this Court observed that, "the respondents are free to publish G.O.Ms. No. 472 dated June 15, 1978 and "it does not preclude the authorities to issue a notification afresh and get it duly published and then consider the objections, if any, of the Gram Panchayats and other affected persons and thereafter finalise the same according to law." It is not clear from the judgment whether the preliminary notification itself has been invalidated by this Court. However, one thing clear, viz., that this Court gave liberty to publish the preliminary notification afresh and to proceed further in the matter. There is nothing to show that after this judgment, the State Government gave up the idea of merging the villages in question into Municipality. On the other hand, in the latter addressed by the Municipal Commissioner, Ongole on 17-11-1977, the District Collector was requested to take action under the Gram Panchayats Act for the purpose of inclusion of the villages in the Municipality. In the absence of best evidence that could have been furnished by the Municipal Administration Department about the pendency of the proposal, the letter addressed by the Municipal Commissioner gives sufficient indication that the proposal was not shelved at any time. Acting upon this letter, the District Collector, in exercise of the delegated powers as Commissioner under the A.P. Gram Panchayats Act, issued show cause notices to the Gram Panchayats concerned. As further proceedings pursuant to the show case notices were stayed by this Court, no further action was taken either under the Gram Panchayats Act or under the Municipalities Act. In view of this background, it is futile to contend that there was no proposal at all to include the areas covered by the Ongole Rural Gram Panchayat, etc., in Ongole Municipality. There is, therefore, no valid ground to find fault with the show cause notice issued by the District Collector as Commissioner under Section 3 of the A.P. Gram Panchayats act read with Rule 12. Writ Petition No. 15272/88 is therefore dismissed with costs. Advocate's fee: Rs. 200/-. It is open to the Government to issue the preliminary notification under Section 3(l) of the A.P. Municipalities Act forthwith.
11. Coming to W.P. No. 9456/91, the petitioners are seeking for a direction to conduct elections to the Gram Panchayats. Here again, the main complaint of the petitioners is that without taking steps to merge the local areas of the Gram Panchayats into the Municipality by issuing a notification under the provisions of the A.P. Municipalities Act, the first respondent should not have postponed the holding of the elections indefinitely. In the counter affidavit filed by the first respondent, a reference has been made to Government Memo No. 16798/Elec.III/88-1, PR & RD, dated 11-3-1988 wherein the Government directed the Collectors not to hold elections in respect of Gram Panchayats proposed for inclusion in part or full in municipal areas. Irrespective of the validity of this Government memorandum, the contention of the petitioners cannot be upheld in view of my findings in the first writ petition, namely, W.P.No. 15272/88. It has already been noticed that the proposal to include the local areas in question in Ongole Municipality is still pending and the further action in this direction has been held up by reason of the stay orders obtained by the petitioners in the said writ petition. As the way is now made clear for proceeding further under Section 3(2) of the Gram Panchayats Act and Section 3 of the A.P. Municipalities Act, it would be inappropriate to direct the elections to be held within this short interrugnum. At the same time, I consider it just and proper to direct that the elections shall be held to the four Gram Panchayats at the time of holding ordinary elections to the other gram panchayats in the district in case no notification is issued under Section 3(1) of the Municipalities Act in the meanwhile. I would also like to observe that it is open to the petitioners to move the first respondent to hold elections even before the scheduled date for holding ordinary elections in case the notification under Section 3 of the Municipalities Act is not issued within a reasonable time. The writ petition is therefore dismissed subject to the above direction. No costs. Government Pleader's fee Rs. 200/-.
12. In the last writ petition, namely, W.P.No. 10240/91 the petitioners are challenging the communication issued by the District Panchayat Officer, Ongole informing the first petitioner the Collector (Panchayat wing) Prakasam district appointed him as Special Officer of Ongole Rural Gram Panchayat and that he assumed charge as Special Officer on 18-7-1991 pursuant to the said appointment. The 1st petitioner was asked to handover the records relating to Jawahar Rozgar Yojana. This communication dated 18-7-1991 was signed and issued by the second respondent on 19-7-1991. The contention of the petitioners is that in view of the interim order of this court in W.P. M.P. No. 5963/91, the first petitioner was actually holding the office of Sarpanch by the date the impugned communication was addressed and that the allegation in the communication that the second respondent took charge as Special Officer on 18-7-1991 was false. It is not necessary to go into the controversy whether the second respondent took charge as Special Officer either on 18-7-1991 or before that date, as the interim order passed by this court can have no effect after the disposal of the writ petition. Indisputably as on today the Special Officer is in-charge of the affairs of the Gram Panchayat. The power of appoint the Special Officer has not been challenged on any independent ground nor can it be challenged in view of Section 226(4) and the Explanation thereto read with Sub-section (1) of Section 226; of A.P. Gram Panchayat Act. Hence this writ petition is also dismissed. There will be no order as to costs. Govt. Pleader's fee Rs. 200/-.
13. These cases furnish a typical example of the inert and inept handling of litigation by the Government departments and agencies and underscore the need to streamline the approach and methodology in tackling the litigation, especially the writ proceedings in the High Court. The facts of the case reveal that the writ petition need not have been-kept pending so long and the beneficent proposal for the merger of the Gram Panchayat into Municipality need not have been stalled for so long a time, had there been minimal application of mind on the part of the concerned authorities. As already noticed, the gravamen of the complaint in Writ Petition No. 15272/88 was that the preliminary notification under Section 3(1) of the A.P. Municipalities Act had not been published and unless the same was published, the notification constituting the Ongole Rural Gram panchayat cannot be' rescinded. This Court granted interim stay of further proceedings pursuant to the show cause notice issued by the District Collector under Section 3(2) of the A.P. Gram Panchayats Act, by an order dated 21-11-1988. The Government could have immediately taken steps to issue the preliminary notification under the A.P. Municipalities Act. Alternatively, the respondents could have addressed the Government to take immediate steps in this regard or at any rate, brought to the notice of the court that the Government was ready and willing to issue the notification in which case the contention of the petitioners would have lost its ground and the writ petition itself could have been closed. But the first respondent, namely, the District Collector took three years to file the counter in which no definite stand was taken with regard to the issuance of the preliminary notification. I am constrained to say all this because there is a growing tendency amongst the executive authorities to blame the courts for holding up certain acts and measures conceived in public interest, while doing nothing on their part to clarify the factual position to the court and to move the court for vacation of stay at the earliest opportunity. Better monitoring and better vigilance in respect of the litigation involving the Government and the public is the need of the day for the fulfilment of which the machinery of the State Government and its instrumentalities has to be geared up in all earnestness. I do hope that the problem will receive the attention at the highest level and suitable remedial measures devised with a sense of priority.