Published on: 01 October 2023 at 12:47 IST
The Kerala High Court has ruled that the appointment of two Anganwadi workers by the Child Development Project Officer, instead of the Village Panchayat, is illegal. The decision was based on Section 166(2) of the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act, 1994, which grants exclusive authority to Village Panchayats to administer matters related to Anganwadis.
Justice Raja Vijayaraghavan V., presiding over a single-judge bench, emphasized the exclusive power vested in Village Panchayats to administer Anganwadi-related matters, subject to the provisions of the Act and government guidelines and assistance. In essence, the Village Panchayat is responsible for decisions concerning Anganwadis.
The case originated when Kadapra Panchayat decided to appoint permanent Anganwadi workers in 2016. However, due to complaints and a delayed publication of the rank list, the process was canceled.
The petitioner had been working as a temporary Anganwadi worker from 2016 to 2023. Following a circular issued by the Women and Child Development Department, the Child Development Project Officer selected the 5th and 6th respondents for the Anganwadi worker positions.
The petitioner argued that Section 166 of the Act granted exclusive power to Village Panchayats for administering Anganwadi matters. She also cited the decision in Valanchery Service Co-operative Bank Ltd v. State of Kerala (2006) to contend that the actions of the Child Development Project Officer undermined the independence of Panchayat Raj institutions. Consequently, she sought the annulment of the illegal appointments of the 5th and 6th respondents.
The petitioner also pointed out the absence of a clear procedure for appointing Anganwadi workers and referred to the decision in Padmini & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors. (2021), which suggested that retirees from these positions could be engaged on a contract basis if the posts were not filled in accordance with government rules.
Therefore, she requested her re-engagement on a contract basis until a proper selection procedure was established by law.
The respondents argued that the appointments were made in accordance with the circular issued by the Women and Child Development Department, and they satisfied the qualifications and reservation criteria.
The Court, after examining Section 166 of the Act and the precedent in Valanchery Service Co-operative Bank Ltd., upheld the petitioner’s argument regarding the appointments of the 5th and 6th respondents and annulled them.
However, the Court deemed it appropriate for the Panchayat to decide whether the petitioner should be re-engaged on a contract basis until a selection procedure for Anganwadi workers was established. It directed the Panchayat to consider this matter and make a decision in accordance with the law.
The plea was thus resolved.