"Lambardar" not an office of profit: SC

The office of "lambardar", who is a hereditary tax collector, is not an office of profit and he/she can contest panchayat election as the same person is allowed to contest assembly poll and become Chief Minister, the SC has said.

Last Updated: Nov 02, 2010, 21:01 PM IST

New Delhi: The office of "lambardar", who is
a hereditary tax collector, is not an office of profit and
he/she can contest panchayat election as the same person is
allowed to contest assembly poll and become Chief Minister,
the Supreme Court has said.

The apex court passed the ruling while quashing a
Punjab government`s "incongruous" circular which had held that
a "lambardar" cannot contest panchayat election as his post
was considered to be an "office of profit", though he/she was
eligible to contest assembly election.
"Being a member of panchayat can be the beginning of a
long career in public life. Therefore, the disqualification
introduced though the impugned circular could prove disastrous
to democracy at the grassroots level in Punjab," a bench of
Justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar said in a judgement.

Anokh Singh, a lambardar, had challenged the Punjab
government circular(Memo No. SEC-2008/4365) restraining the
holders of such hereditary posts from contesting the
elections.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court upheld the circular,
following which he appealed in the apex court.

The apex court rejected the state government`s argument
that exemption from being called an `office of profit` granted
to the office of lambardar under the Punjab State Legislature
(Prevention of Disqualification ) Act, 1952, applies only in
the case of election to state legislative assembly and not in
case of election as a member of panchayat.

"We need not consider the effect of Section 2(a) of the
Punjab State Legislature (Prevention of disqualifications)
Act, 1952, on Section 11(g) of the State Election Commission
Act. By virtue of the aforesaid Act, a lambardar would be
qualified to contest the elections for legislative assembly.
"This could be a stepping stone for becoming the Chief
Minister of the state. Therefore, it would seem a little
incongruous that a lambardar would not be permitted to seek
election to panchayat. The village-level democracy is the
bedrock of Indian National Democracy," Justice Nijjar writing
the judgement said.

The apex court found fault with the High Court
quashing the same circular with regard to anganwadi workers
who were also barred by the state government from contesting
panchayat polls.

"In our opinion, for the same reasons the circular
could not be sustained in the case of lambardars also.

"But we need not go into controversy as we have already
held that the office of a lambardar would not be an office of
profit", the Bench said.

The apex court said the conclusion reached by the High
Court that receipt of Rs.900/- is not compensatory and hence
amounted to "office of profit" cannot be accepted.

"It would be preposterous to accept, in this day and
age, that a sum of Rs.900/- per month would be sufficient to
cover the out-of-pocket expenses of a lambardar," the Bench
said.
According to the Bench, an office of Lambardar is merely
a hereditary post whose incumbent was paid an honorarium of
Rs.900/- per month with no other remuneration, emolument,
perquisite or facilities.

"The logic behind paying such payment is that he does not
have to spend money out of his own pocket while discharging
his duties.

"Since the Lambardar is not holding any post under the
government, no salary is payable to him. There is no pay scale
attached to the office of Lambardar. Therefore, it cannot be
said that he is in receipt of any remuneration," the Bench
said.

The apex court said 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.

"Although purely `honourary`, 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. For them, it becomes a matter of honour and
prestige that the office remains in the family.

"Therefore, some families would cherish the office of
Lambardar even though the incumbent does not get any salary,
emoluments or perquisites. In our opinion, the very basis of
issuing the circular was non- existent and misconceived," the
Bench said.

PTI