'Constructing building on school playground a matter of grave concern,' SC orders recovery of Rs 10 lakh from delinquent officers

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"The school shall utilise the amount so deposited for upgrading facilities in the school. The Competent Authority considers the need and requirements of girl students enrolled in the school while providing upgradation facilities. The detailed proposal plan for utilization is submitted to the District Collector, and on approval, the works are carried out," top court has said

Supreme Court has held construction of a building in a playground on a village school, particularly on a plot of land meant for the education department and without administrative sanction, to be a matter of grave concern and illegal. 

"Gram Panchayat should represent the public interest and not occupy vacant places, parks, and grounds for its infrastructure projects. In a given case, if absolute necessity is made out for a change of user of any of the amenities/ open spaces, Gram Panchayat shall and should comply with the requirements of the law," a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti said.

The apex court modified an order for demolition of building constructed as the Rajiv Gandhi Sewa Kendra but ordered school to be compensated with Rs 10 lakh to be recovered from delinquent officers.

In the case at hand, Sarpanch, Gram Panchayat, Longewala, District Hanumangarh, Rajasthan on August 05, 2019, passed a resolution for upgrading the infrastructure of the old Panchayat Bhawan from the budget sanctioned by the Zila Parishad.

On December 11, 2019, the Zila Parishad sanctioned the proposal to upgrade the infrastructure of the old Panchayat Bhawan. The Sarpanch, Gram Panchayat, on March 15, 2020, issued a work order to one M/s A-One Construction Company.

Subsequently, a new building for the Gram Panchayat was constructed in the playground of a school run by the education department in the village.

A writ petition was filed in the HC which pointed out two glaring mistakes in law are that sanction is obtained for upgradation of existing structure, but a new building is brought into existence and secondly, the Gram Panchayat without a right in the land recorded in the name of education department is taken over without recourse to law. 

The HC accepted that the village has been deprived of the playground and in the name of upgrading infrastructure, a new building was brought into existence. 

It ordered demolition of the building constructed as the Rajiv Gandhi Sewa Kendra at the cost and responsibility of Vikas Adhikari, Panchayat Samiti Longewala and Sarpanch, Gram Panchayat Longewala.

The bench said, "the Sarpanch and Vikas Adhikari, have not discharged the official function or duty in the manner expected of them or conforming to the local laws. Therefore, the conclusions in the impugned Order are certainly warranted and have been rightly rendered in the judgment impugned."

However, the bench was persuaded by the plea that the demolition would result in waste of public money.

"We notice that constructing a building in a playground, particularly on a plot of land standing in the name of the education department and without administrative sanction, is of grave concern and illegal.... Keeping in perspective the admitted position viz a playground is earmarked for school children, demolition of a building constructed is avoidable," the bench said.

Thus, the apex court modified the HC's order and directed Rajasthan government's Secretary Panchayat department to initiate an disciplinary proceedings against Vikas Adhikari and Sarpanch and ensure its completion without any loss of time and within a period of four months.

It also ordered the state government to deposit Rs 10 lakh to the credit of the school in Longewala village, within four weeks.The court also directed the state government to recover Rs 10 lakh from persons found guilty of arbitrary exercise of power and in such proportion within six months.

"The District Administration ensures that the playground now earmarked at Longewala shall continue to serve the purpose of the playground," the bench said.