Round One to Team Thackeray: Bombay HC directs BMC to accept Rutuja Latke’s resignation by tomorrow

The Bombay High Court Thursday directed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to issue a letter of acceptance to the resignation of Rutuja Latke, the proposed candidate of the Shiv Sena Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray for the Andheri (East) bypoll, by 11 am Friday.

A division bench of Justice Nitin M Jamdar and Justice Sharmila U Deshmukh observed, “According to us the discretion is to be used for bonafide purposes. The use or non-use of it is arbitrary in this case. but we think that in this case, it is malafide. It is not just the case of the petitioner but our power is also to oversee your discretion”.

“We have to see the totality of the circumstances. It is a resignation letter, it is a clerical staff who wants to resign, just say yes or no, don’t give it so much importance. Don’t burden us, we already have many matters pending. Why is it given so much importance? You just have to inform them whether it is accepted or not. Unfortunately, it has come to us,” added the bench.

The Andheri (East) Assembly seat fell vacant after Sena MLA Ramesh Latke, Rutuja’s husband, suffered a heart attack and died in May this year. The by-election to the seat will be held on November 3.

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Rutuja Latke, through senior advocate Vishwajeet Sawant, said she would not be able to file her nomination paper by October 14, the deadline set by the Election Commission of India (ECI), if her resignation is not accepted by Friday. She did not mention the name of the political party.

She had sought a direction from the high court to the BMC to immediately “issue a letter of resignation acceptance”, and in the interim, the court declare that she has “duly resigned from the service of the respondent BMC”. She had also sought that she should be allowed to fill her nomination form for contesting the Andheri (East) Assembly bypoll.

In her plea, Rutuja mentioned the BMC’s conduct was “illegal and malafide” and it has been “deliberately delaying” in accepting her resignation to prevent her from contesting the bypoll.

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Rutuja said that while she intended to contest the bypoll from Andheri (East), as per Rule 6 of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Service (Conduct) Regulations, 1989, a BMC employee was prohibited from doing the same. On September 2, she wrote a letter to the BMC, requesting the civic body to permit her to contest the bypoll by “relaxing the prohibition” till the time the election results are declared. The request was rejected on September 22.

According to Rutuja, she sent a resignation letter to BMC officials on October 3, immediately after the EC announced the schedule for the bypoll. She also requested the JMC (Zone 3) to accept her resignation, relax the one-month notice period under Rule 28 of 1989 Regulations, and waive the recovery of notice pay on the merits to enable her to contest the bypoll.

Thereafter, the JMC (Zone 3) forwarded the letter to the JMC (General Administration) for further consideration, who sought no-dues or recovery certificates from all departments where Rutuja had worked earlier, along with a “no inquiry” certificate against her. After the JMC (Zone 3) obtained the documents, the resignation letter was sent back to the JMC (General Administration).

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The plea further stated that on October 10, the BMC raised a tax invoice/challan on the petitioner towards the payment of notice pay equivalent to one month’s pay of Rs 67,590.

Rutuja also said that in 2012, BMC had permitted one of their employees, Hemangi Worlikar, to resign without completing the full one-month notice period and contest the municipal election, by accepting her notice pay.

Representing the BMC, senior advocate Anil Sakhare opposed the plea and said the notice sent by Rutuja on October 3 and it was not a proper resignation letter as per Rules and the civic body is yet to decide on it. Sakhare said Rutuja knew since September that the elections would be held, despite that knowledge she applied on October 3. He added the remittance of notice pay is not by itself deemed acceptance of the resignation.

Sakhare said a complaint was received against Latke on October 12 which suggested that she would not come to the office and would only engage in liaison work. He also added there was a corruption charge against her. The senior advocate said that since the complaint has been received, it has to be inquired into and can be closed. Rutuja has no substance and no interim relief be granted to the petitioner, he said.

However, Latke’s counsel said the BMC cannot act in a partisan way and it should not ‘assist political drama” happening outside and should not take political sides by delaying action contrary to its regulations. He also questioned the veracity of the complaint letter and said it appeared to be written on a computer and not hand-written belatedly.

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The Bombay High Court also raised questions on the veracity of the complaint. It also sought responses from the respondents and posted October 20 as the next date of hearing.