Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: The Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ and Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, J., while addressing a riveting issue wherein a political party challenged Section 60 (c) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and the corresponding rules to facilitate postal ballots for absentee voters including senior citizens of above 80 years, persons with disabilities, COVID-19 affected/ suspected and persons employed in essential services, held that:

“…clause (c) is eminently compatible with the company that it keeps in Section 60 of the Act of 1951 without betraying any sign of incongruity.”

Amendment effected in 2003 to Representation of the People Act, 1951 || In Question

Propriety of an amendment effected in 2003 to the Representation of the People Act, 1951 had been called into question by one of the leading political parties in the State along with myriad other grievances in respect of guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India and classification of persons who may exercise their franchise otherwise than by presenting themselves at a polling booth in the forthcoming assembly elections.

Stance of Political Party

The introduction of 60 (c) of the Act, 1951 amounts to the excessive delegation as it is perceived to confer virtual legislative authority to the Election Commission.

Election Commission has the primacy in conducting assembly elections, Petitioner while agreeing the said suggested that matters as such as the classes of persons who may vote otherwise than by attending the election booth must be completely indicated in any rules that may be framed by the Central Government and Election Commission must not be left with any authority to pick and choose from such classes of persons.

The said provision does not permit Election Commission to indicate any classes of persons to permit them to vote otherwise than by attending the election booth.

Hence, in view of the above stated, the 2019 and 2020 amendments to Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 have been challenged along with the guidelines issued by the Election Commission on 17th September, 2020; 2nd February, 2021 and 27th February 2021.

Rules have been challenged and questioned on the ground of — Excessive Delegation.

Petitioner submitted that

  • Sanctity of the right to vote, which is the most fundamental right enjoyed by a citizen in a democracy, is desecrated by the mode and manner of voting as stipulated for a class of persons by the Election Commission.
  • Secrecy in casting a vote, which is the fulfilment of the right to choose by an ordinary citizen, is seriously compromised in the voting process designed by the Election Commission for absentee voters.
  • Election Commission has virtually cut off the role of political parties in the process.

Analysis, Law and Decision 

Bench in view of the facts and circumstances of the present case stated that the petitioning party must be seen to be aware of the voter, difficulties that the Election Commission may face in implementing the manner of voting through postal ballot, the endeavour of the party has to be respected as an attempt to ensure a free and fair election.

Court further expressed that the nature of the petitioner’s attack on the validity of Section 60(c) of the Act of 1951 falls way short of the exalted tests that a person questioning the propriety of a statutory provision must meet.

The discussion with respect to excessive delegation in the present matter pertains to high constitutional authority as the Election Commission and the venerable position conferred to such Commission by constitutional provisions in Part XV of the suprema lex.

There is no doubt that the Election Commission has to abide by the laws made by the Parliament, but the laws made by the Parliament can only be such as may facilitate the conduct of the elections by the Election Commission in the milieu of the expansive domain carved out for the Commission in the wide words of Article 324 of the Constitution.

 Further with regard to the choice of senior citizens aged 80 years, Petitioner contended that when the lower age limit of a senior citizen has been reduced from the erstwhile 80 years to 65 years by the Central Government amending the 1961 Rules, the Election Commission has no business to go by the class of senior citizens in the pre-amended provision and extend only to them the choice of voting by postal ballot.

Fallacy in the above argument

Section 60(c) of the Act of 1951 permits any person to be chosen by the Election Commission from a class of persons indicated in the Rules to be conferred the privilege of voting by postal ballot as long as the choice is preceded by a consultation with the Central Government and followed by a notification in such regard being published.

If the statute confers the right to indicate classes of persons to the executive and the executive allows the Election Commission to choose sub-classes in consultation with the executive, no case of excessive delegation is made out.

Further, the High court noted that the only matters of substance that the petitioner has been able to urge pertain to the word “notified” used in Section 60(c) of the Act of 1951 and the perceived failure of the Election Commission in such regard together with the use of the word “postal” implying that the postal ballots would necessarily have to be sent by post and received back by post and in no other manner.

Adding to the above, Bench expressed that,

Four classes of persons included as absentee voters and entitled to choose to exercise their franchise by postal ballot – senior citizens above 80 years, persons with disabilities, Covid-affected persons and personnel engaged in specific essential services – have been duly notified upon the notifications being completed by corresponding publications being made in the Official Gazette of the State.

With respect to choosing the smaller classes over larger in some cases was upon consultation with the Central Government.

Noting and observing the above discussion, Court further proceeded to state that:

“…all that the Election Commission has done here is to be inclusive and allow certain classes of persons who would have been excluded from exercising their franchise the right to use the postal ballot and participate in the celebration of the festival of democracy.”

Elaborating more on the said subject of excessive delegation, Court held that in the backdrop of the rule-making provision in Section 169 of the Act of 1951 mandating consultation with the Election Commission, the Rules of 1961, particularly the amendments brought about in 2019 and 2020, do not amount to the excessive delegation.

Right to participate in the democratic process

Court also found no arbitrariness in the classification of the persons permitted by the Rules of 1961 to cast their vote by postal ballot, which is based on who may not be able to physically attend the polling booth.

Supreme Court decision in A.C. Jose, recognised the authority of the Election Commission to pass any orders in respect of the conduct of elections when there is no parliamentary legislation or rule made under the said legislation.

Lastly, while concluding, High Court held that it did not find any merit in the challenge –whether to the validity of Section 60(c) of the Act of 1951 or to the impugned guidelines issued by the Election Commission or, generally, to how the Commission has gone about in its endeavour to conduct the ensuing assembly elections in this State.[Dravida Munnetara Kazhagam v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine Mad 1100 , decided on 17-03-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For the Petitioner: Mr P.Wilson, Senior Counsel for M/s. P. Wilson Associates

For the Respondents: Mr R.Sankaranarayanan Additional Solicitor-General assisted by Mr K.Srinivasamurthy Senior Panel Counsel for Central Government for 1st respondent

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: A. Muhamed Mustaque J., upholding the decision of the Election Commission, dismissed the present Writ Petitions and clarified the applicability of Kerala Local Authorities (Prohibition of Defection) Act, 1999.

 Brief Facts

Three writ petitions were filed by the members of Ranny-Pazhavangadi Grama Panchayat aggrieved by the decision of the Kerala State Election Commission (for short, the ‘Election Commission’) declaring that the petitioners are disqualified for being members of Ranny-Pazhavangadi Grama Panchayat as provided under Section 3(1)(a) of the Kerala Local Authorities (Prohibition of Defection) Act, 1999 (for short, the ‘Act’) and further disqualified to contest as candidates in any election of the local body for a period of six years.

The cause of action for disqualification arose on 23-5-2017. Abraham from LDF (the party to which the petitioners allegedly belong) was the President of the Grama Panchayat at that time. A No-Confidence Motion was moved against him. Subsequently, a whip was issued by the parties of LDF coalition to all its members. Defying the whip all these petitioners voted in favour of the motion. In defence before the Election Commission, the petitioners alleged that they did not receive the aforementioned whips, hence, no provision of the Act was attracted. With respect to candidature, it was originally admitted by the petitioners that they contested the election as nominees of political parties forming part of the LDF coalition but after closing of the evidence, they filed an application for deleting those admissions by way of amendment.

 Issue

  1. Whether petitioners were independent candidates or supported by political party in question?
  2. Whether the whip issued was conveyed to the petitioners as per Kerala Local Authorities (Prohibition of Defection) Act, 1999?
  3. Whether supporting the no-confidence motion, amount to voluntary giving up of membership under the said Act?

Observation

Placing reliance over the findings of Election Commission, the Court agreed with the submission made by the counsel for respondents that the petitioners contested election with the support of political party and the whip issued, therefore, assumes significance. The Court also accepted the applicability of Rule 3(2)(a) of the Kerala Local Authorities (Disqualification of Defected Members) Rules, 2000 wherein, any person who contested election as a candidate in support of a political party shall be treated as a member of that political party. Further, Court made the following observation with respect to service of whip to the rightful person, as per Kerala Local Authorities (Prohibition of Defection) Act, 1999

“There are two limbs under Section 3(1)(a) of the Act, second limb would be attracted only when there was a valid whip and servicing the whip in a manner referred under Section 3(2) r/w 4(2) of the Rules. The service referred as above is mandatory. There is no dispute in regard to the fact that the whip was not served on the Secretary of the Local Self Government Institutions. Therefore, the second limb cannot be attracted to this matter. The finding of the Election Commission would also show that no copy of the whip was served on the Secretary.”

In reference with issue 3, the Court said,

“The petitioners support to the No Confidence Motion was against the interest of the political parties which supported them as candidates. This amounts to voluntarily giving up of the membership. It is to be noted that there was no dispute on CPI(M), CPI and JD(S) were part of the coalition. Thus acting against the interest of coalition by party members of the constituents of the coalition amount to acting against their own party. The Election Commission entered into a finding based on the materials before it, there was valid whip and the petitioners were aware of such whip. Though such whip cannot be relied to attract second limb of Section 3(1)(a) of the Act, nothing bars the Election Commission for placing reliance on it for disqualifying a member based on the ground referred in the first limb of Section 3(1)(a).

The Court further cited Rama Bhaskaran v. Kerala State Election Commission, 2018(2) KLT 600, Manoj Madhavasseril v. Kerala State Election Commission, 2018(1) KLT 1047 and Chandran v. Kerala State Election Commission, 2019(1) KLT SN 18 and Lizy Valsan v. Suja Salim, 2015 (3) KLT SN 61 in furtherance of its said observation.

Decision

While dismissing the present Writ Petitions, the Court upheld the decision of Election Commission of debarring the petitioners from contesting future elections.[Boby Abraham v. Kerala State Election Commission, 2020 SCC OnLine Ker 4507, decided on 15-10-2020]


Sakshi Shukla, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Chhattisgarh High Court: A Division Bench of P.R. Ramachandra Menon, CJ and Parth Prateem Sahu, J., addressed an issue with regard to the alienation of Government Land.

Petitioner approached the Court challenging the course and proceedings being taken by the respondents in connection with the alienation of the Government Land, allegedly without any regard to the relevant provisions of law.

Further, it has been stated that the land in question is being allotted to a particular political party through respondents 3 and 4.

Petitioners Counsel, Sharad Mishra submitted that the property was allotted to the respondent concerned. At present, it has been sought to be allotted in the name of Pramod Sahi — Respondent 6 vide the resolution on a lease for 30 years.

Counsel further submits that, no prior sanction of the Government land has been obtained which is clearly in violation of Section 109 of the Municipalities Act, 1961.

As respondent 6 has been allotted a plot already for the purpose of setting up an office, by virtue of the clear mandate under Rule 3B (ii) (b) & (c) of the Rules, 1996, no further allotment shall be made again in their name.

Dy. Advocate General, Chandresh Shrivastava on behalf of the State submitted that the present petition is not maintainable, so far as the petitioner is having a private interest being the leader of a political party.

It was also pointed out that Rule 3B of the Act of 1996 enables allotment of the Government land to the political parties for the construction of their offices.

High Court on perusal of the above held that a prima facie case has been made out by the petitioner and hence the case stands admitted.

Bench has issued notices to the State Government and directed them to file their reply.

Matter to be posted for further consideration on 20-09-2020. [Bhanu Chandrakar v. State of Chhattisgarh, 2020 SCC OnLine Chh 183, decided on 01-09-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Andhra Pradesh High Court, Amravati: A Division Bench of J.K. Maheshwari, CJ and B. Krishna Mohan, J., addressed a Public Interest Litigation wherein a direction was sought to declare the proclamation, attempt or conduct of Andhra Pradesh State Election Commission in not conducting any election/poll for any post where there is only a single candidate in the fray for such post in any constituency, during the ensuing elections to be held for the members of local governing bodies in lieu of notifications and thereby depriving the electors’ of their right to vote in the form of NOTA against such single candidate.

Andhra Pradesh Panchayat Raj (Conduct of Elections) Rules, 2006

A Public Interest Litigation was filed referring to the amendment introduced in 2018 to the Andhra Pradesh Panchayat Raj (Conduct of Elections) Rules, 2006.

In the above-stated Rules, insertion was Rule 35-A was done after Rule 35, which was as follows:

(1)“Notwithstanding anything contained in these Rules, in the Postal Ballot Papers and in the Ballot papers used for conduct of poll at polling stations with Ballot Boxes or Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), provision shall be made for ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option for the benefit of those electors who may wish to exercise their option of not voting to any of the candidates in the fray. The last panel of the ballot paper below the last candidate shall be earmarked for ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option.

(2) The State Election Commission may give such directions, as may be necessary, for effective implementation of ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option.”

What do the stated Rules say?

In case of  Postal Ballot Papers used for conduct of poll at polling stations with Ballot Boxes or Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) provision is required to be made.

When can NOTA be exercised?

NOTA applies in case where there is contest of election and as per the language set up in Rule 35-A of the Andhra Pradesh Panchayat Raj (Conduct of Elections) Rules, 2006, when there is an election through Ballot Boxes or EVM’s only then the said option can be exercised.

Hence, Court in view of the fact that, in cases where candidates have been declared uncontested, NOTA cannot be applied, dismissed the present petition. [A.V. Badra Naga Seshayya v. State of A.P., 2020 SCC OnLine AP 509 , decided on 20-07-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: The Bench of Sunil Thomas, J. dismissed a bail application filed by an individual under Section 438 CrPC, for being involved in acts of vandalism during hartal called by a political party.

Facts of the case were that a political party had declared a hartal in Kerala. The uncle of de facto complainant opened his shop despite the call for hartal. Defacto complainant went to the shop in the morning. Petitioner along with other persons abused him and caused damage to the movables in the shop. When the defacto complainant intervened, petitioner hit him on the head injuring his right eye. A case was registered against petitioner for offences punishable under Sections 143, 147, 294(b), 308, 323, 324 and 427 read with Section 149 of the Penal Code, 1860. Apprehending arrest, petitioner approached this court seeking anticipatory bail.

The Court noted that the aforesaid criminal acts were done by the petitioner under the cover of hartal called by a political party. Petitioner and his group’s act was nothing but sheer vandalism, under the guise of hartal. Call for hartal by any political party only gives the right to the members of that political party to withdraw themselves from their work as a protest. They may also persuade their fellow workers to withdraw from their work. But that does not empower them to commit criminal acts, much less, any act intended to interfere in the exercise of the fundamental right of any person to move freely anywhere in India and to carry on his trade or business anywhere in India. Reliance was placed on Full Bench decision of this Court in George Kurian v. State of Kerala, 2004 SCC OnLine Ker 42 where it was held that nobody can be compelled to participate in hartal and general strike.

Further, the Court also relied on the decision of the Supreme Court in Kodungallur Film Society v. Union of India, (2018) 10 SCC 713 where it was held that any mob violence and crime by self-appointed keepers of public morality, terrorizing common man without legal sanction and causing loss of life and destruction of property, should be dealt with seriously. It was opined that bail applications filed by persons charged with such offence should be dealt with circumspection.

In view of the above, anticipatory bail was rejected.[Vinod. P v. State of Kerala, 2019 SCC OnLine Ker 1012, Order dated 20-02-2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the writ petition filed by Amar Singh where he asked the Court to declare that Para 2 of the 10th Schedule to the Constitution does not apply to an elected member of a House who has been expelled by his/her political party, the Bench of Dipak Misra and A.M. Khanwilkar, JJ placed the matter before the Chief Justice of India for constitution of a larger Bench. Amar Singh, having been expelled by the Samajwadi Party, had sought for a direction that his conduct would no longer fall within the acts that constitute a disqualification within the meaning of para 2(1)(a) and para 2(1)(b) of the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution. The larger Bench will be deciding the question as to the status in either House of Parliament or the State Legislatures of a Member who is expelled from the party which set him/ her up as a candidate for election.

Para 2 of the 10th Schedule to the Constitution provides for disqualification on ground of defection but does not specifically mention the expelled members, Hence, an important question had came before the Court in Amar Singh v. Union of India(2011) 1 SCC 210,  for consideration as to whether the members who are expelled from the membership of the parties which had set them up as candidates in the election, must be deemed to continue to belong to such party in view of Explanation (a) to paragraph 2(1) of the 10th Schedule. Also, when a Member of either House of Parliament is expelled by the party which had set him up as a candidate for election and he either joins another political party or forms his own party, can it be said that he had voluntarily given up his membership of the party in view of the legal fiction created by Explanation (a) to paragraph 2 (1) of the Tenth Schedule. The bench in that case had referred the case to a larger bench and the consequently, the larger bench had kept the questions open for decision in an appropriate case.

Earlier, in G. Viswanathan v. Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly(1996) 2 SCC 353, the Court had held that even if such a member is thrown out or expelled from the party, for the purposes of the Tenth Schedule he will not cease to be a member of the political party that had set him up as a candidate for the election. He will continue to belong to that political party even if he is treated as `unattached’. [Amar Singh v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 405, order dated 17.04.2017]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Disposing of a petition which sought freezing of the symbol “elephant” as the reserved symbol of  Bahujan Samaj Party, the Court held that there is no power in the Election Commission of India under the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 to withdraw/freeze an election symbol once allotted and/or reserved for a recognised political party and the only manner in which the symbol once allotted/reserved is lost, is on loss of recognition.

The petitioner had sought to draw the attention of the EC to the practice of erecting at public places and at State expense, statutes of political functionaries and symbols of the the ruling party, especially in Uttar Pradesh and to freeze the symbol “elephant” under Clauses 6 and 6-A of the Symbols Order.

Observing that recognition as a political party carries a right to a reserved symbol, the Court held that it appears that a symbol once reserved for a recognised political party under the prevalent laws, cannot be taken away. This is certainly a lacuna and which, if the averments of the petitioner are correct, has indeed been exploited by BSP. The Court held that a political party in power cannot use development activities carried out by it and which the government in any case is expected to perform, to propagate its symbol or its leaders so as to come in the way of a free and fair election. The performance of a political party in governance should be allowed to speak for itself.

The Bench of Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, J.  issued the following directions to the EC:

  • within a period of three months, consider issuing appropriate direction/guideline within the meaning of Clause 16-A(b) of the Symbols Order preventing recognised political party in power from using public places and public funds for propagating its reserve symbol and/or its leaders, so as to come in the way of conducting of free, fair and peaceful election and to safeguard the interest of the general public and the electorate in future; and,
  • after issuing the said direction/guideline, within a further period of three months therefrom, consider whether the actions already done by the respondent BSP and as complained of by the petitioner are in violation of the said guideline and if finds so, to give an opportunity to the respondent BSP to undo the same, so as to in future not obstruct free and fair election and if the respondent BSP does not avail of the said opportunity, to initiate proceedings under Clause 16-A of the Symbols Order for withdrawal of recognition thereof.

[Common  Cause v. Bahujan Samaj Party, 2016 SCC OnLine Del 3787, decided on July 7, 2016]