Durga Shankar Mehta v Thakur Raghu Raj Singh and Ors.

Name of the CaseDurga Shankar Mehta v Thakur Raghu Raj Singh and Ors.
CitationAIR 1954 SC 520
Year of the Case1954
AppellantDurga Shankar Mehta
RespondentThakur Raghu Raj and Ors.
Bench/JudgesMehr Chand Mahajan, C.J. and Bijan Kumar Mukherjea, Vivian Bose, N.H. Bhagwati, T.L. Venkatarama Ayyar, JJ.

Keywords: Election Tribunal, Supreme Court, Special Leave to Appeal

Background

The Lakhnadon Legislative Assembly Constituency is double member constituency or a dual member constituency, i.e. a particular constituency will be represented by two members instead of one. Although at present, this system of representation isn’t practiced in India anymore, it was however prevalent during the 1950s—the time during which this case was instituted.

The idea behind this system was to increase representation in particular. Specifically, the Representation of minorities (the SCs and the STs, at that time)—several constituencies nominated one member from the General category and one member from the Reserved category. After the results, the constituencies would send two elected representatives to the Legislative Assembly. Lakhnadon was one such constituency in the State of Madhya Pradesh. This dual-member system was abolished in 1961.

Brief Facts

The Lakhnadon Constituency of Madhya Pradesh held elections and, being a dual-member constituency, had two seats—one for the General category and one for the Reserved category.

The Respondents and the Appellant were part of the group of nominated individuals—the nominations were vetted by the Returning Officer (responsible for overseeing elections). The Elections were held as scheduled, and members for the General Category and Reserved Category were chosen.

After having lost, the Respondent 1, Raghu Raj Singh, filed an election petition under Section 81 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, before the Election Tribunal. He sought to have the Election declared void or, at the very least, the election of the Appellant and another respondent, Vasant Rao, be declared void.

The Tribunal held that the allegations levelled against the Appellant were unfounded and didn’t hold up. However, the Tribunal found the Respondent Vasant Rao to be unqualified to contest elections. The role of the Returning Officer in accepting the nomination of Vasant Rao was also said to have materially affected the Elections.

Finally, the Tribunal held the Elections, in toto, as void. Further, this was challenged by the Appellant, and recourse was sought under Article 136 of the Constitution through the Supreme Court’s power to grant special leave to appeal.

Issues Raised

  1. Whether the powers of the Supreme Court under Article 136 of the Constitution override those of the Election Tribunal under Article 329(b) and Sections 80 and 105 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951?
  2. Whether the nomination of the Respondent Vasant Rao legitimate?
  3. Whether the decision of the Election Tribunal, in rendering the Elections completely void, just?

Arguments Advanced

Respondents

The matter moved to the Supreme Court after the decision of the Election Tribunal was challenged. The Counsel for Respondent no. 1 argued that the decision of the Election Tribunal specially empowered to adjudicate on matters pertaining to election disputes was final and conclusive. The Counsel invoked Article 329(b) and contended that its Jurisdiction ousts all the ordinary adjudicating bodies in matters of election disputes. The Article also specifies that no election to either House of Parliament or to either House of the Legislature of a State shall be questioned and challenged. Any dispute concerning elections could only be challenged before an authority setup for that purpose, and through an election petition as mentioned under Section 80 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which is worded similar to Article 329(b) of the Constitution. Both the laws are reproduced below for ready reference:

Article 329(b) in The Constitution of India 1949

(b) No election to either House of Parliament or to the House or either House of the Legislature of a State shall be called in question except by an election petition presented to such authority and in such manner as may be provided for by or under any law made by the appropriate Legislature.

Section 80 in The Representation of the People Act, 1951

80. Election petitions – No election shall be called in question except by an election petition presented in accordance with the provisions of this Part.

The Counsel also invoked Section 105 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 to highlight the fact that the decision of the Election Tribunal is final and conclusive.

Court’s Response. —The Court, after having heard the Respondents, moved on to opine that, even though the powers endowed with the Election Tribunal by the Legislature are special, they don’t hinder the Supreme Courts power to grant leave to special appeal as enshrined under Article 136 of the Constitution, making an exception only to the matters in law pertaining to the Armed Forces.

Further, the Court held that the powers vested in the Supreme Court are residuary and extraordinary. The Court agreed with the Counsel for Respondents on the Election Tribunal having exclusive and extraordinary Jurisdiction over disputes pertaining to elections. Further, the Court stated that nothing could debar it from exercising the overriding power granted by Article 136, once there has been a pronouncement of judgment by any judicial body. Every individual aggrieved by the decision of a judicial body reserves the right to move the Supreme Court under Article 136. No Parliamentary legislation can limit or do away with this constitutional provision.

Moreover, the Court held that it would be wrong to presume that the powers of a Tribunal; however special will not fall within the ambit of the Supreme Court’s power under Article 136.

Appellant

The Counsel for the Appellant, after conceding to Respondent Vasant Rao’s disqualification as a finding of fact and based on evidence, raised only one contention: there has been no improper acceptance of nomination in this case and, consequently, the invocation of Section 100(2)(c) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 to declare the entire election as void isn’t fair. Despite there being a violation and non-compliance of Article 173 of the Constitution, leaving Vasanta Rao (Respondent) as constitutionally disabled, the invocation of Section 100(2)(c) was justifiable insofar as the nomination was concerned. There was no justification for the entire election being rendered void.

Judgment

The Court, after considering arguments from both the sides, held that the Returning Officer’s acceptance of nomination wasn’t improper and against the spirit of Section 100(2)(c). Expounding on this the Court stated that at there was no dispute to the fact that the nomination papers were handed in time as per the due procedure. The other details on the nomination papers were the same as the ones on the Electoral polls, ruling out malice or fraud.

The Respondent’s contended that the Returning officer should have scrutinised the nomination papers and disqualified Vasant Rao. Two things were said in this regard: (1) on the face of it, the nomination papers bore no indications of the ineptitude to contest election on Vasant Rao’s part—the nomination process satisfied due procedure and was undisputed at every stage; (2) there was no objection made to the nomination and, in such a case, the Returning Officer cannot institute inquiry proceedings, scrutinising the nomination of a candidate, that the Respondent speaks of and which has been mentioned under the relevant Act (the Representation of the People Act, 1951) within several provisions (Sections 33, 36).

All in all, the Returning officer had no means and incentive to find anything amiss with the nomination of Vasant Rao—reiterating what was said earlier, the nomination was made in accordance with the due procedure and, on the face of it, showed no signs of fraud or deceit. No objection was made at the time of nomination, leaving the Returning officer with the only option of accepting the nomination.

To sum it up, the Electoral roll is conclusive as to the qualification of the elector unless disqualification is alleged or proved, which, in Vasant Rao’s case, showed him to be of proper age and therefore qualifying him to be chosen a member of the State Legislative Assembly.

The Court agrees with the Tribunal’s decision insofar as it declares the election of Vasant Rao as void. It has powers, as enshrined in Section 100 the Act, which enumerates the grounds on which an election can be held void in part or wholly. However, the Court held that only the election of Vasant Rao to be held, while the election of the Appellant stands. No costs were imposed.

References

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