2009(5) ALL MR 847
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUDICATURE AT BOMBAY

A.M. KHANWILKAR AND R.G. KETKAR, JJ.

Shri. Moreshwar V. Ghaisas Vs. State Of Maharashtra & Ors.

Public Interest Litigation No.176 of 2009

7th September, 2009

Petitioner Counsel: Mr. A. M. JOSHI
Respondent Counsel: Mr. A. I. PATEL

Constitution of India, Arts.226, 329(b) - Election - Term "Election" is widely interpreted so as to include all steps and proceedings commencing from date of notification of election till the date of declaration of result - Once notification is issued by virtue of Art.329(b) of the Constitution of India, Election can be called in question only by way of election petition and it is not open to Court to pass order that may have effect of interrupting or protracting election programme in any manner.

The term "Election" is widely interpreted so as to include all steps and proceedings commencing from the date of notification of election till the date of declaration of result. Once the notification is issued by virtue of Article 329(b) of the Constitution of India, the Election can be called in question only by way of election petition and it is not open to the Court to pass order that may have the effect of interrupting, obstructing or protracting the election program in any manner. It is not open to the Court to direct postponement of the Election. For the rule is to ignore such things as do not materially affect the result of the election unless the requirement of satisfying the test of material effect has been dispensed with by the law; even if the law has been breached and such breach satisfies the test of material effect on the result of the election of the returned candidate yet postponed the adjudication of such dispute till the election proceedings are over so as to achieve, in larger public interest, the goal of constituting a democratic body without interruption or delay on account of any controversy confined to an individual or group of individuals or single constituency having arisen and demanding judicial determination. (2000)8 SCC 216 - Rel. on. [Para 3]

Cases Cited:
Election Commission of India Vs. Ashok Kumar, (2000)8 SCC 216 [Para 3,4]
Anurag Narayansing Vs. State of U.P., 1996(6) SCC 303 [Para 3]
Election Commission of India Vs. Union of India, 1995 Supp (3) SCC 643 [Para 7]
Digvijay Mote Vs. Union of India, (1993)4 SCC 175 [Para 7]
N. P. Ponnuswami Vs. Returning Officer, Namakkal Constituency, AIR 1952 SC 64 [Para 7]
Mohinder Singh Gill Vs. Chief Election Commissioner, (1978)1 SCC 405 [Para 7]


JUDGMENT

A. M. KHANWILKAR, J.:- This Petition has been filed as Public Interest Litigation praying for direction against the Respondents to postpone the elections to the legislative Assembly of State of Maharashtra on the ground that it may not be possible to hold free and fair elections on account of the Pandemic of Swine Flu, which has set in the entire State of Maharashtra and in particular, City of Pune, which is severely affected.

2. According to the Petitioner, the virus generally known as Swine Flu has spread so extensively that the World Health Organization has officially declared it as a pandemic. Besides the said virus, the State is under severe drought-like situation as vast areas of the State of Maharashtra have received scanty rains during the monsoon period. It is asserted that the impact of Pandemic of Swine Flu is quite severe and there is possibility of its increase and escalation, which may impact substantial number of voter population who are expected to participate in the election process, may render the ensuing election process a mere formality and not a free and fair election as such. According to the Petitioner, he has already made representation to the Election Commissioner in this behalf, but has not received any response so far. It is in this backdrop, the Petitioner has approached by way of present Petition.

3. It is not in dispute before us that the Election Commission has already announced that the elections for Maharashtra Legislative Assembly to be held in the State of Maharashtra on 13th October, 2009. The Model Code of Conduct has become applicable in Maharashtra. The apprehension expressed by the Petitioner has not been echoed by any political party in Maharashtra or for that matter any organization of responsible group of citizens in Maharashtra. By now it is well established that the term "Election" is widely interpreted so as to include all steps and proceedings commencing from the date of notification of election till the date of declaration of result. Once the notification is issued by virtue of Article 329(b) of the Constitution of India, the Election can be called in question only by way of election petition and it is not open to the Court to pass order that may have the effect of interrupting, obstructing or protracting the election program in any manner. It is not open to the Court to direct postponement of the Election. For the rule is to ignore such things as do not materially affect the result of the election unless the requirement of satisfying the test of material effect has been dispensed with by the law; even if the law has been breached and such breach satisfies the test of material effect on the result of the election of the returned candidate yet postponed the adjudication of such dispute till the election proceedings are over so as to achieve, in larger public interest, the goal of constituting a democratic body without interruption or delay on account of any controversy confined to an individual or group of individuals or single constituency having arisen and demanding judicial determination. (See Election Commission of India Vs. Ashok Kumar [(2000)8 SCC 216]). By virtue of Article 329(b) there is complete and absolute bar in considering the matter relating to election on any ground whatsoever after publication of the notification for holding such election. It is well settled that if the election is imminent or well under way, the Court should not intervene to stop the election process. The Apex Court in the case of Anurag Narayansing Vs. State of U.P. [1996(6) SCC 303], while considering the scope of jurisdiction to entertain the Writ Petitions challenging the election to Municipal Council has expounded that if holding of elections is allowed to be stalled on the complaint of a few individuals, then grave injustice will be done to crores of other voters, who have a right to elect their representatives to the local bodies. The Apex Court further observed that the Court should not intervene even when the elections were imminent.

4. Indeed, the Apex Court in the case of Election Commission of India (supra) has observed that the non obstante clause with which Article 329 opens, pushes out Article 226 where the dispute takes the form of calling in question an election. At the same time, the provisions of the Constitution and the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951, if read together do not totally exclude the right of a citizen to approach the court so as to have the wrong done remedied by invoking the judicial forum; nevertheless two-pronged attack on anything done during the election proceedings is to be avoided- one during the course of the election proceedings and the other at its termination, for such two-pronged attack, if allowed, would unduly protract or obstruct the functioning of democracy. It went on to observe that the Court must be very circumspect and act with caution while entertaining any election dispute though not hit by the bar of Article 329(b) but brought to it during the pendency of election proceedings. The Court must guard against any attempt at retarding, interrupting, protracting or stalling of the election proceedings. It is further observed that care has to be taken to see that there is no attempt to utilise the court's indulgence achieving an ulterior or hidden end.

5. We would assume that the cause brought before this Court by the Petitioner in the present Petition is well intended and bonafide, even so the question is whether the Court's indulgence should be extended for postponing the ensuing elections to the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly which are imminent. Following the exposition of the Apex Court we have no hesitation in taking the view that no interference is warranted on the grounds put forth by the Petitioner in the present Petition. We have no reason to doubt that the Election Commission must have taken an informed Judgment consistent with its perception of its law and order situation and of the ensurement of the requisite precautionary and remedial measures to accomplish free and fair election. According to the Petitioner however, the proportion of Pandemic of Swine Flu is so significant that it is bound to affect the participation of voter population atleast to the extent of 5% to 10% in the ensuing election. This, in our view, is an hypothetical argument. The ground reality which is prevailing as of now does not persuade us to entertain such apprehension. Inasmuch as, notwithstanding the situation projected in Maharashtra on account of swine flu virus, life in the entire State including in the city of Pune is quite normal except the initial knee jerk reactions. As a matter of fact, it is common knowledge that the entire State of Maharashtra celebrated the recent Ganpati Festival for 10 long days with usual fervour and gaiety. There were large congregations in all the cities throughout Maharashtra, including at Pune and Mumbai. Similarly, the congregations in large numbers on account of Ramazan month to offer prayers atleast five times in a day are underway as usual. This clearly belies the apprehension of the Petitioner. Suffice it to observe that Court's intervention on the basis of such apprehension cannot be countenanced.

6. Significantly, the State Administration has not expressed any doubt or difficulty muchless its inability to conduct free and fair Election either on account of Pandemic of Swine Flu or drought-like situation in Maharashtra. The fact that the State Administration will have not only to focus on the issue of Pandemic of Swine Flu but also on drought-like situation in addition to the election proceedings, can be no argument to postpone the election. In any case, that is a matter on which the Election Commission will and must have taken an informed judgment before making announcement of the ensuing elections. The projections made by the World Health Organization which are pressed into service, in our opinion, would be of no avail to entertain this Petition, much less to interdict the process of election which is imminent and under way.

7. Counsel for the Petitioner however, placed reliance on the decision of the Apex Court in the case of Election Commission of India Vs. Union of India & Ors. [1995 Supp (3) SCC 643] to contend that the remedy of judicial review is still available inspite of bar contained in Article 329(b) of the Constitution. He has relied on the observations of the Apex Court that there are no unreviewable discretions under the constitutional authorities dispensation. The Apex Court in the said decision has at the outset mentioned that the Writ Petition was brought by the Election Commission of India before the Apex Court under certain extraordinary circumstances. The Commission invited judicial declaration as to the extent and exclusivity of its jurisdiction, powers and authority in the discharge of its high constitutional functions for the ensurement of the purity of the electoral process in the country which, in the ultimate analyses, constitutes the very foundation and survival of a democratic polity. The Apex Court in paragraph-8 of the same Judgment has unambiguously held that fixing of the dates of polling is a matter for the informed judgment of the Election Commission consistent with its perception of the law and order situation and of the ensurement of the requisite precautionary and remedial measures. The Petitioner has also pressed into service the decision of the Apex Court in the case of Digvijay Mote Vs. Union of India & Ors. [(1993)4 Supreme Court Cases 175]. Even in this decision, the Apex Court relying on the observations of N.P.Ponnuswami Vs. Returning Officer, Namakkal Constituency [AIR 1952 SC 64] and Mohinder Singh Gill Vs. Chief Election Commissioner [(1978)1 SCC 405] took the view that the conduct of election is in the hands of Election Commission which has the power of superintendence, direction and control of elections vested in it as per Article 324 of the Constitution. It further held that if the Election Commission is of the opinion that having regarding to the disturbed conditions of a State or a part thereof, free and fair elections could not be held it may postpone the same. The Apex Court further went on to observe that the exercise of power under Article 324 is not altogether unreviewable and that the review will depend on the fact and circumstances of each case. However, we have already observed that the grounds on which the Petitioner has invoked the jurisdiction of this Court praying for postponement of the ensuing elections to the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, the same are founded on mere apprehension that it would affect the free and fair election process. That cannot be countenanced.

8. Accordingly, we find no merit in this Petition. The same is dismissed.

Petition dismissed.