A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court will have a preliminary hearing on November 20 on the maintainability of P.A. Sangma’s petition challenging the election of Pranab Mukherjee as President.

The Bench, comprising Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justices P. Sathasivam, S.S. Nijjar, J. Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi, passed an order to this effect on Thursday, following submissions made by senior counsel Harish Salve and P.H. Parekh, on behalf of Mr. Mukherjee, and Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati that the petition could be dismissed after a preliminary hearing if the court was satisfied that there was no merit in proceeding further.

Earlier senior counsel Ram Jethmalani and Satyapal Jain, appearing for Mr. Sangma, drew the court’s attention to an interim affidavit filed by Mr. Mukherjee and said under the Civil Procedure Code there must be a full affidavit. Quoting Supreme Court Rules coupled with CPC provisions, Mr. Jethmalani said issues had to be framed on facts as well as on law and then there should be an inspection and disclosure of documents.

Mr. Salve also quoted the relevant Supreme Court Rules and said there had to be a preliminary hearing and the matter must end if there were facts ex facie wrong. If trial was not worthwhile, the petition could be dismissed.

On the allegations in the petition, he said since they were based on wrong facts and no case was made out.

The Attorney General, a necessary party under the rules, said a preliminary hearing was a prerequisite for a regular hearing. “If after a preliminary hearing the court feels that the allegations do not deserve full hearing, it can dismiss the petition.”

Mr. Sangma, the unsuccessful NDA-supported candidate, contended that Mr. Mukherjee was not eligible to contest for President as he had been holding offices of profit. “Mr. Mukherjee was holding the office of Chairman of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata, on the date of his filing nomination, the date of scrutiny as well as the date of declaration of his election and he continues to hold the post till date.” His letter of resignation from the post had been fabricated and the signature appended by someone else, Mr. Sangma alleged. Moreover, “Mr. Mukherjee was leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, which was an office of profit, as the person holding this office was entitled to various facilities, in addition to the facilities available to him as Member of Parliament.”

In his reply, Mr. Mukherjee clarified that he quit the ISI chief post on June 20. He said he sent the resignation letter through Swapan Ghosh, who carried it to Kolkata the same day. Moreover, it “is an honorary office without any emoluments, and resignation from such an office is a unilateral act, and the resignation did not require to be accepted. The delivery of the letter itself was sufficient and the resignation came into effect immediately.”

As for the other ground cited by Mr. Sangma, Mr. Mukherjee said the assumption that he as leader of the Lok Sabha was entitled to any perquisite beyond those available to him as Minister was incorrect.

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