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No substance in Sangma’s challenge, says majority ruling

J. Venkatesan
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‘Court has repeatedly cautioned that election of a candidate should not be lightly interfered with’

The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed NDA-supported candidate P.A. Sangma’s petition, challenging the election of Pranab Mukherjee as President on the grounds that he had held an office of profit on the day he filed his nomination, and the post of Leader of the Lok Sabha.

In a 3-2 majority ruling, a Constitution Bench said the petition was not maintainable and held that no further enquiry was necessary.

While Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justices P. Sathasivam and S.S. Nijjar gave the majority decision, Justices J. Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi gave dissenting judgments. While Justice Chelameswar said he would give his reasons later, Justice Gogoi gave brief reasons.

Writing the judgment for the majority, the CJI said: “The office of Chairman of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata, did not provide for any of the amenities.” Nor could it yield any profit or pecuniary gain. The various decisions cited by the parties indicated that an office of profit “must carry various pecuniary benefits or must be capable of yielding pecuniary benefits such as… official accommodation or even a chauffeur-driven car, which is not so in respect of the post of Chairman of the ISI, which was, in fact, the focus of [counsel] Ram Jethmalani’s submissions.”

The Bench rejected counsel’s submission that ISI rules and bylaws did not permit an appointee to resign from the post of Chairman and he had to continue against his wishes. There was no contractual obligation that the Chairman would have to hold the post for a full term. Nor was there any such compulsion under the rules and bylaws. “In any event, since the holder of the post has been excluded from disqualification for contesting the presidential election, by the 2006 amendment to Section 3 of the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1959, the submissions of Mr. Jethmalani are of little or no substance,” the Bench said.

As for the second contention that Mr. Mukherjee was Leader of the Lok Sabha when he entered the race, the Bench said: “…the respondent had tendered his resignation from membership of the House on June 20 before he filed his nomination…” The controversy that he had resigned from membership of the Congress and its Central Working Committee on June 25 this year was set at rest by an affidavit filed by Pradeep Gupta, secretary to the President.

In the affidavit, Mr. Gupta indicated that he had inadvertently mentioned that Mr. Mukherjee’s nomination was accepted on June 25, when the CWC met to bid him farewell. “In any event, the disqualification contemplated on account of [his] holding the post of Leader of the House was with regard to the provisions of Article 102(1)(a), besides being leader of the party in the House, which did not entail the holding of an office of profit under the government… Since the respondent tendered his resignation from the post prior to the filing of his nomination, which was duly acted upon by the Speaker…, the challenge thrown by the petitioner loses its relevance.”

The Bench said: “It may not be inappropriate at this stage to mention that this court has repeatedly cautioned that the election of a candidate should not be lightly interfered with unless circumstances so warrant. We are not inclined, therefore, to set down the election petition for regular hearing and dismiss the same under Rule 13 of Order XXXIX of the Supreme Court Rules, 1966.”

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