N.P PONNUSOWAMI VS. RETURNING OFFICER ( AIR 1957 SC 64 )

BRIEF FACTS OF THE CASE

  • The appellant Mr. N.P Ponnusowami was one of the persons who had filed nomination papers for contesting election to the Madras Legislative Assembly from the Namakkal Constituency in Salem District.
  • At the time of scrutiny, the returning officer rejected the appellant’s nomination or certain grounds.
  • The Appellant herein challenged the rejection of the returning officer by filling a Writ petition in the High Court of Madras under thereby praying to issue writ of certioriari or any other writ to invalidate the rejection of nomination by the Retuning officer.
  • The High Court dismissed the petition of the Appellant on that ground of that it do not have any jurisdiction to  interfere in the order of the retuning officer. The court highlighted the Article 329(b) of the constitution which bars it to invoke any jurisdiction in such matters.
  • Thereupon the Mr. N.P. Punnusowami moved to Supreme Court of India challenging the dismissal order of the High Court.

ISSUE

The issue to be determined in this case was whether the jurisdiction of  High Court to try rejection of Nomination by the Returning Officer is barred by Article 329(b) of the Constitution of India and whether the High Court view of High Court was correct to dismiss the appellant’s petition on aforesaid ground.

The Article. 329(b) of the Constitution is reproduced below-

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”[1]

According to the aforesaid provision, the legislative elections could be challenged only by way of filing election petition before the prescribed authority and in the manner which is prescribed in the law made by legislature.

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ARGUMENTS OF THE APPELLANT

  • Representation of the People Act was enacted subject to the provisions of the Constitution, it cannot bar the jurisdiction of the High Court to issue writs under Article 226 of the Constitution.
  • If nomination is part of election a dispute as to the validity of nominating is a dispute relating to election and that can be called in question only in accordance with the provisions of Article 329 (b) by the presentation of an election petition to the appropriate Tribunal and that the Returning Officer would have no jurisdiction to decide that matter.

OBSERVATION OF THE SUPREME COURT

  • The court found that in view of the provision of Article 329(b) of the Constitution and section 80 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the High Court has no jurisdiction to interfere with the order of the Returning Officer. Sec 80 of the ROP Act is reproduced below-

No election shall be called in question except by an election petition presented in accordance with the provisions of this Part”[2].

  • While determining the meaning of the word ‘election’ the court observed that it has by long usage in connection with the process of selection of proper representatives in democratic institution acquired both a wide and a narrow meaning.
  • In the narrow sense it is used to mean the final selection of candidate which may embrace the result of the poll when there is no poll.
  • In the wide sense, the word used to connote the entire process culminating in the candidate being declared elected and it is in this wide sense that the word used in Art. 329(b) of the Constitution.
  • The court observed that the scheme of Part XV of the Constitution and the ROP Act seems to be that any matter which has the effect of vitiating an election should be brought up only at the appropriate stage in an appropriate manner before a special tribunal and should not be brought up at an intermediate stage before any court.
  • If the grounds on which an election can be called in question could be raised at an earlier stage and errors, if any, are rectified, there will be no meaning in enacting a provision like Article 329 (b) and in setting up a special tribunal. Any other meaning ascribed to the words used in the Article would lead to anomalies, which the Constitution could not have contemplated, one of them being that conflicting views may be expressed by High Court at the pre-polling stage and by the election tribunal, which is to be an independent body, at the stage when the matter is brought up before it. Therefore, questioning the rejection of a nomination paper is questioning the election within the meaning of Art. 329(b) of the Constitution and sect 80 of the ROP Act.
  • It is the matter of first importance that elections should be concluded as early as possible according to time schedule and all controversial matter and all disputes arising out of elections should be postponed till after the elections are over. Therefore, if any irregularities are committed while elections are in process, the word election under section 80 of ROP Act and under Article 329(b) enables the aggrieved person affected to call it in question. The dispute should be brought up before special tribunal by means of an election petition and shall not be raised before any court while the election is in progress.
  • Right to stand as a candidate for election is not a civil right but it is created by the special law and this right is subject to the limitations imposed by it.
  • It is the right of the legislature to examine and determine all the matters relating to elections of its own members. Therefore, if the legislature has created a special tribunal and jurisdiction to settle all such matters then such special jurisdiction should be exercised in accordance with the provisions of law which creates it.
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JUDGEMENT/DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT

Considering the aforesaid observation, the court decided that the State High Courts and any other coursed excluding special Tribunals established by law, have no jurisdiction to entertain the question regarding the elections. Further, no jurisdiction lies with the High Courts under Article 226 of the Constitute to try and decide the petition regarding improper rejection of nomination papers by the Returning Officer. The apex court supported the view of the Madras High Court correct in this case and dismissed the appeal filled by the Appellant Mr. N.P Ponnusowami.

CONCLUSION

In this case the Apex court categorically examined the nexus between Article 329(b) of the Constitution and Section 80 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. According to the court the word election used in the aforesaid provisions can be dealt in narrow as well as wide sense which confirms the final selection of the candidate and the entire process of the election within the scope of the word election stated above. The arguments of the appellant were vague and were not supported by any concrete ground which could have convinced any judge to deliver decision in his favour. In my opinion the both the Supreme Court and the High Court was correct as the both the above mentioned provisions clearly provides the remedy to the election disputes or irregularities by way of filing election petition before the Specific Tribunal and such other authority as prescribed by law.

[1] Art.392 clause (b) of the Constitution of India

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[2] Sec 80 Act 43 of 1951

Author: Lalit Mohan,
Delhi Metropolitan Education,GGSIPU ( 4th year )

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