A Punjab and Haryana high court full bench has held that election disputes with regard to office-bearers of municipalities in Punjab cannot be adjudicated in election petitions.
The full bench, comprising justice Hemant Gupta, justice Ajay Tewari and justice Raj Rahul Garg, was answering a reference forwarded by a division bench of the high court on the issue, wherein the latter had expressed its reservation on the decision taken in 2007 by a division bench that writ petition is the only remedy to assail the election of office-bearers of municipality in Punjab.
The judgment came on a petition, wherein election to various posts held on March 9 for Moga municipal corporation was challenged by some councillors, alleging that it was not conducted in a fair manner. Akshit Jain, son of Moga MLA Joginder Pal Jain, was elected mayor, Anil Bansal senior deputy mayor and Jarnail Singh deputy mayor. It was alleged that the election was conducted under the pressure of the ruling party and sitting MLA of the area.
During the course of hearing, the high court division bench had expressed its reservation with regard to findings of the earlier division bench that the election petition was not maintainable in respect of elections to the post of office-bearers of municipalities and panchayats. Thus, the matter was referred to a larger bench.
The high court took note of the submissions that the Punjab State Election Commission Act, 1994; Municipal Corporation Act, 1976; and Punjab Municipal Election Rules, 1994 establish that the remedy of election petition is available only to the councillor of a municipality elected by way of direct election, and not to the office-bearer elected by way of indirect election.
“Therefore, in the absence of any dispute settlement procedure prescribed by the state legislature, the remedy of the election petition cannot be read into the statutes or the rules framed,” one of the counsels, Ranjivan Singh, said, adding that the high court had held that parties are not remedy-less even if the remedy of election petition is not available as the jurisdiction of the high court cannot be said to be excluded and thus can be invoked for the redressal of the grievances. Election petition deals only with the validity of elections, while writ petitions have far more scope of adjudication in high courts.
The reference answered has been sent back to the division bench, which would decide the petition filed against the election of Moga municipal corporation office-bearers.