Laxmi Singh vs Rekha Singh on 19 June, 2020


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Supreme Court of India

Laxmi Singh vs Rekha Singh on 19 June, 2020

Author: Sanjiv Khanna

Bench: A.M. Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari, Sanjiv Khanna

                                                                                          NON-REPORTABLE


                                               IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

                                                CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

                                           CIVIL APPEAL NOS.                           OF 2020
                         (ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (C) NOS. 10733-10734 OF 2019)



                         LAXMI SINGH AND OTHERS                                        .....   APPELLANT(S)

                                                       VERSUS

                         REKHA SINGH AND OTHERS                                        ..... RESPONDENT(S)



                                                         JUDGMENT

SANJIV KHANNA, J.

Leave granted.

2. Sixty-four out of the ninety-two elected members of the Zila

Panchayat, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh had on 1 st October 2018

moved a motion of no confidence (“the Motion”, for short) against

the Panchayat Adhyaksha, Ms. Rekha Singh, the first respondent

before us.

3. The District Judge, Allahabad had thereupon nominated the

Signature Not Verified
Additional District Judge, Allahabad to act as the Presiding Officer
Digitally signed by
DEEPAK SINGH
Date: 2020.06.19
15:30:26 IST
Reason:

in the meeting of the Zila Panchayat summoned to consider the

Motion.

Civil Appeals arising out of SLP (C) Nos. 10733-734 of 2019 Page 1 of 11

4. In the meeting of the Zila Panchyat held on 25 th October 2018,

forty-eight out of fifty-one members present had voted in favour of

the Motion, two members had voted against the Motion and one

vote was rejected as invalid. On the same day itself, the Presiding

Officer had declared that the Motion was passed by majority of

more than half of the total elected members of the Zila Panchayat.

5. On challenge by the first respondent, the High Court of Judicature

at Allahabad, vide the impugned judgment dated 13 th March 2019,

has set aside the minutes of the Zila Panchayat meeting dated

25th October 2018 approving the Motion, on the ground that some

of the members had violated the rule of secrecy of ballot.

Reliance was placed on the CCTV footage that was played in the

Court, to observe that some of the members had displayed the

ballot papers or by their conduct revealed the manner in which

they had voted.

6. Section 28(8) of the Uttar Pradesh Kshettra Panchayat and Zila

Panchayat Adhiniyam, 1961 states that a motion of no confidence

shall be put to vote in the prescribed manner by secret ballot.

Rule 4 of the Uttar Pradesh (Zila Panchayats) (Voting on Motions

of Non-Confidence) Rules 1966 (for short, the ‘1966 Rules’) casts

a duty and obligation on the Presiding Officer to cause such

Civil Appeals arising out of SLP (C) Nos. 10733-734 of 2019 Page 2 of 11
arrangements to be made as would ensure secrecy of the ballot.

Our attention was also drawn to sub-rule (2) of Rule 7 of the 1966

Rules, which requires the members to put a specified mark on the

ballot paper to indicate their choice without disclosing their names

and proscribes any signature or any other mark by which the

secrecy of the ballot may be infringed. Further, we may also note

sub-rule (3) of Rule 7 of the 1966 Rules, which requires members

to fold their ballot paper to conceal the mark made by them and to

put the same in the ballot box. The High Court held in the

impugned judgment that there was a violation of Rules 4 and 7 of

1966 Rules, and further held that disclosure of vote during the

non-confidence motion was in violation of the statutory scheme

governing the same in the State and would affect the purity of

elections. The High Court therefore set aside the minutes of the

non-confidence motion passed on 25th October 2018.

7. Challenging the above finding, the Petitioner before us have

submitted that the impugned judgment is not in line with the

holdings of this Court regarding secrecy of voting, particularly the

Constitution Bench decision of this Court in S. Raghbir Singh Gill

v. S. Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Others,1.

1
1980 Supp SCC 53
Civil Appeals arising out of SLP (C) Nos. 10733-734 of 2019 Page 3 of 11

8. The Petitioners claimed that the principle of secrecy of ballot is

based on public policy aimed at ensuring that the voter cast their

vote without fear or favour and without any apprehension of

disclosure. These aspects were highlighted in S. Raghbir Singh

Gill (supra), wherein reference was made to Section 94 of the

Representation of the People Act, 1951 (‘RP Act’ for short), which

states that no witness or other person shall be required to state for

whom he was voted in an election. Elucidating the importance of

the provision, secrecy of ballot was appropriately styled as a

postulate and keystone in the arch of constitutional democracy as

the electorate or the voter should be absolutely free in exercise of

franchise untrammelled by any constraints, including a constraint

as to disclosure. Even a remote or distinct possibility that at some

point, a voter under compulsion of law can be force to disclose for

whom she has voted would act as a positive constraint and a

check on the freedom to exercise of franchise. It is the policy of

law to protect the right of voters to secrecy of the ballot, albeit this

right is something which can be claimed only by the voter himself

against unwarranted disclosure. Section 94 of the RP Act enacts

a privilege in favour of the voter in that no one can compel him to

disclose for whom she had voted but the privilege ends when the

voter decides to waive the privilege and instead volunteers to

disclose as to whom she had voted. No one can prevent a voter
Civil Appeals arising out of SLP (C) Nos. 10733-734 of 2019 Page 4 of 11
form doing so nor can a complaint be entertained from any,

including the person who wants to keep the voter’s mouth sealed

as to why she disclosed for whom she voted. Once the voter

chooses to waive the privilege and volunteers to disclose, there is

no contravention of Section 94 or any other provision of the RP

Act. There is no illegality involved in disclosure by the voter.

9. The Petitioners submitted that the High Court, notwithstanding the

aforesaid dictum, has wrongly held that the voluntary waiver

principle could not apply to the case in hand with respect to the

members of the Zila Panchayat voting on a no confidence motion.

Whether such a proposition is correct or not would have to be

tested in an appropriate case, and we desist form making any

observations on the same as the question of law itself was not

fully argued before us. However, the Petitioners submitted that

certain principles ought to be highlighted regarding this important

question.

10. The Petitioners contented that this Court, on several occasions,2

and as recently as in Shiv Sena v. Union of India,3 has directed

that a vote of confidence or a trust vote, as the case may be, to

establish majority on the floor of the House should be conducted

2
G. Parmeshwara v. Union of India, (2018) 16 SCC 46, Union of India v. Harish Chandra Singh
Rawat
, (2016) 16 SCC 744.

3

(2019) 10 SCC 809
Civil Appeals arising out of SLP (C) Nos. 10733-734 of 2019 Page 5 of 11
by an open ballot and that the same should be captured in a video

recording so as to ensure transparency. Earlier, in Kuldip Nayar

and Others v. Union of India and Others,4 a Constitutional

Bench of five judges of this Court had inter alia examined and

upheld the constitutional validity of open ballot system which was

introduced in the RP Act vide an amendment brought by Act 40 of

2003 for elections to the Council of States. The petitioner therein

contended that the open ballot system violates the principle of

secrecy which is the essence of free and fair elections and also

the voter’s freedom of expression which is one of the basic

features of the Constitution. Rejecting the challenge to the

constitutional validity, the Constitutional Bench under Issue II:

Secrecy of Voting had held that:

“404. This Court found that Section 94 was meant as a
privilege of the voter to protect him against being
compelled to divulge information as to for which
candidate he had voted. Nothing prevents the voter if
he chooses to open his lips of his own free will without
direct or indirect compulsion and waives the privilege.
It was noticed that the provision refers to a “witness or
other person”. Thus, it is meant to protect the voter
both in the court when a person is styled as a witness
and outside the court when he may be questioned
about how he voted. It was found that no provision
existed as could expose the voter to any penalty if he
voluntarily chooses to disclose how he voted or for
whom he voted.

                            xx                    xx              xx


4
 (2006) 7 SCC 1
Civil Appeals arising out of SLP (C) Nos. 10733-734 of 2019              Page 6 of 11

409. Thus, even under the elections that continue to
be based on the principle of secrecy of voting, it is for
the voter to choose whether he wishes to disclose for
whom he had voted or would like to keep the secrecy
intact. If he so chooses, he can give up his privilege
and in that event, the secrecy of ballot should yield.
Such an event can also happen if there is fraud,
forgery or other illegal act and the disclosure subserves
the purpose of administration of justice.”

11. They also referred to the decisions in Kuldip Nayar (supra) and

S. Raghbir Singh Gill (supra) to highlight that the primary

principle and test to be applied by the courts is purity of election,

that is, free and fair election. Secrecy of voting is an adjunct to

the principle of purity of election. Accordingly, in S. Raghbir Singh

Gill (supra) it was observed that secrecy is not an absolute

principle enshrined in law, but a requirement to subserve the

larger public interest of purity of election. Secrecy cannot stand

aloof, in isolation or in confrontation to the foundation of free and

fair elections. In Kuldip Nayar (supra), the Constitution Bench

observed that this Court in S. Raghbir Singh Gill (supra) had

rejected the apprehension that the principle of secrecy enshrined

in Section 94 of the RP Act cannot be waived being a prohibition

enacted in public interest and founded on public policy to hold that

where such a prohibition is in place, the courts should be slow to

apply the doctrine of waiver. Nevertheless, this privilege of

secrecy could be waived by the voter voluntarily because the very

Civil Appeals arising out of SLP (C) Nos. 10733-734 of 2019 Page 7 of 11
concept of privilege inheres a right to waive it. Secrecy is for the

benefit of the voter and conferred to advance a principle enacted

in public interest.

12. The aforesaid position of law was referred to in Arikala Narasa

Reddy v. Venkata Ram Reddy Reddygari and Another5 to

reiterate that the principle of secrecy to vote is for the benefit of

the voters to enable them to cast their votes freely. Though this

principle is based on public policy, it is upon that person and no

one else to waive such benefit.

13. It is to be noted however, that all of the above cases cited by the

Petitioners pertain to the RP Act and the Rules made thereunder.

It is a trite position of law that when it comes to the interpretation

of statutory provisions relating to election law, jurisprudence on

the subject mandates strict construction of the provisions. In Shri

Banwari Dass v. Shri Sumer Chand and Others,6 referring to

the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957, it was observed that an

election contest is not an action at law or a suit in equity but purely

a statutory proceeding, provision for which have to be strictly

construed. Therefore, even in cases involving election provisions

to prevent corrupt practices, the court and the tribunal must act

judicially and not in an inquisitorial manner. The court cannot
5
(2014) 5 SCC 312
6
(1974) 4 SCC 817
Civil Appeals arising out of SLP (C) Nos. 10733-734 of 2019 Page 8 of 11
bridge the gap and supply an apparent omission by applying

principles of common law and equity. Therefore, it is necessary

for a proper determination of the issues at hand for an in-depth

analysis of the Uttar Pradesh Kshettra Panchayat and Zila

Panchayat Adhiniyam, 1961 and the 1966 Rules, specifically the

interplay between Rules 4, 7 and 12 of the 1966 Rules, and the

legal principles enunciated by this Court in the above

pronouncements.

14. It is to be observed that one of the fundamental principles of

election law pertains to the maintenance of free and fair elections,

ensuring the purity of elections. The principle of secrecy of ballots

is an important postulate of constitutional democracy whose aim is

the achievement of this goal. The question of whether the waiver

of secrecy by individual voters is allowable during the election

process, in a circumstances such as the present, where the Uttar

Pradesh Kshettra Panchayat and Zila Panchayat Adhiniyam, 1961

and the 1966 Rules mandate that voting in a no confidence motion

would take place by secret ballot requires detailed argumentation

and analysis. Whether the same is illegal de jure, or is allowable,

or depends on the facts and circumstances of each case taking

into account the impact on the principle of free, fair and pure

Civil Appeals arising out of SLP (C) Nos. 10733-734 of 2019 Page 9 of 11
elections is a question where we find the reasoning of the High

Court somewhat lacking.

15. That said, during the course of the hearing before us, learned

senior counsel appearing for the appellant had suggested on the

first day of hearing that the Motion against the first respondent

may be put to revote or fresh voting. Accordingly, we directed

learned senior counsel for the first respondent to obtain

instructions regarding the same, for which the case was

adjourned. It was stated on the next date of hearing, that the

suggestion was acceptable on a fresh motion of no confidence

being moved. The Petitioners objected to the necessity to file a

fresh motion, as this would imply that the Motion dated 1 st October

2018, which was put to vote on 25 th October 2018, would have to

be treated as rejected notwithstanding that forty-eight members

out of fifty-one members present, that is, almost 95% of the

members present had voted in support of the Motion. At the same

time, counsel for the first respondent had asserted that the first

respondent enjoys support of the Zila Panchayat and is, therefore,

confident that any motion of no confidence moved would be

defeated.

16. In the light of the above, we feel that ends of justice will be met if

the Motion dated 1st October 2018 is put to revote at a meeting of
Civil Appeals arising out of SLP (C) Nos. 10733-734 of 2019 Page 10 of 11
the Zila Panchayat by way of secret ballot with the District Judge,

Allahabad himself or his nominee Additional District Judge,

Allahabad, acting as the Presiding Officer on a date and time to be

fixed by the District Judge, which shall not be later than two

months from today. This would, in our opinion, be a just and fair

direction in the factual matrix of the present case given the

respective contentions and stand of the parties.

17. The appeals are accordingly disposed of in the above terms,

leaving the question of law open. No order as to costs.

………………………………..J.

(N.V. RAMANA)

………………………………..J.

(SANJIV KHANNA)

………………………………..J.

(KRISHNA MURARI)
NEW DELHI;

JUNE 19, 2020.

Civil Appeals arising out of SLP (C) Nos. 10733-734 of 2019 Page 11 of 11



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