Bombay HC Stays ECI Order Requisitioning Officers & Staff Of Charity Commission For Election Duty

Bombay HC Stays ECI Order Requisitioning Officers & Staff Of Charity Commission For Election Duty

The court was hearing two petitions, one by the Charity Commissioner (CC) and the other by Mumbai Charity Advocates Bar Association, challenging various circulars and orders that requisitioned the commission’s staff for forthcoming parliamentary election duty with a warning of criminal action for noncompliance

Urvi MahajaniUpdated: Saturday, March 02, 2024, 09:14 AM IST
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Bombay HC | File

The Bombay High Court on Friday stayed the order passed by the Election Commission of India (ECI) requisitioning officers and staff of the Charity Commission for election duty. Considering the “duty performed by the office of the Charity Commission, which are judicial in nature, we provide that till the next date of listing of the petitions, any order passed or notice issued requisitioning staff of the charity commissioner shall not be acted upon”’ a bench of Chief Justice DK Upadhyaya and Justice Arif Doctor said.

The court was hearing two petitions, one by the Charity Commissioner (CC) and the other by Mumbai Charity Advocates Bar Association, challenging various circulars and orders that requisitioned the commission’s staff for forthcoming parliamentary election duty with a warning of criminal action for noncompliance. The staff includes five judicial clerks assigned with daily quasi-judicial proceedings before the CC and Joint CC.

Bench seeks more information from ECI

The bench has also asked the ECI to show if it undertook any exercise before passing orders requisitioning persons for election duty. The direction was issued after the advocate for the bar association pointed out that most of the time when it’s staff is called for duty, they do not have much work to do. “My staff goes there, has a cup of tea and comes back,” advocate RD Soni said.

It was pointed out to the court that the orders were passed by electoral registration officer/ collector requisitioning officers for discharging duties relating to conduct to ensuing parliamentary elections. The bench noted that as per the provisions of the The Representation of the People Act, 1951, only the regional commissioner or chief electoral officer of the state, who is empowered to requisition such staff as may be necessary, is entitled to requisition staff for election duty.

ECI's advocate's argument

ECI's advocate Pradeep Rajgopal, however, emphasised that under section 159 of the People’s Act, it has powers to requisition staff which is working under the state or the central government. The provision states that ECI can requisition any staff of any institution, concern or undertaking which is established by Centre of State and is controlled or financed by government.

The chief justice said he was not questioning the ECI’s authority to requisition staff, but emphasised that the order bas to necessarily be made by authority empowered to do so. Agreeing with the petitioners that the functioning of the charity commission will come to a halt, the bench said this would in fact hamper rights of the general public. The HC has kept the matter for further hearing on March 5.

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