Mumbai: In a significant ruling, the Bombay High Court has held that no government department can refuse to perform ‘election duties’ citing shortage of staff. The HC pronounced the ruling while upholding the decision of the Election Commission of India ordering workers of the India Post department to perform poll duties for the forthcoming assembly election. A bench of Justices Satyaranjan Dharmadhikari and Gautam Patel was moved by the postmaster general through the senior superintendent of post offices, Mumbai north-west division, Kandivli (E). He challenged the letters issued by the electoral officer to the sub-postmasters of Borivli, Kandivli and other western suburbs of the city calling them to perform election duty. The department of post claimed that of the sanctioned strength of 1,521, the north-west division is working with just 768 available staff as on day.
Having considered the contentions, Justice Dharmadhikari said, “The fact that the department has a shortfall does not mean that the communication from the Election Commission or the mandate of the law can be allowed to be defeated or frustrated. More so, when the powers of the Election Commission are not questioned nor the provisions themselves are challenged.”
“We hold that the Election Commission of India has acted within the four corners of its powers in seeking services of the postal staff. It is not as if the staff would be unable to perform their services in the postal department or at the concerned post offices,” Justice Dharmadhikari added. The judges further noted that the postal staff would be away from their work only for some time, owing to the training session. “It is ultimately for the postal department to manage its affairs. The training session and the election duties can both be attended and performed together with the existing work and functions by mutual adjustments,” Justice Dharmadhikari said.
The bench accordingly ordered the Chief Electoral Officer to consider the requests, if any, made by the postal staff, to adjust the timings of the training session and also assign duties so as not to cause inconvenience, particularly to female employees. “We do not think that any such arrangements that are carved out to sub-serve the larger public interest, and particularly to help the Election Commission of India to conduct the elections to the Legislative Assembly freely, fairly and smoothly, call for interference of this court. Even otherwise, we do not find anything in the grounds of this petition which would enable us to hold that the Election Commission has acted beyond the powers conferred on it by the Constitution of India,” Justice Dharmadhikari said while dismissing the petition.