Mumbai: Observing that the Constitution of India is paramount and above all authorities in the country, the Bombay High Court recently quashed orders of the Maharashtra government by which it postponed the general elections of the District Central Cooperative (DCC) banks, village level agricultural credit cooperative societies and sugar factories. HC held the orders to be illegal and unconstitutional.
A bench of Justices Sanjay Gangapurwala and Shrikant Kulkarni struck down the orders passed in January 2020 deferring the elections.
The government relied on the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies (MCS) Act that empowers it to defer elections to any or all cooperative societies. But the same is permissible only when there is drought, scarcity, flood, fire, any natural calamity, rainy season, conflicting dates with election programme of state or parliament elections, or local authority polls.
The government in its orders cited the state-wide implementation of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Shetkari Karjamukti Yojna, 2019 as a reason for postponing the polls. It argued that most of its officials would be busy in implementing this scheme and thus deferred the polls for a period of three months. It also argued that the MCS act grants enough powers for the state to take decisions.
Trashing its claims, the bench led by Justice Gangapurwala said, "The Constitution is supreme, the paramount law of the land and there is no authority, no department or branch of the state, which is above or beyond it or has powers unfettered and unrestricted by the Constitution."
"Every organ of the state, even the executive has to act within the limits of such authority. The parliament and the legislature, derives its authority from the Constitution and it has to act within the limits of such authority," the judges added.
The bench further noted that the MCS act allows deferring of polls only in specific conditions like drought, floods, natural calamity or other elections.
"But the government has has assigned the implementation of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Shetkari Karjamukti Yojna 2019 as a reason for the postponing of polls," the bench noted.
"Certainly, the said reason is not covered under the MCS act. At present, there is no drought-like situation in the Maharashtra and also there is no scarcity, no flood, disaster, fire, any natural calamity, which may conflict the dates of election programme. There are no state or parliament elections ahead in the state. As such the decision is not in consonance with MCS act," the judges held.
The bench further said that the government has "sufficient" manpower to conduct the elections even sparing the officials for implementation of the scheme.
The bench accordingly ruled that the decision to defer the polls do not conform with the constitutional mandate which provides for timely elections to ensure no board member remain in office beyond the entitled tenure.