In a significant ruling, a full bench of the Bombay High Court, on Wednesday, held that a candidate, whose nomination has been rejected by a returning officer, irrespective of the reasoning, s/he cannot challenge the same before elections. The HC ruled that such candidates can dispute the election of a winning candidate, citing the rejection of their nomination forms, only after the polls are conducted and results are declared.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta held, "Allowing a challenge in a writ petition to the rejection of a nomination form to contest an election and granting the relief claimed by setting aside such order of rejection is definitely not a step to sub-serve the progress of election and/or facilitate its completion, though it may not always amount to intervention, obstruction or protraction of the election."
"Whatever be the reason for the rejection of nomination, it's quality - sub-standard or otherwise - is neither material nor relevant when the challenge is laid at an intermediate stage of the election by an intending candidate seeking orders from the court to participate in the election though the returning officer has rejected his nomination," said the bench, which also comprised of Justices Ajay Gadkari and Girish Kulkarni.
The bench was seized with a reference, wherein two coordinate division benches of the HC had given conflicting opinions on whether to allow an intending candidate to challenge the rejection of his or her nomination form before the elections are conducted.
Appearing for the state, Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni argued that the court must allow candidates to challenge their nominations, as sometimes the returning officers abruptly reject nomination forms on very trivial grounds, such as spelling mistakes or mismatch of dates, amongst others.
"The doors of the court under Article 226 of the Constitution, even in the matter of challenge to the rejection of the nomination of the candidates who intend to contest, are required to be kept open. The court should refrain from taking a view that the doors for such proceedings are permanently closed," the advocate general had submitted.
However, having referred to various judgments of the Supreme Court, the bench noted that it is neither a civil right nor the fundamental right of such intending candidates, even to raise a grievance by approaching the HC under relevant provisions of the Constitution of India.
"It has been argued that the Returning Officers either because of ignorance of the relevant laws or because of extraneous considerations reject nomination papers citing reasons which are either absurd or border on Wednesbury unreasonableness and that having regard to the age-old saying that 'a stitch in time saves nine‘, the Court may lay down situations where a writ petition could be entertained even against orders rejecting nomination papers to secure the rights of those who choose to participate in the elections but are deprived of reasons unsustainable in law," the judges noted.
"We do not feel that there is any room for such an argument or for any such consideration. If indeed, the issue is so serious that Returning Officers are inefficient and incapable of discharging the solemn duty entrusted to them, it is for the State Legislature to make appropriate provisions," the judges held.