26 Aug 2023 3:30 AM GMT
Upholding the democratic rights of teachers, the Meghalaya High Court has struck down the executive guidelines introduced by the State government in 2021, which prohibited teachers from engaging in political activities and contesting elections.A division bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice W. Deingdoh observed,“Again, as this great nation was also conceived in liberty...
Upholding the democratic rights of teachers, the Meghalaya High Court has struck down the executive guidelines introduced by the State government in 2021, which prohibited teachers from engaging in political activities and contesting elections.
A division bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice W. Deingdoh observed,
“Again, as this great nation was also conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal, the right of a State government to interdict a citizen’s right to contest the election to any legislative or public body or office in a political party by making a vanishing distinction between a position and a person must be guarded against.”
The case revolved around the amendment brought about by the State government to the executive guidelines governing government-aided educational institutions. These guidelines, though not backed by any specific law, carried weight as institutions seeking financial aid were required to adhere to them. The amendment in question barred teachers from offering themselves as candidates for elections to legislative bodies or holding positions in political organizations and was accordingly challenged by several assistant professors in government-aided colleges.
The writ court perceived the prayer before it to be for restoration of the old provisions so as to allow the writ petitioners to engage in political activities and contest in elections to legislative and public bodies as well as to posts in political organisations and allowed the writ petition.
Aggrieved by the same the State preferred this appeal and asserted that the entire discussion in the impugned judgment was not germane to the legal issue that presented itself. The challenge in the writ petition was to the amendment and not to the original provisions as they stood, the state argued.
What ought to have been considered by the writ court was whether the government had the authority to regulate the conduct of teachers in government-aided private colleges and the writ court completely failed to recognise such aspect of the matter or the effect of the impugned amendment, the appellants contended.
Adjudicating upon the matter the court observed that while it might be technically possible for teachers to resign from their positions to contest elections, this approach was impractical due to the challenges associated with securing employment, particularly in the education sector. The court noted that the disqualification imposed by the amendment was too severe and could effectively force teachers to sacrifice their livelihoods.
The court added that while the State's argument holds that teachers in government-aided colleges can resign to avoid the imposed condition, a constitutional court must be aware of the challenging employment landscape, particularly in the modestly compensated education sector.
"Technically, the State is right in asserting that the concerned teacher in a government-aided private college may resign and the condition imposed by the executive guidelines would no longer apply to him or her. In reality, however, a constitutional court must be conscious of how difficult it is to get employment and, that too, in the poorly-paid education sector. If a middle-aged career lecturer or professor has to quit his hard-earned job to pursue his right to contest the election to a legislative or public body or to an office of a political organisation, he virtually signs a death warrant for himself and his dependants. For, if he loses, there is no coming back; and, he may be too old to be eligible to obtain a new position."
Delving into the essence of democracy, quoting Abraham Lincoln that a government should be "of the people, by the people, for the people," the bench highlighted that the right to participate in the electoral process is a fundamental aspect of a democratic society and stressed that while restrictions on such rights might be imposed, they must be done so through proper legal channels.
"Both the principles of “of the people” and “by the people” encompass the wider concept of the right to participate in the formation of government by both having a right to vote and a right to contest in the larger sense of word that the concept of democracy conveys. Doubtless, such rights may be curtailed; but that must be under due authority of law”, the court underscored.
Dealing with the argument of the state that the disqualification only applied to the post, and teachers were free to leave their positions to engage in political activities, the bench said
“As to the distinction sought to be made by the State between the disqualification applying to a post and such disqualification not applying to any person, it may only be said that in the constitutional scheme of things, it is only Parliament which has the authority in such regard. And, if the State has no authority to prescribe any ground for disqualification under any law, it can scarcely do so by an executive fiat”.
As such, the bench concluded that the amendment introduced by the State government exceeded its authority and was unreasonably restrictive and accordingly quashed the amendment and restored the previous guidelines, allowing teachers to participate in political activities and contest elections without being subjected to onerous conditions.
Case Title: State of Meghalaya Vs. Brightstarwell Marbaniang & Ors
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Meg) 31
Click Here To Read/Download Judgment