The Bombay High Court has held that the People's Representation Act, 1950, does not empower the Election Commission (EC) or any of its officers to requisition the services of teaching and non-teaching staff in private aided schools for election duty.
A division bench of Justice AS Oka and Justice MS Sanklecha was hearing a writ petition filed by two schools out of Goregaon, Mumbai. The petitioners challenged three orders passed by the Assistant Electoral Registration Officer requisitioning the services of their non-teaching staff for election duty.
The petitioners had sought a declaration that officers have no power to requisition the staff of private aided schools under Section 29 of the Representation of the Peoples Act.
Besides, a declaration under Section 159 of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951 (1951 Act), that Respondent Nos. 1 to 8 being the Election Commission of India and its officers have no power to requisition for an indefinite and unspecified period, the staff of the schools run by the petitioners.
The court looked at Section 29 of the People's Representation Act, 1950: "A bare reading of the above Section 29 of the 1950 Act, would clearly indicate that the Chief Electoral Officer can exercise power under the above Section only to requisition staff of a local authority in the State. The local authority has not been defined either under the 1950 Act or the 1951 Act. Therefore, in these circumstances, a reference to the General Clause Act, 1897 is required."
After examining the definition of 'local authority' under the General Clauses Act, the court said: "From the plain reading of the above definition of the local authority, it is clear that a private school aided by the State do not satisfy the meaning of a local authority. Undisputedly, the Petitioners or its schools are not entitled or entrusted by the Government with Control or Management of a municipal or local fund. Thus, the notice issued under Section 29 of the 1950 Act to the Petitioners or its aided school is completely without jurisdiction for requisitioning its staff to assist in the preparation and/or revision of Electoral Rolls."
ECI's counsel Pradeep Rajagopal did not dispute the fact that the three orders that have been challenged were without jurisdiction.
However, State of Maharashtra's counsel Geeta Shahtri and Rajagopal made a statement that the staff (teaching and nonteaching) will be requisitioned only for a definite and specified period, i.e., three days for training and two days at the time of polling. The court accepted the said statement.
Thus, the court allowed the petition on the above terms. The impugned orders passed by the Assistant Electoral Officer were quashed and set aside.
Read the Judgment Here