1. The facts giving rise to this petition are briefly these. The general elections for electing councillors of the Poona Municipal Corporation are to be held on 23rd September 1962. The last date for filing nomination papers was 3ist August 1962, 5th September 1962 was fixed as the date for scrutiny of nomination papers. The petitioner and opponent No. 2 had filed nomination papers from Ward No. 4. Opponent No. 2 submitted three nomination papers Nos. 32, 33 and 34. These nomination papers did not bear his signature. An objection was, therefore, raised that as opponent No. 2 had not signed the nomination papers, as required by Clause (c) in Sub-rule (2) of Rule 9 of the Election Rules contained in the Schedule Jo the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporations Act, the nomination papers were invalid. The Municipal Commissioner, who is the Returning Officer, heard all the parties and thereafter overruled the objection. In his opinion two points arose for consideration:
(1) Whether willingness of the candidate to accept the nomination must be signified by his signature only and in no other manner.
(2) If signature is not obligatory and a candidate may express his willingness in some other manner, whether Shri Mithapalli has clearly expressed his willingness to accept the nomination. On the first point the Municipal Commissioner took the view that the signature of the candidate is required for the purpose of knowing whether he is willing to accept the nomination, that although it is advisable that the candidate's willingness should be signified by signature, it would be adequate if the purpose is fulfilled in some other manner and that consequently the mere absence of the signature of the candidate would not by itself invalidate the nomination, if the candidate has signified his willingness unambiguously in some other manner. On the second point the Municipal Commissioner took into consideration the facts that opponent No. 2 had himself obtained three blank nomination papers from the Municipal Commissioner and had personally signed on the counterfoils for having received the blank forms, that he himself had paid the deposit of Rs. 100 on 31st August 1962 as required by Election Rule No. 10, that the receipt for this amount had been issued in his name and that opponent No. 2 had personally handed over three nomination papers to the Municipal Commissioner. In his opinion these facts clearly indicated that he was not only willing, but even anxious to accept the nomination and to stand for the election. The Municipal Commissioner, therefore, held the nomination of opponent No. 2 to be valid. The order passed by him is being challenged before us in this petition.
2. In order to consider the various arguments which have been advanced before us, it is necessary to refer to the relevant provisions of the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporations Act and the Rules. Section 14 of the Act states that elections of councillors shall be held in accordance with the rules. Sub-section (1) of Section 16, in so fat as it is material, provides that if the validity of any election is questioned, whether by reason of the improper rejection by the Commissioner of a nomination ......... any person enrolled in the municipal election roll may, at any time within, ten days after the result of the election has been declared, submit an application to the Judge for the determination of the question. One of the grounds on which the election may, therefore, be questioned is that the Commissioner had improperly rejected a nomination paper- or nomination papers. Section 403 lays down the procedure, which is to be followed in an election inquiry Sub-section (3), in so far as it is material, states , that if, after making such inquiry as he deems necessary, the Judge finds that ......... the result of the election has been materially affected by the improper acceptance or rejection of any nomination or by reason of the fact that any person nominated was not qualified or was disqualified for election ............ he shall declare the election of the returned candidate to be void and if he does not so find he shall confirm the election of the returned candidate. An election may therefore be set aside, if the Judge hearing the election petition finds that the result of the election has been materially affected by the improper acceptance or rejection of any nomination. Sub-section (6) of this section states that the Judge's order under this section shall be conclusive. Sub-section (7) provides that every election not called in question in accordance with the foregoing provisions shall be deemed to have been to all intents a good and valid election. Section 453 provides that the rules in the Schedule as amended from time to time shall be deemed to be part of this Act. The election rules, under which the election of the councillors is to be held, are contained in Chapter 1 of the Schedule to the Act. The material rule is Rule 9, Sub-rule (1) of this rule provides that candidates for election at award election must be duly nominated in writing in accordance with the provisions thereinafter contained. Sub-rule (2) states that with respect to such nominations, Subject to Sub-rule (3), the following provisions shall have effect, viz:
(a) nomination papers shall be in Form A;
..... (c) each nomination, paper must state the name, abode and description of the candidate in full, and be subscribed by two persons entitled to vote at the election as proposer and seconder and must bear the signature of the person nominated in token of his willingness, to be so nominated;
(d) every nomination paper subscribed and signed as aforesaid must be delivered at the Commissioner's office before five O'clock in the afternoon of the day fixed for the nomination of candidates;
..... (h) if any person nominated -
(i) is not enrolled in the municipal election roll as voter of a ward,
(ii) has not made or caused to be made the deposit referred to in Sub-rule (1) of Rule 10, or
(iii) is disqualified under any provision of this Act for being a councillor, the Commissioner shall declare such person's nomination invalid.
Clauses (i), (j), (k) and (l) provide for certain contingencies. Clauses (i) states that if there is no valid nomination, it shall be deemed that no council has been elected and proceedings for filling the vacancy or vacancies shall be taken under Section 18, Clause (j) lays down what Is to happen when the number of valid nominations is less than that of the vacancies. Clause (k) states that if the number of valid nominations is the same as that of the vacancies, the persons nominated shall be deemed to be elected. Clause (l) lays down that if the number of valid nominations exceeds that of the vacancies, the election of councillors shall be made from among the persons nominated.
3. Mr. Kotwal, who appears on behalf of opponent No. 2, has first urged that we should not Interfere at this stage. The election is still to be held. It will be open to the petitioner to challenge the election on the ground that the nomination papers of opponent No. 2 had been wrongly accepted. The petitioner is therefore not without an alternative remedy. Mr. Kotwal has therefore contended that as the petitioner can urge the same grounds, on which he has questioned the action of the returning officer in accepting the nomination papers of opponent No. 2, in an election petition, we should not at this stage exercise our powers under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution. He has relied on the decision of this Court in Shankar Nanasaheb v. Returning Officer, Kolaba : AIR1952Bom277 . That was, however, a case of an election to the Bombay Legislative Assembly. In view of Article 329(b) of the Constitution it was held that the only way any matter relating to or in connection with such an election can be called in question is by an election petition and that consequently this Court could not issue a writ under Article 226 of the Constitution, in order to correct the decision of the returning officer before the election was held. In this case, therefore, the jurisdiction of this Court was held to have been taken away by Article 329 of the Constitution. That is not the position in the case before us. Mr. Kotwal has also relied on the decision of the Supreme Court in N. P. Pounuswami v. Returning Officer, Namakkal Constituency : 1SCR218 . One of the conclusions arrived at by Fazl Ali J. has been summed up in the judgment in the following words at p. 234:
'In conformity with this principle, the scheme of the election law in this country as well as in England is that no significance should be attached, to anything which does not affect the 'election'; and if any irregularities are committed while it is in progress and they belong to the category or class which, under the law by which elections are governed, would have the effect of vitiating the 'election' and enable the person affected to call it in question, they should be brought up before a special tribunal by means of an election petition and not be made the subject of a dispute before any court while the election is in progress'.
On the basis of these observations, it has been urged that no relief should be granted to the petitioner at the present stage but that he should be directed to seek his remedy later on by an election petition. The decision in Ponnuswami's case : 1SCR218 has been considered by the Calcutta High Court in Narendra Nath v. Bally Municipality, : AIR1962Cal53 . As pointed out by the Calcutta High Court, the case before the Supreme Court was one under the Representation of the People Act, which had to be decided in the light of Article 329 of the Constitution, under which no election can be called in question except by an election petition presented after the election is over. After giving due weight to the observations made by the Supreme Court, the Calcutta High Court has held that the High Court has jurisdiction to and may, interfere, even at the pre-election stage, if it finds that a candidate's nomination paper for a municipal election had been improperly rejected.
4. Mr. Kotwal has also urged that we should not take any action at this stage, because if an election petition is subsequently filed, the Judge inquiring into the petition might take a different view and thereby set at naught the order made by this Court. There does not appear to be much force in this argument. The Judge hearing the election petition will be subject to the superintendence of this High Court under Article 227 of the Constitution. He will therefore be bound to follow the law as laid down by this Court.
5. Shankar Nanasaheb's case, : AIR1952Bom277 was decided on 4th December 1961. Since then numerous cases have come before this Court, in which this Court has interfered at the pre-polling stage or before the election took place. It seems to us that it would not be right or proper to lay down any hard and fast rule in this matter. In Narayan Bhaskar Khare v. Election Commission of India : 1SCR1081 it has been stated that 'the well-recognised principle of election law, Indian and English, is that election should not be held up and that the person aggrieved should not be permitted to ventilate his individual interest in derogation of the general interest of the people, which requires that elections should be gone through according to the time schedule'. Ordinarily the High Court should not therefore stay an election or pass any order which will result in the election being postponed. Where, however, the matter is brought before the High Court sufficiently in advance, where the matter can be heard and disposed off before the polling is due to take place and where there is an error apparent on the face of the record, we see no reason why this Court should not correct that error. For instance, if a returning officer rejects a nomination on wholly inadequate grounds, it would save public time and money, as well as expense, inconvenience and hardship to the parties, if the returning officer's action is corrected before the election takes place. In our opinion, therefore, relief should not be refused merely because the petitioner can pursue another remedy by filing an election petition after the election is held. Each case should be considered on its own facts and where without staying or postponing the election it is possible to put matters right before the election takes place, it may in appropriate cases be desirable to do so.
6. The next argument of Mr. Kotwal is that the Municipal Commissioner has no power to scrutinise nomination papers or to reject any nominations, except on the grounds specified in Clause (h) in Sub-rule (2) of Rule 9. He has pointed out that there is no provision either in Rule 9 or in any other rule giving power to the Municipal Commissioner to scrutinise nomination papers. Also apart from Clause (h) there is no other provision empowering the Commissioner to reject nomination papers. Rule 7 empowers the Commissioner to fix the days on which the nomination papers may be filed. There is no similar provision empowering the Commissioner to fix a day for scrutiny of nomination papers. It has, therefore, been urged that the Commissioner has no power to reject a nomination paper, except on the grounds mentioned in Clause (h) in Sub-rule (2) of Rule 9. Sub-clauses (ii) and (iii) of clause (h) will apply, even in cases in which the candidate is duly nominated. Sub-rule (i) of Rule 9 states that candidates must be duly nominated in accordance with the provisions of this rule. If, therefore, a candidate is not nominated in accordance with the rules, he cannot be said to have been duly nominated and his nomination will not be valid. For instance, if a candidate is only proposed but not seconded, it will not be possible to hold that his nomination is valid. A nomination may therefore be invalid on grounds other than those mentioned in Clause (h). Consequently there is no force in the argument that a nomination paper can be held to be invalid or rejected only on the grounds mentioned in Clause (h).
7. Clauses (i), (j), (k) and (l) in Sub-rule (2) of Rule 9 refer to valid nominations, and lay down the procedure, which is to be followed when there are valid nominations. These clauses, therefore, contemplate a decision by some authority as to which nomination papers are valid. Sub-section (1) of Section 16 states that the validity of an election may be questioned by reason of the improper rejection by the Commissioner of a nomination. This section read with Clauses (i), (j), (k) and (l) in Sub-rule (2) of Rule 9, therefore, clearly implies a power in the Commissioner to scrutinise and reject a nomination paper. The Commissioner may therefore reject a nomination paper not only on the grounds specified in Clause (h), but also on other grounds.
8. Mr. Kotwal has further urged that even assuming that it was the duty of the Commissioner to scrutinise the nomination papers, he has already performed that duty. It may be that his decision is wrong. But while exercising its powers under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution, the High Court does not act as a Court of appeal. Mr. Kotwal has urged that as the Commissioner has already decided the matter, we cannot ask him to substitute our decision for his. In support of this contention he has relied on the observations of Chagla C. J. in Shankar Nanasaheb's case : AIR1952Bom277 : --
'This is not a case where the returning officer has refused to decide the objections raised to the nomination. He has decided as he is bound to do under the siatute. The objection taken is in substance that his decision is erroneous and that he should have decided not in the manner that he has done but in favour of the petitioner. Therefore, what the Court is called upon to do on this petition for a writ of mandamus is to do something which the public officer under the statute has to do, viz. to take away the decision from the returning officer, put itself in the position of the returning officer, give a decision on the objection, and direct the returning officer to give effect not to his own decision but to the decision of the Court. In our opinion this is not the function of a writ of mandamus. A petition for mandamus does not constitute the Court which issues the writ a Court of appeal from the decision of the public officer against whom the writ is intended to be directed.'
These observations must be read in the context of the facts of the case, which as I have pointed out was the case of an election to the Bombay Legislative Assembly, to which Article 329 of the Constitution applied. Mr. Kotwal also referred to the observations of Mudholkar J. in Phoolchand v. Nagpur University, : AIR1957Bom215 : --
'If we were to interfere with the matter which obviously is within the competence of the Chancellor, we would be encroaching upon the powers of an authority created by statute.'
9. It is true that the High Court, while exercising its powers under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution, does not act as a Court of appeal. But we do not read the above observations of Chagla C. J. which were made in regard to a writ of mandamus and of Mudholkar J. as laying down that this Court has no jurisdiction to correct the decision of a returning officer, even when it is patently wrong. The powers of this Court under Articles 226 and 227 are very wide and it is open to this Court to set aside in appropriate cases the order of an officer, which is contrary to or not in accordance with law. It is hardly necessary to point out that the High Court's power under Article 226 is not restricted to the writs specifically referred to in this article, but the High Court has also power to issue to any person or authority directions, orders or other writs for the enforcement of any of the fundamental rights and for any other purpose. The question whether the power should be exercised in any particular case must be decided having regard to the facts and circumstances of that case.
10. That takes us to the principal question, which has been argued before us, and that is whether the failure of a candidate to sign a nomination paper makes his nomination invalid. Sub-rule (1) of rule 9 lays down that a candidate must be duly nominated in accordance with, the provisions of this rule. If, therefore, the provisions of this rule are not followed, the candidate cannot be said to have been duly nominated. Clause (a) in Sub-rule (2) of rule 9 provides that the nomination papers shall be in Form A. This Form A provides for a declaration being made by the candidate in the following words : 'I hereby declare that I agree to this nomination.' The Form also provides for the candidate signing below this declaration. Clause (c) in Sub-rule (2) requires that the nomination paper must bear the signature of the person nominated, in token of his willingness to be so nominated. Clause (d) also states that a nomination paper, which is signed as aforesaid, must be delivered at the Commissioner's office. If these two Clauses (c) and (d) are read along with Form A, it will be clear that the rules require that the candidate should himself sign a declaration in the nomination paper itself that he agrees to his nomination. The object of these provisions no doubt is to prevent persons from being nominated, who are not willing to stand for the election. These provisions, therefore, require that every candidate must signify his willingness to be nominated. This willingness is to be expressed by signing below the declaration in Form A. The signature is therefore not a technical or unsubstantial requirement. It is an essential requirement of the rules that the candidate should himself sign the nomination paper, in which his name is proposed as a candidate. If, therefore, a candidate fails to sign his nomination paper, his nomination cannot be said to have been made in accordance with the provisions of rule 9. An essential requirement of this rule not having been fulfilled, the defect will be of a substantial character and the nomination will be invalid.
11. It was suggested, and this is the view which the Commissioner has taken, that the word 'must' in Clause (c) in Sub-rule (2) of Rule 9 must be read as 'may'. Even if this is done, it will not make any difference in the present case. The practical bearing of the distinction between a provision which is mandatory and one which is directory is that while the former must be strictly observed, in the case of the I latter it is sufficient that it is substantially complied with, see Hari Vishnu Kamath v. Ahmad Ishaque, : 1SCR1104 . In the present case, however, the nomination papers do not bear the signature of opponent No. 1. This is, therefore, a case of non-compliance with the rule.
12. Mr. Kotwal has contended that the purpose underlying the requirement about signature of the candidate is that the returning officer must be satisfied that the candidate is willing to be nominated. If, therefore, there are other circumstances and other evidence, from which the returning officer can be satisfied that the person nominated was willing to stand for election, the purpose of the rule can be said to have been achieved. In that case, according to Mr. Kotwal, the defect will not be of a substantial character. Signature being one of the means, by which a candidate may signify his willingness, it is open to him to indicate it in some other way. These arguments overlook the provisions of Clause (c) in Sub-rule (2) of rule 9 that the willingness of the candidate must be expressed by his signing the declaration in Form A that he agrees to his nomination. Where, therefore, a nomination paper does not bear the signature of the candidate, there is failure to comply with the provisions of the rules in an important matter. Absence of the candidate's signature will consequently be fatal to the validity of the nomination and the defect cannot be cured by satisfying the returning officer in some other way that the candidate was willing to stand for election.
13. The authority nearest to the facts of the present case is Brijendralal v. Jwalaprasad, : 3SCR650 . In that case the nomination paper of a candidate for election to the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly had been rejected, as he had omitted to mention his age in his nomination paper, as required by the prescribed form. Article 173 of the Constitution provides that a person shall not be qualified to be chosen to fill a seat in the Legislative Assembly of a State, unless he is not less than 25 years of age. It was held that as the prima facie eligibility of a person to stand as a candidate depended upon his having completed the age of 25 years, it was in respect of an important matter that the prescribed form required the candidate to make a declaration, that the failure to specify the age was a defect of a substantial character, and that the nomination paper had therefore been properly rejected. The electoral roll showed the age of the candidate as 48. It was argued before the Supreme Court that the returning officer should not be astute to reject a nomination paper on technical grounds and that he should have looked at the electoral roll and satisfied himself that the candidate was duly qualified to stand for the election. This argument was rejected by the Supreme Court. It was observed that where the nomination paper has not been completed as required by the Act 'the only point to consider' is 'whether the defects in question are substantial or not' and that where the defect is of a substantial character, there is no occasion for the returning officer to hold an inquiry.
14. Mr. Kotwal has contended that as in the above case an objective fact, viz., the age of the candidate had to be determined, the form prescribed required that the candidate should make a declaration about it in the nomination form. No such objective fact has to be determined, when the question is whether the candidate was willing to be nominated. Mr. Kotwal has therefore tried to distinguish this declaration of the Supreme Court. We are, however, unable to appreciate how any such distinction can be drawn. In the case before the Supreme Court a declaration had to be made by the candidate in regard to his age, so that it could be determined whether he was qualified to stand for election. In the present case the candidate opponent No. 2 had to make a declaration under his signature for the purpose of indicating whether he was willing to stand for the election. Both cases, therefore, stand on the same footing. The reasoning underlying the decision in Brijendralal Gupta's case : 3SCR650 , will therefore also apply in the present case.
15. Mr. Kotwal referred to the decision of the Supreme Court in Ratan Anmol Singh v. Atma Ram : 1SCR481 . Section 33(1) of the Representation of the People Act provided that each nomination paper should be subscribed by a proposer and a seconder. Rule 2 of the rules stated that a person, who was unable to write his name, shall be deemed to have signed an instrument, if he had placed a mark on such instrument in the presence of the returning officer and such officer on being satisfied as to its identity had attested the mark as being the mark of such person. The Supreme Court held that where the thumb marks of the proposer and the seconder had not been attested by the returning officer in the prescribed manner, the nomination paper was invalid. Mr. Kotwal has relied on the following observations at p. 488 (of SCR) : (at p. 513 of AIR):--
'When the law enjoins the observance of a particular formality it cannot be disregarded and the substance of the thing must be there. The substance of the matter here is the satisfaction of the returning officer at a particular moment of time about the identity of the person making a mark in place of writing a signature.'
Relying on these observations Mr. Kotwal has contended that the substance of the matter in the present case is the satisfaction of the returning officer in regard to opponent No. 2's willingness to be nominated. We do not think that Mr. Kotwal is right on this point. The above observations must be read in the context of Rule 2, which requires the returning officer to be satisfied as to the identity of the persons, who had made their thumb marks. That is not the position in the present case. Rule 9 does not provide for the satisfaction of the returning officer. It requires that the assent of the candidate to his nomination must be indicated by his signature on the nomination form. As the law enjoins the observance of this particular formality, it cannot be disregarded.
16. The next case referred to by Mr. Kotwal is Durga Shankar v. Raghuraj Singh, : 1SCR267 . In that case the validity of the election of respondent No. 2 was challenged on the ground that he was not eligible to stand for the election, since at all material times he was under 25 years of age. No objection to the nomination was taken before the returning officer and the nomination paper had been accepted by the returning officer. The question, which was raised before the Supreme Court, was whether the acceptance of respondent No. 2's nomination paper could be said to be improper. It was held that as the candidate appeared, to be properly qualified on the face of the electoral roll and the nomination paper and no objection had been raised to the nomination, the returning officer had no other alternative but to accept the nomination. It was observed that if the want of qualification of the candidate does cot appear on the face of the nomination paper or the electoral roll, but is a matter which could be established only by evidence, an inquiry at the stage of scrutiny of the nomination papers is required under the Act only if there is any objection to the nomination. Mr. Kotwal has urged that the returning officer is therefore entitled to hold an inquiry and take other evidence in order to decide the objection raised before him. This, however, would depend upon the nature of the objection. If the objection is that the nomination had not been made as required by law, then as pointed out in Brijendralal's case. : 3SCR650 'the defective nomination: falls to be accepted or rejected according as the defect is of a substantial or unsubstantial character'. In such a case there is no occasion for an inquiry. If, on the other hand, the objection is that on account of his age or for some other reason, the candidate is disqualified from standing for election, a matter which cannot be decided by merely looking at the nomination paper, it may be necessary for the returning officer to hold an inquiry and to take other evidence.
17. Pratap Singh v. Krishna Gupta : 2SCR1029 , was a case under the C. P. and Berar Municipalities Act of 1922, Section 23 of which provided that anything done or any proceeding taken under the said Act shall not be questioned on account of any defect or irregularity not affecting the merits of the case. The validity of the nomination was challenged on the ground that the candidate had failed to mention his occupation as required by Rule 9. It was held that the Rule 9 must be read in the light of Section 23 and that the defect was not material, as it did not affect the merits of the case. The Supreme Court observed that the Courts should not adopt a technical attitude in dealing with election matters and that it is the substance that must count and take precedence over mere form. These observations have been referred to in Brijendralal's case : 3SCR650 , in which it has been stated that in appreciating the effect of these observations the facts of the case then before the Supreme Court should be borne in mind. Consequently these observations cannot be relied upon in support of the argument that a nomination paper should not be rejected, even when an essential requirement of the rules has not been complied with.
18. Mr. Kotwal next referred to Rosamma v. Balakrishna Nair : AIR1958Ker154 . In that case the candidate had filed two nomination papers but the electoral roll numbers of the proposers had not been correctly mentioned therein. The defect was held not to be a substantial, one. It was observed that the purpose of the requirement that the electoral number of the proposer should be mentioned in the nomination paper was to enable the returning officer to satisfy himself that the proposer was an elector of the constituency. There was no doubt as to the eligibility of either of the two proposers and as the returning officer was able to satisfy himself by reference to the correct part of the roll that both the proposers were in fact electors of the constituency, the nomination was held to be valid. This case is clearly distinguishable from the one before us, in which there has been no compliance with an important provision of the rules.
19. The last case on which Mr. Kotwal relied is Ramayan v. Rajendra Prasad Singh : AIR1959Pat419 . In that case the nomination papers did not give 'sufficient description of the portion of the electoral roll in which the proposer's name and the candidate's name were entered so as to enable, the returning officer to locate those entries.' It was held that the omission of these particulars constituted a defect of a substantial character and that the returning officer had rightly rejected the nomination papers. At p. 422 it was observed 'An omission which tends to defeat the purpose behind the provision requiring these particulars to be given must, therefore, be held to be material; but the degree of importance will he different in different circumstances.' We do not see how these observations can help Mr. Kotwal. If at all, they are against him. The purpose for the requirement of a candidate's signature is to ascertain whether he was willing to be nominated. An omission, which tends to defeat this purpose, will therefore be material according to the above decision.
20. We are accordingly of the opinion that the omission on the part of opponent No. 2 to sign the nomination papers, in token of his willingness to be nominated, rendered his nomination invalid. The Municipal Commissioner was, therefore, wrong in accepting his nomination papers. We therefore set aside the order passed by the Municipal Commissioner accepting the nomination papers of opponent No. 2.
21. No order as to costs.
22. Petition allowed.