1. The short point involved in this reference made by the Sessions Judge of Chandrapur is whether sanction under Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure is necessary to prosecute the office-bearers and members of a Municipal Council, established under the Maharashtra Municipalities Act, 1965.
2. Admittedly, Shankar Deshmukh and Sambayya (opponents Nos. 2 and 3) were respectively President and Vice-President of the Municipal Council of Rajura, whereas opponents Nos. 4 to 7 were members when the incident took place on June 9, 1969. It is alleged that they entered the house of complainant Moreshwar (opponent No. 1) along with some labourers on that day and directed the labourers to demolish the complainant's latrine. Accordingly, this was done and a portion of compound wall was also demolished, thereby causing damage to the complainant to the tune of about Rs. 2,000. Describing this act as illegal and unlawful, complainant Moreshwar filed a private complaint against opponents Nos. 2 to 7 before the Judicial Magistrate, First Class, Rajura, for offences under Sections 448 and 427 of the Indian Penal Code, but the learned Magistrate sent this complaint to the police for enquiry and report under Section 202 of the Code of Criminal, Procedure. On receipt of police report, notices were also issued to the accused persons to show cause against the complaint and when they appeared, they raised a preliminary objection through their counsel that being public servants under the Maharashtra Municipalities Act, they could not be prosecuted without sanction of the State Government as required by Section 197(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code. This argument prevailed upon the trial Magistrate, who, therefore, dismissed the complaint of opponent No. 1 Moreshwar under Section 203 of the Criminal Procedure Code, without recording any evidence.
3. The complainant, however, approached the Sessions Court in revision and the learned Sessions Judge of Chandrapur has referred the case to this Court under Section 438 of the Criminal Procedure Code for setting aside the lower Court's order and for directing that Court to make further enquiry into the said complaint, holding that in this case, no sanction of the State Government was necessary because the alleged act of demolition was not committed by the accused persons in the discharge of their public duties. The reference is naturally supported by Mr. Ghare on behalf of complainant Moreshwar (opponent No. 1), besides which, it is also supported by the Assistant Government Pleader Mr. Palshikar who appeared for the State, but it is vehemently opposed by Mr. Ghate on behalf of opponents Nos. 2 to 7 who were accused before the lower Court. There is no dispute on the point that the accused involved in this case were public servants, in view of their capacity as office-bearers and members of the Municipal Council, Rajura. The learned Sessions Judge also admits this position because under Section 302 of the Maharashtra Municipalities Act, every Councillor and every officer or a servant of a Council is to be deemed as a public servant within the meaning of Section 21 of the Indian Penal Code, but the question was whether, in spite of their status as such, they could claim protection under Section .197 of the Criminal Procedure Code, and could not be prosecuted for any offence, without first obtaining the sanction of the State Government,
4. For purposes of Section 197, following three factors are necessary for its application :
1. That the person accused of any offence is a public servant.
2. That he is not removable from the office save by or with the sanction of the State Government or the Central Government (as the case may be),
3. That the offence alleged was committed by him while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duty.
On the first point, there was no dispute, as already stated above, that all the six accused involved in this ease were public servants. This was also held by the learned Sessions Judge but on the second point, he relied upon the Bombay decision in Vishvamohan v. Mahadu : AIR1964Bom191 and concluded that since President and Vice-President of the Municipal Council are also removable from their office by a vote of no confidence, it cannot be said that the State Government alone could remove them and hence they cannot claim protection under Section 197. The question whether sanction was necessary in respect of other accused who were just members of the Municipal Council, was not considered by the learned Sessions Judge and from his discussion, it appears that the provisions of Section 42 of Maharashtra Municipalities Act, 1965, were not brought to his notice. Section 42 deals with removal of Municipal Councillors, and it clearly states that the State Government may on its own motion or on the recommendation of the Council, remove any Councillor from office if such Councillor has been guilty of any misconduct in the discharge of his duties, or of any disgraceful conduct (sub-s. (1)). The State Government may also remove any Councillor from his office if he has become incapable of performing his duties as a Councillor (sub-s. (2)). It would thus appear that under the above quoted provisions of Section 42, it is the State Government who can remove any Councillor from his office, and the same provisions will also apply to the President and Vice-President because even if they are voted down from their status as such, they would still remain as Councillors and therefore removable by the State Government.
5. It was, however, submitted by Mr. Chare that there are some other provisions in the Maharashtra Municipalities Act, 1965 which would show that it is not only the State Government that can remove a Municipal Councillor. In this respect, he referred to the provisions of Sections 44, 45 and 47 but they relate to disqualification, if incurred by any Councillor, in which case, his office shall become vacant, if and when declared by the Collector. At the same time however, it is provided that until the Collector decides that a vacancy has arisen and such decision is communicated to the Councillor concerned who has incurred one of those disqualifications, he shall not be deemed to have ceased to hold office (subs. (3) of Section 44). There is nothing about removal from office in any of these provisions, and therefore, in my opinion, Section 42 alone would be applicable, because it directly relates to the removal of a Councillor, and provides that this can be done only by the State Government, either on its own motion or on the recommendation of the Council. Section 197 also contemplates removal of the public servant who is accused of an offence, for which, sanction is necessary to prosecute him, if he is removable by the State Government or by the Central Government, and if the alleged offence is committed by him while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duties.
6. Mr. Ghare was, however, relying upon the decisions in Vishvamohan v. Mahadu, as followed by the Mysore High Court in The State v. Chikkavenkatappa A.I.R. Mys. 253. In the Bombay decision, Shah J. was interpreting the provisions of Section 23(7) of Bombay District Municipal Act, and found that President and Vice-President of a Municipality, established under that enactment, were removable by two different authorities, one of which was the Municipality itself by a vote of no confidence, and the second was the State Government for misconduct, neglect or incapacity to perform their duties. It was, therefore, held that the President and the Vice-President were not entitled to protection under Section 197 because they were not removable only by the State Government, but also by another authority like the Municipal Committee itself. The question about their status as ordinary members was not discussed in that case, perhaps because this had no relevance and was not therefore raised. In the case before this Court, however, protection is being claimed by the accused persons under the clear provisions of Section 302 read with Section 42 of the Maharashtra Municipalities Act, 1965.
7. In the Mysore case also, the position of President and Vice-President was discussed with reference to the provisions of Mysore Town Municipalities Act, 1951, and therefore, Bombay decision was readily accepted by the single Judge who decided that case. Unfortunately, the learned single Judge who decided Chikhavenkatappa's case in 1965, did not refer to a previous decision of the same High Court in Thimmaiah v. Narasappa A.I.R. Mys. 113. This case was also decided by a single Judge, hut the view taken was entirely different, holding that even under the Mysore Act, President and Vice-President were removable only by the State Government and therefore to prosecute them, sanction of the State Government was necessary. It is an elaborate judgment in which all relevant provisions of Mysore Town Municipalities Act were discussed, and it was found that although some of those provisions related to 'vacation of office' and 'ceasing to hold office' they were different terms as compared to 'removal '', for which the State Government alone had powers and therefore, sanction of the State Government was necessary to prosecute them, because Section 197 also refers to removal. Same appears to be the view taken by Rajasthan High Court in the case of Ladu Ram v. Rameshwar which has dissented with the decision in The State v. Chikkavenlcatappa, and held that sanction of the State Government is necessary to prosecute any member of the Municipal Board, under the provisions of Rajasthan Municipalities Act, including the chairman.
8. In view of the discussion made above, I would hold that every member of the Municipal Council as constituted under the Maharashtra Municipalities Act, including the President and Vice-President, are public servants as deemed under Section 302 and they are removable only by the State Government under the provisions of Section 42. In that ease, sanction of the State Government to prosecute them will be necessary under Section 197(1), if the alleged offence was said to have been committed by them while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of their official duties. Any other interpretation would throw the Councillors open to frivolous prosecutions, and would amount to withdrawal of the protection to which they are entitled under Section 197 for the acts committed by them in the discharge of their official duties. It was for the same reason that the Legislature thought it necessary to declare every Councillor as a public servant, within the meaning of Section 21 of the Indian Penal Code, as provided by Section 302 of the Maharashtra Municipalities Act.
9. Coming to the next point as to whether the alleged offence was committed by the accused in this case while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of their official duties, it was contended by Mr. Ghare for complainant Moreshwar that opponents Nos. 2 to 7 had no right to enter into his premises and to demolish his latrine and compound wall. Their action was described as wholly wrong and illegal and therefore, according to him, it cannot be said that they were acting or purporting to act in the discharge of their official duties. The learned Sessions Judge has also accepted this line of argument, observing that it was not the duty of the President and Vice-President, much less the members of the Municipal Council to enter the complainant's house and to demolish his latrine along with the compound wall. At the same time, he admits that from the police report and also from other material produced before him, it appears that the complainant constructed that latrine without obtaining any permission from the Municipal Council, and that in spite of several resolutions passed by the Council, as also notices given to him to remove his latrine, the complainant failed to do so. The police report further discloses that this particular latrine constructed by the complainant was creating a nuisance to the local inhabitants, firstly because it was always dirty and secondly because it is adjacent to the road and very close to a public well. In such a case, Municipal Council had a clear authority to demolish the latrine under Section 189(8) of the Maharashtra Municipalities Act, 1965, if it was constructed without the Municipal Council's permission, and also to ask for its demolition under Section 211 of the same Act. Indeed, the complainant himself was liable to prosecution under both of these provisions for his unauthorised construction of the latrine, and for his failure to demolish the same in spite of repeated directions given to him. In such circumstances, therefore, if the Municipal Council decided to get this latrine demolished through their Chief Officer and with the help of labourers, it cannot be said that the Council or its members and office-bearers were acting illegally, without any power or authority.
10. According to the learned Sessions Judge, however, this power of demolition was given to the Chief Officer only under Section 189(8) and, therefore, the accused persons were not justified in going personally to the spot and getting the latrine demolished through their labourers, to which extent, it was held that they were not acting in the discharge of their official duties. The learned Judge has also observed that the duty of Councillors and office-bearers like President and Vice-President was only to pass resolutions and to entrust the Chief Officer to execute the orders issued by them. Such a view cannot be accepted because the Chief Officer is subordinate to the Municipal Council itself, besides which, he has to work under the control, direction and supervision of the President, and to take steps to give effect to all the decisions or resolutions of the Council, as provided by Section 77[(a) and (b)] of the Maharashtra Municipalities Act. Accordingly, if the accused persons could validly give a direction to the Chief Officer for demolishing the complainant's latrine, they were also justified in verifying whether their directions were duly complied with. Mere presence of the accused at the spot, when the latrine was demolished by the labourers engaged for that purpose, cannot therefore be said to be illegal or unauthorised. On the other hand, if they had a power to get the latrine demolished, either because it was an unauthorised construction or because it was creating a nuisance to the local inhabitants, their presence at the spot to see the actual work of demolition was not only natural but also closely connected with the official discharge of their duties and hence they are protected under Section .197, Criminal Procedure Code, from any consequent prosecution, if brought against them, without the required sanction of the State Government.
11. The reference is, therefore, rejected.