R.A. Jahagirdar, J.
1. This petition under Article 226 of the Constitution seeks to raise a question relating to the interpretation of Rule 23 of the Maharashtra Specified Co-operative Societies (Election to Committees) Rules, 1971. The fourth respondent is the specified society and the petitioner and the first respondent are contesting the election to the Board of Directors from the constituency described as 28-M constituency. We are informed that this constituency is for the election of a member to the Board from the weaker section of the community. The second respondent in the petition is the Returning Officer appointed to conduct the election for the said constituency. The State of Maharashtra has been joined as the third respondent.
2. The election programme for the fourth respondent Bank, hereinafter referred to as the respondent-bank, was announced and the election process started with the publication of the notice of the election on 3rd of June, 1985. The nomination papers were to be filed between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. of 18th of June, 1985. The scrutiny of the nomination papers was fixed at 11 a.m. on 21st of June, 1985. The programme of election after this need not detain us, because we are concerned with the interpretation of Rule 23 as mentioned above which deals with the scrutiny of nomination papers.
3. The petitioner and the first respondent both had filed nomination papers for the election from the above mentioned constituency. The petitioner has contended that on the day fixed for the scrutiny of nomination papers, he went to the office of the Returning Officer at 12 noon and presented an objection to the nomination paper of the first respondent. The fact that the petitioner presented such an objection has been controverted in the affidavit filed on behalf of the Returning Officer, but we will not decide that dispute and will proceed on the basis of the allegation of the petitioner that he presented the objection at 12 noon is correct. It has been alleged by the petitioner that the Returning Officer did not entertain the objection at 12 noon, because the time fixed for submitting the objection was over and that he had already completed the scrutiny. This, in fact, is the allegation of the petitioner himself in paragraph 4 of his petition. We will proceed on the basis that this is true. The petitioner has urged before us that the Returning Officer failed to exercise jurisdiction vested in him in law by refusing to entertain and decide the objection, which was filed by the petitioner at 12 noon on the ground that the time for scrutiny of nomination papers was over. It is urged on behalf of the petitioner that though time is specified at 11 a.m. for the scrutiny of nomination papers, a reasonable interpretation of Rule 23 should result in holding that the period of scrutiny of nomination papers starts at 11 a.m. and it will continue during the normal hours of office. If it is so interpreted, then the objection filed by the petitioner at 12 noon could not be said to be out of time and should have been entertained and decided upon by the Returning Officer.
4. The petitioner has also mentioned in the petition that he took objection to the candidature of the first respondent on two grounds. The first respondent filed his nomination paper on the ground that he is a small farmer. The expression 'small farmer' has been defined by a declaration of the Government of Maharashtra under Clause (c) of the Explanation to section 73-B of the Maharashtra co-operative Societies Act, 1960. Small farmer, by this declaration, means an agriculturist who holds and cultivates personally ingratiated land not exceeding two hectares and whose off-farm income, that is, income from sources other than agriculture, does not exceed Rs. 2,400 per annum. In respect of areas declared as drought prone areas by the State Government, the ceiling of such land holding is raised to three hectares at the relevant time, namely, at the time when the areas are declared as drought prone areas. On behalf of the first respondent is not a small farmer, have been also controverted. Here again, we are not called upon to decide this disputed question of fact. However, we must proceed to examine the contention of the petitioner that when the programme for the scrutiny of the nomination papers was fixed at 11 a.m. , it should necessarily mean that it would only start at 11 a.m. and opportunity for raising objections will continue to remain available during the normal office working hours.
5. The various stages of an election to the specified co-operative societies are provided for in rules beginning from Rule 16 of the Rules of 1971, referred to above. Rule 16 provides that the collector shall draw the schedule for elections in the manner mentioned in that rule. One of the items which is to be provided for in the programme of election is the date of scrutiny of the nominations, which date shall not be later than two days after the last date for making nominations. Then we proceed to Rule 19 which provides for the manner in which the nomination papers are to be presented. After the nomination papers are so received, the Returning Officer, under Rule 22, is enjoined to inform the persons delivering the nomination papers' of the date, time and place fixed for the scrutiny of nominations and shall enter on the nomination paper, its serial number and shall sign thereon a certificate stating the date on which and the hour at which the nomination paper has been delivered to him'. The Returning Officer also is enjoined by the said rule to cause to be of fixed in some conspicuous place in his office a notice of the nomination containing descriptions similar to those contained in the nomination paper, both of the candidate and of the proposer. In other words, after the nomination papers are received, the Returning Officer is required to publish the substance of the material contained in the nomination papers. This provisions is presumably made to enable those persons who want to challenge the nomination of any candidate to verify the information given by the contesting candidate, which itself is to be done under the subsequent rule, namely Rule 23.
6. Rule 23 provides that on the date fixed for the scrutiny of nomination papers under Rule 16, the candidates and their agents and other persons mentioned in the said rule may attend at the time and place appointed in this behalf and the Returning Officer is enjoined to give them all reasonable facilities for examine the nomination papers of all candidates which have been delivered to him under Rule 19, to which we have already made a reference. The procedure of scrutiny has been described in great details in Rule 23. according to Mr. Borde, appearing in support of the petition, the word 'time' mentioned in Rule 23 must be construed to mean a period of time and if so construed, the person intending to take objection to the nomination paper of any candidates may not necessarily attend the place fixed by the Returning Officer at exactly the time announced by him. In the normal course of things, says Mr. Borde, all official business should be conducted during office working hours and if it is so, the Returning Officer cannot shut the doors in the face of a person who comes to lodge his objection during the said office hours. This having taken placed in the instant case, the petitioner has been denied an opportunity which he is entitled to under to lodge his objection in respect of the candidature of a particular person, namely, in the instant case the first respondent. Mr. Borde also suggested that Rule 16 does not envisage the fixing of a time for the scrutiny of nominations. What is contemplated in Rule 16, and this is recognised by Rule 23 itself, is the appointment of a date for scrutiny of the nomination paper and not the fixing of a particular point of time for scrutinising the nomination paper. On the language of Rule 16 itself, Mr. Borde may be conceivably right but, in our opinion, Rule 16 does not control the provision in Rule 23, or, for that matter, Rule 22. While examining the contention made by Mr. Borde in this regard, it would not be inappropriate to briefly notice the entire process of the scrutiny of nomination papers. We have already suggested in an earlier paragraph of this judgment that this is probably meant to enable persons who want to challenge the candidature of any person to collect information about the same. Rule 22 in its earlier part also obliges the Returning Officer to inform the person or persons delivering the nomination papers the time and placed fixed for the scrutiny of nominations. Obviously, therefore, the persons who have sent their nomination papers have already been posted with the knowledge of the time and the place where the scrutiny of nomination papers is to take place. This is exactly what is done in sub-rule (1) of Rule 23, which permits the candidates and other persons mentioned in that sub-rule to attend at the time and placed appointed in this behalf and they can ask the Returning Officer to give them all reasonable facilities for the examination of the nomination papers of all the candidates. It is after this that the Returning Officer is required to examine the nomination papers, and if objections are raised against any on all of them, or an his own motion, reject any nomination on one or the other grounds mentioned in sub-rule (2). Sub-rule (5) of Rule 23 stipulates that the Returning Officer shall hold the scrutiny on the date appointed in this behalf under Rule 16 and shall not allow any adjournment of the proceedings except when such proceedings are interrupted or obstructed by a riot on violence or by causes beyond his control. In a case where an objection is raised by the Returning Officer or is made by any other person, the candidate concerned may, however, be allowed time to rebate the objection but not later than the next day. The Returning Officer is required to record his decision on the date to which the proceeding have been adjourned.
7. Following the steps which have been provided for in details in Rule 23, it is clear to us that the persons intending to take objections to the nominations of any candidates must remain present at the time and place fixed by the Returning Officer. It is at that the Returning Officer takes up the scrutiny of each nomination paper. At this time it is open to one or other persons to lodge their objection and state the grounds on which those objections are based. The Returning Officer then decides the objection which have been raised in respect of a particular nomination paper. The scrutiny of nomination paper envisaged in Rule 23 is not a roving enquiry allowing any person to raise objection at any time in respect of any nomination paper. In the procedure under Rule 23 is implicit the fact that the Returning Officer shall take up each nomination paper for scrutiny. It is the nomination paper which is the subject-matter of scrutiny and not a general investigation into the various objection that are raised or may be raised by different persons. It is only when a particular nomination paper is taken up for scrutiny, a person is entitled to lodge his objection which will be decided by the Returning Officer. This process continues till all the nomination paper are scurried and the decisions are given one way or the other. The process of scrutiny itself must start at the time fixed for that purpose and must continue till all the nomination papers are scrutinised, and decisions on the nomination papers are given by the Returning Officer. If this process consume less than a normal working day, we do not see why the Returning Officer should continue to sit in his office waiting the arrivals of fresh objections. If the procedure fore scrutiny of nomination papers is as outlined by us above, namely, examination of each nomination paper separately, then after all the nomination papers are scrutinised and accepted or rejected, we do not see how fresh opportunity could be given to persons coming late and reopen the question of the validity of nomination paper already decided by the Returning Officer. A correct reading, therefore, of the provisions of Rule 23 persuades us to hold that in this said rule it is not envisaged that the Returning Officer shall remain in his office for a particular period of time and shall be available for entertaining fresh objections as and when they lodged despite the fact that the scrutiny of nomination papers s already over.
8. This is not, however, to suggest that if some person intending to object to the candidature of another arrives say 15 minutes after the scrutiny of nomination paper has started, he cannot be allowed to lodge objection in respect of a nomination paper which is yet to be scrutinised. What is required is that after a nomination paper is taken up for scrutiny and the scrutiny is completed after examination of all the objections, a fresh objection of the same is not intended under Rule 23 at a later time. The argument, therefore, urged in support of the petition that the words 'the time' mentioned in Rule 23 must be interpreted to mean duration of time is wholly unacceptable.
9. We have already mentioned above that we are not inclined to go into the disputed question of fact which arise in this petition on the basis of averments made in the petition and the returns filed by the first respondent and on behalf of the Returning Officer. In view of the true meaning of Rule 23 which we have gathered as mentioned above the petition must fail. Rule is discharge with no order as to costs.
10. While issuing rule on this petition, it was directed that he further election process from the 28-M Constituency be stayed pending the hearing and disposal of this petition. In view of the fact that the petition has now failed, there is no impediment for the election to proceed. However, the stay was granted by this Court on 27th of June, 1985 by which date the names of the validly contesting candidates were announced, but the date for withdrawal of candidature was yet to arrive. The Returning Officer is at liberty to fix the further election process beginning with the stage of withdrawal the candidature in such manner as he can do under the law.