1. The Municipal Board of Maunath Bhanjan in the district of Azamgarh consists of the President and twenty elected members. Written notice of the intention to make a motion of non-confidence against the appellant Abdul Latif Nomani. President of the Board, was presented to the District Magis-trate, Azamgarh, on May 30, 1966, and the District Magistrate convened a meeting on July 3. 1966, for consideration of the motion. Notice of the meeting was despatched to the members of the Board by registered post on May 31, 1966 It appears that on June 10, 1966 the Commissioner of the Gorakhpur Division issued a notice to Sanaullah Sardar and Mohammad Yusuf. two members of the Board, purporting to charge them with absence from four consecutive meetings of the Board on different dates without obtaining the sanction of the Board and calling upon them to enter a statement of their defence by June 26, 1966. On July 1 1966, the Commissioner made an order removing Sanaullah Sardar and Mohammad Yusuf from membership of the Board. The meeting for consideration of the motion of non-confidence was held on July 3, 1966. It was presided over by Sri. B. N Misra, Additional Civil Judge. Eleven members of the Board, including Sanaullah Sardar and Mohammad Yusuf. who had signed the notice of intention to make the motion, were present. Upon examination of the members 'list, the judicial officer discovered that Sanaullah Sardar and Mohammad Yusuf were not shown therein and thereupon, he directed them to leave the meeting. They made an application to the judicial officer urging that thev had not been removed in accordance with law and that effect should not be given to the order of the Commissioner and they should be considered as continuing members of the Board. The judicial officer, however, rejected the application. The other members present also requested the judicial officer to permit Sanaullah Sardar and Mohammad Yusuf to participate in the meeting but that request was also turned down. Then the judicial officer declared that the meeting could not be held for want of a quorum and recorded a minute to that effect.
2. Sanaullah Sardar tiled a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution praying for the quashing of the order of the Commissioner removing him from membership of the Board and of the minute of the judicial officer that the meeting for consideration of the motion of non-confidence could not be held for want of a quorum He also prayed that the District Magistrate and the judicial officer be directed to hold a meeting of the Board for consideration of the motion of non-confidence on the basis of the notice of intention already delivered .
3. A similar petition was moved by Mohammad Yusuf praying for like relief
4. Both the petitions were disposed of together by G. C. Mathur, J. He rejected the plea of the petitioners that the order removing them from membership of the Board was made mala fide but he held that the order of removal did not satisfy the provisions of Section 40(1)(a) of the U. P Municipalities Act and was, therefore, invalid En passant he observed that Sanaullah Sardar and Mohammad Yusuf had not been given an opportunity of explanation as contemplated by Section 40(4) He quashed the orders of removal made by the Commissioner on July 1, 1966. Then pointing out that but for the invalid orders of removal the petitioners would have participated in the meeting convened for the consideration of the motion of non-confidence and that there would then have been a quorum for holding the meeting he directed the District Magistrate to reconvene a meeting of the Board for consideration of the motion on the basis of the notice of intention which had already been received by him on May 30, 1966.
5. Abdul Latif Nomani has filed Special Appeal No 611 of 1966 against the order allowing the writ petition filed by Sanaullah Sardar and Special Appeal No. 612 of 1966 against the order allowing the writ petition filed by Mohammad Yusuf. The Commissioner and the District Magistrate have also appealed against the two orders, Special Appeal No 566 of 1966 being directed against the order in favour of Sanaullah Sardar and Special Appeal No. 567 of 1966 against the order in favour of Mohammad Yusuf.
6. Mr M. N. Shukla, appearing for the Commissioner and the District Magistrate, contends that the learned Single Judge has erred in holding that the orders of removal are invalid. He urges that the provisions of Section 40(1) (a) of the U. P. Municipalities Act are satisfied inasmuch as the two members had absented themselves from the meetings of the Board for more than three consecutive months and for more than three consecutive meetings without obtaining sanction from the Board and that they had been afforded adequate opportunity of explanation before action was taken against them
7. The relevant provisions of Section 40 read as follows:
'40 Removal of members -- (1) The State Government in the case of a city, or the Prescribed Authority in any other case, may remove a member of the board on any of the following grounds:--
(a) that he has absented himself from themeetings of the Board for more than threeconsecutive months or three consecutive meetings whichever is the longer period, withoutobtaining sanction from the Board
Provided that the period during which themember was in jail as an undertrial, detenu.of as a political prisoner shall not be takeninto account:
x x x x x(4) Provided that when either the State Government or the Prescribed Authority, as the case may be proposes to take action under the foregoing provisions of this section, an opportunity of explanation shall be given to the member concerned, and when such action is taken, the reasons therefor shall be placed on record
x x x x x (6) Without prejudice to any of the foregoing powers the State Government or the Prescribed Authority, as the case may he may on any of the grounds referred to in Sub-section (1), instead of removing the member give him a warning or place him under suspension for a specified term not exceeding three months at a time and anv member who has been so suspended shall not. as long as the order of suspension continues to remain in force be entitled to take part in anv proceedings of the board or otherwise perform the duties of a
Explanation -- The power of administering warning or placing a member under suspension under Sub-section (6) mav be exercised either by the State Government or the Prescribed Authority as the case may be, while dealing with the mutter originally under Sub-section (1) or Sub-section (3) or bv the State Government on appeal under Sub-section (2) '
8. In the case of Sanaulloh Sardar, the last meeting attended bv him was held on September 30, 1965. Then followed the meetings of October 30, 1965. November 1, 1965, November 30 1965 and December 23, 1965 which he did not attend He attended the next meeting held on January 28, 1966. It is clear that he was absent for more than three consecutive meetings. But Section 40(1) (a) requires that a member should absent himself from the meetings of the Board for more than 3 consecutive months or three consecutive meetings, whichever is the longer period It is necessary, therefore, to examine also whether the meetings of the Board from which he absented himself covered more than three consecutive months Mr. Shukla urges that the period should run from September 30. 1966 and should be considered as extending up to January 28, 1966. the termini being the last meeting attended before and the first meeting attended after the meetings from which the member was absent. If Mr. Shukla's contention is accepted, it must be held that the members has been absent from the meetings for more than three consecutive months. Upon careful consideration however we find no force in the contention The period of three consecutive months commences from the first meeting from which the member absented himself and, if that be taken as the starting point for computing the period, it seems to us that three consecutive months did not elapse during which Sanaullah Sardar was absent from the meetings of the Board. In taking this view, we are fortified by the decision of Warrington, J. in Kershaw v. Shoreditch Corporation. (1907) 95 LT 55 where upon comparable language he held that the absence must begin to be reckoned on the first meeting at which the alder man was absent
9. Then Mr. Shukla says that three con-secutive months must mean three consecutive British calendar months apparently bv reference to Section 4(28) of the U P General Clauses Act. According to him. the calendar month commences from October 1. 1966 in which the meeting of October 30 was held, and this would mean that three consecutive months are completed on December 31, 1965 Here again we must differ from Mr Shukla The calendar month commenced on October 30, 1965 and ended on November 29, 1965 Then followed the next calendar month commencing Novem-ber 30, 1965 and ending December 29, 1965. Finally the third calendar month commenced on December 30, 1965 and ended on January 29, 1906 We are supported in this view bv South British Fire and Marine Insurance Co. New Zealand v Braja Nath Shaha (1909) ILR 36 Cal 516 (FB). The question in that case was whether a suit instituted on April 15, 1907 claiming a sum of money under an insurance policy because of a fire occurring in the night of October 14/15, 1906 was within limitation, when the period of limitation was six months as specified in the insurance policy. A Full Bench of the Calcutta High Court, which decided that case held that the suit was not brought within that period. Maclean. C J., (1909) ILR 36 Cal 516 at p 535 536 held that the word 'month' in the clause must mean calendar month and that if it be taken as it appeared from the evidence, that the fire occurred before the midnight of October 14, 1906, the suit was not instituted until April 15, 1907, one dav after the expiration of six months It is apparent that the computation can be explained only on the basis that, excluding the dav on which the fire occurred, the first calendar month commenced from October 15, 1906, and the period of six months expired. I here-fore, on April 14, 1907. In our opinion, it is not established that Sanaullah Sardar absented himself from the meetings of the Board for more than three consecutive months. There is no dispute that he was absent for more than three consecutive meetings, but the period dur-ing which the four meetings from which he was absent were held does nol exceed three months and of the two this latter period is relevant because, it is plain it is longer than the period during which three consecutive meetings, from which he absented himself were held We find that the order removing Sanaullah Sar dar rlearly contravenes Section 40(1)(a)
10. In the case of Mohammad Yusuf, the particulars are that he attended the meeting of the Board held on December 23, 1965 and was then absent from the meetings of January 28, 1966 February 5, 1966 and February 19, 1966. It is disputed whether he attended the meeting of March 15, 1966 Then followed the meeting of May 20, 1966 which he attended Now ad-mittedly Mohammad Yusuf absented himself from three consecutive meetings without obtaining sanction from the Board The question is whether he absented himself from the meetings for more than three consecutive months. On the principle adopted by us, the period of three months must be computed from January 28, 1966. Whether he did or did not attend the meeting of March 15, 1966 is disputed between the parties, and as the material before us is inadequate for the purpose of holding that Mohammad Yusuf did in fact attend that meeting we take it that he absented himself from the meeting of March 15, 1966 Section 40(1)(a) contemplates an absence from the meetings of the Board for more than three consecutive months This as we have held, refers to the period during which the meetings in question were held, commencing with the first meeting from which the member absented himself and ending with the last meeting from which he was absent Measured by this rule, the period of three months commencing from January 28, 1966 did not expire when the last meeting of March 15, 1966 was held it must, therefore, be held that Mohammad Yusuf. although absent from three consecutive meetings did not absent himself from the meetings for more than three consecutive months. Since the latter period ot absence is the longer, it is apparent that the order removing Mohammad Yusuf is also not in accord with Section 40(1)(a).
11. In our judgment, the orders removing Sanaullah Sardar and Mohammad Yusuf did not satisfy the provisions of Section 40(1)(a) and we hold that those orders are invalid
12. We are of opinion that the orders of removal are invalid also because the notices requiring the two members to submit their explanation did not specify the action which the Commissioner proposed to take against them in rase it was found that they had absented themselves from the meetings of the Board. The two notices merely point out that they had absented themselves from certain meetings specified in the notice without obtaining sanction from the Board, and call upon them to enter their defence in reply to that charge. There is nothing in the notices to indicate what is the action proposed to be taken against them.
13. Section 40(4) requires that when the State Government or the Prescribed Authority proposes to take action, an opportunity of explanation shall be given to the member concerned The action proposed may be one of removal or of suspension or of warning We refer to Section 40(6) and the Explanation appended to it It is against such action that the statute conetmplates an opportunity of explanation, and at that stage it is open to the member concerned to explain why he cannot be found guilty of the charge of absence contemplated by Section 40(1)(a) and also, in the event of his being found guilty of the charge, why he should not be removed or suspended or even warned. That the Legislature Intended an opportunity of 'explanation' to include both these opportunities of meeting the charge and of questioning the proposed measure of punishment, is apparent if reference be had to Section 48 which provides for removal of the President. Subsection (2) requires that the President must be allowed to show cause against his removal, and Sub-section (2A) contemplates an 'explanation' bv the President by way of showing such cause Provisions analogous to Section 40(4) will be found in Ss 30 and 35
14. We hold that the notices dated June 10. 1966 issued by the Commissioner are not in accordance with law that there was no compliance with Section 40(4) and therefore also the orders of removal are invalid.
15. In passing, we may also advert to the legality of the mode by which service of the aforesaid notices is said to have been effected. It is pointed out bv Mr Shukla that service was effected by the modes set out in Section 303 (b). Assuming that Section 303 refers to such notices it seems to us upon the facts of the case before us that recourse to those mode was not permissible The Prescribed Authority was selected bv the Statute to take action against a member under Section 40(1) and under Section 40(4) it is that authority which must give an opportunity of explanation to the member concerned. The Commissioner, in the instant case, directed the District Magistrate to arrange to effect personal service upon the two members. As it transpired, that was not found possible. It seems the District Magistrate on his own directed the Tahsildar to effect substituted service by the modes specified in Section 303(b), and service was effected accordingly. It does not appear that recourse was had to Section 303(b) at the instance of the Commissioner. We express serious doubt upon the validity of such service
16. However, we have found that the orders of removal contravene Section 40(1) (a) and Section 40(4). we find it unnecessary to express any opinion on the question whether the notices dated June 10, 1966 were served upon the two mem hers in fact and in law
17. Mr L. P. Naithani. on behalf of the respondents, attempted to establish that the Commissioner and the District Magistrate acted mala fide, and that the Commissioner in parti-cular was so prompted that he was interested in ensuring that the motion of non-confidence was defeated and had, therefore, passed the orders removing the two members. We have examined the material on the record and we are not satisfied that there is substance in the eontention The Commissioner, it is possible, may have taken the proceedings that he did because it appeared to him that the two mem bers were evading service of the notices issued under Section 40(4), and in order to ensure that any further attempt on their part in that behalf was defeated he proceeded with some expedition in the matter. But we are unable to endorse the finding of the learned Single Judge that therein he laid himself open to the charge of being interested in the president and in seeing that the motion of non-con-fidence was defeated. We cannot, upon the material before us, spell out any such motive from the conduct of the Commissioner or of the District Magistrate.
18. Mr. S. C. Khare, who appears on be half of Abdul Latif Nomani, states that in the special appeals filed by Nomani he does not contend that the order of the Commissioner removing Sanaullah Sardar and Mohammad Yusuf from membership of the Board is a valid order He does not pray for relief against the order of the learned Single Judge quashing the orders of removal. He contends that even if it be taken that the orders of removal are invalid, the learned Single Judge was in error in directing the District Magistrate to reconvene a meeting of the Board for consideration of the motion of non-confidence. He urges that the judicial officer was bound by the order of the Commissioner removing the two members and that he was acting in accordance with law when he denied them participation in the meeting.
19. Now it appears to us that upon the grounds upon which we have found the orders of removal to he invalid thev musl be treated as null and void We have held that the orders did not satisfy the conditions contained in Section 40(1)(a). The Commissioner could remove the two members in exercise of the power under Section 40(1)(a) only if the circumstances contemplated by that provision existed. He had no power otherwise to order their removal by reference to that provision. It is a power especially granted by the statute and can be invoked only upon the existence of the conditions mentioned in it. If the conditions exist, the Commissioner is armed with the power. If not. Section 40 (1) (a) confers no power at all upon him, and an order made by him is an order without power and totally lacking legal sanction and. therefore, a nullity
20. Then we have also held that the notices issued under Section 40(4) did not give to the two members the opportunity of explanation contemplated by that provision Section 40(4) is a mandatory provision of law, and it is clear that before action is taken under Section 40(1) the Commissioner is bound to afford an opportunity of explanation to the member concerned. When is an order a nullity has been recently discussed by the Supreme Court in Ram Swarup v. Shikar Chand : 2SCR553 and it seems to us that the cases before us fall within the rule laid down there A denial of the rule of natural justice requiring a person to be heard before action is taken against him results in a null and void order That was laid down by the House of Lords, by majority in Ridge v. Baldwin. 1964 AC 40 where the Chief Constable of a borough police force had been dismissed without being informed of the charge against him and without being given an opportunity of being heard in his own defence. The decision in that case was referred to with approval by our Supreme Court in Associated Cement Companies Ltd v P N Sharma. AIR 1966 SC 1596 Indeed in this country the doctrine has been treated as an integral feature of our legal philosophy, and in Ebrahim Vadir Mavat v. State of Bombay, AIR 1964 SC 229 was recognised by the Supreme Court as involved in the safeguard of constitutional rights.
21. In our judgment, therefore, the orders of the Commissioner removing Sanaullah Sardar and Mohammad Yusuf are null and void
22. Now, if the orders of removal are null and void, Sanaullah Sardar and Mohammad Yusuf must be considered as continuing to be members of the Board and, therefore entitled to participate in the meeting convened for consideration of the motion of non-confidence. We must, in the circumstances, hold that there was a quorum for the meeting and the declaration of the judicial officer to the contrary can not be sustained The meeting should have proceeded in accordance with Sub-section (6) of Section 87-A and the provisions following it Accordingly the minute of the meeting re corded by the judicial officer declaring that the meeting could not he held for want of a quorum is liable to be quashed.
23. Then Mr. Rhare relies upon Section 113(1) and says that the removal of Sanaullah Sardar and Mohammad Yusuf, even though invalid, brought about two de facto vacancies in the membership of the Board and that such vacancies do not vitiate anv proceeding of the Board, including a proceeding under Section 87-A. He urges that the doctrine of 'de facto title' embodied in Section 113(2) must be recognised as embodied in Section 113(1). We are of opinion that the province of the two subsections of Section 113 are distinct in nature and altogether different in object. Sub-section (1) operates to protect the validity of an act or proceeding of the Board or of its committee where the act is done or proceeding taken and it is discovered that there was a vacancy in fact as well as in the contemplation of law in the Board or in the committee. Sub-section (2) assumes that there was no vacancy in fact, but that a person, who although disqualified or whose election, nomination or appointment was defective, nevertheless under colour of office or title in fact participated in the act or proceeding. Sub-section (1) deals with a van-cancy in fact as well as in law, while Sub-section (2) treats of a vacancy in law but participation in fact. Accordingly, this contention of Mr. Khare must be rejected.
24. Finally, Mr. Khare contends that the remedy of the two members lay in a suit for damages and they should have been denied relief upon the petitions under Article 226. It seems to us that when the fate of the proceeding under Section 87-A depends upon the validity of the orders of removal, to relegate the dispute to a suit for damages would he to frustrate a proceeding which seriously affects the democratic constitution and administration of the Board and in which Sanaullah Sardar and Mohammad Yusuf are onlv two of manv players on the stage
25. In the result, we agree with the learned Single Judge in the order made by him. and dismiss this special appeal with costs