1. This is an application under Article 226 of the Constitution by a voter of the Jaipur Notified Area Council against the order of the Returning Officer of the said Council declaraing him to be disqualified under Clause (iii) of Sub-section (1) of Section 16 of the Orissa Municipal Act, from standing as a candidate for election to the said Council. It is admitted that though the petitioner can sign his name in Driya he cannot read and write either Oriya, or Hindi or English. Clause (iii) of Sub-section (i) of Section 16 says that a person who is unable to read and write either English, Oriya or Hindi is disqualified From Standing for election to a seat in the Municipality in the State of Orissa. For this purpose a notified area council stands on the same footing as a Municipality.
2. Mr. Palit for the petitioner urged that the literacy test laid down in Clause (iii) of Sub-section (1) of Section 16 was violative of Article 14 of the Constitution, that there was no reasonable nexus between the classification on the one hand and the object sought to be achieved by the Legislature, in inserting such a provision in the Act, on the other. He laid special emphasis on the fact that even for the State-Legislative Assemblies no such literacy test was laid down as a qualification.
3. The principles to be observed by law courts in considering whether a particular statutory provision offends Article 14 of the Constitution have been repeatedly laid down by their Lordships of the Supreme Court and it is un-necessary to refer to them in detail here. It is sufficient to say that the Legislature is the best judge in selecting certain objects, to which the law in the first instance should apply and merely because literacy test is provided so far as elections to Municipalities are concerned and no such test is laid down for other elective bodies, such as members of the Legislature or even of Grama Punchayats, it cannot be said that such a test is prima facie unreasonable, The main point for consideration is whether there is any unreasonabieness in the selection or differentiation of the literate class from the illiterate class, for the purpose of election to Municipalities and whether there is any reasonable nexus between the basis of the classification and the subject of the statute. This object has to be ascertained primarily from the provisions of the Municipal Act itself.
4. The functions of the Municipal Councils have been described in the various provisions of the Municipal Act They are not merely law making bodies like a legislative Assembly, but they have also been invested with extensive quasi judicial functions such as hearing appeals against decision of the Executive Officer -- see See Sections 77, 274, 305 334 etc. Moreover, certain rights are conferred on individual councillors of a Municipality by Section 94 of the Act and Sub-section (4) of that Section says that every councillor shall have access to the records of the Municipal Council after giving due notice to the Chairman. The conferment of such a right would be meaningless unless a Councillor is a literate person who is able to read the records and understand their contents. Similarly, the right of appeal conferred on the Municipal Councillors against certain orders of the Executive Officer would be infructuous unless the Councillors have the competence to understand the orders passed by the lower authority and decide whether they should be upheld or set aside. Section 382 casts on the Municipal Councillors personal liability for any expenditure made out of the Municipal funds, contrary to law.
There can therefore be no doubt that the duties and responsibilities and liabilities cast on municipal Councillors by the Municipal Act can be satisfactorily discharged only if they are able to read and write either Oriya, or English or Hindi. It is therefore open to the Legislature to lay down the minimum literacy qualifications for a candidate for standing for election to a Municipal Council. There is thus a reasonable nexus between the basis of the classification on the one hand, and the object sought to be achieved on the other. Mr. Palit could not cite a single decision where it was held that the statutory provisions prescribing the literacy test for elections to a Municipality, when such extensive powers have been conferred on the Councillors were held to be unreasonable or discriminatory. In my opinion the question is so simple that it does not require any elaborate discussion and it will be irrelevant to examine whether a similar test was not laid down for election to other elective bodies.
5. I would, therefore hold that Clause (iii) of Subsection (1) of Section 16 is not unconstitutional. The petition is dismissed with costs.
6. I agree.