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Bhawani Das Vs. Jagjiwan Ram and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectElection
CourtSupreme Court of India
Decided On
Case NumberCivil Appeal No. 2329 of 1968
Judge
Reported in(1969)3SCC874
ActsRepresentation of the People Act 43 of 1951 - Sections 11-A(b), 99, 87; Code Of Civil Procedure (CPC), 1908 - Order 18 Rule 2
AppellantBhawani Das
RespondentJagjiwan Ram and ors.
DispositionAppeal Allowed
Excerpt:
.....1, the election petitioner, was concluded on 16th september, 1968. before the conclusion of this evidence, the appellant, on 26th august, 1968, filed in the court a list, dated 24th august, 1968, containing names of 10 witnesses whom he proposed to examine in support of his defence. the appellant actually filed the list of his witnesses on 24th august, 1968, even prior to the completion of his evidence by respondent 1. the appeal is allowed, the order of the high court is set aside and the court is directed to examine the witnesses named by the appellant in the list, dated 24th august, 1968, filed on 26th august, 1968......1968, even prior to the completion of his evidence by respondent 1. clearly, therefore, this list of witnesses was filed by the appellant well before the stage at which he could be required to state his case and produce his evidence. we cannot understand why the high court held that this list of witnesses had not been filed at the proper stage.5. it appears that the high court took the view that this list had not been filed at the proper stage, because the court had, at an earlier stage of the trial, directed all the parties to file their lists by 30th august, 1967 and had even drawn up a programme for recording of evidence of parties on 7th december, 1967. it seems that, in adopting this course, the high court was not following the procedure laid down in the code of civil.....
Judgment:

V. BHARGAVA, J.

1. This appeal, by special leave, is directed against an order passed by the High Court of Madhya Predesh, during the trial of an election petition, refusing to examine witnesses sought to be produced by the appellant. The election petition related to the General Elections held for the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly in 1967. Five candidates filed their nomination papers, one of whom was the appellant and the other four are the respondents in this appeal. The appellant withdrew his candidature and was not, therefore, a contestant at the time of the poll. Respondent 2, having received the highest number of votes, was declared elected. Respondent 1 had received the next highest number of votes and he filed the election petition challenging the election of Respondent 2. The appellant was impleaded as one of the respondents in this election petition. In para 11 of the election petition, it was pleaded that the election of the successful candidate was void inasmuch as, inter alia, the corrupt practices mentioned later in the petition were committed by the candidate, and by the appellant and others with his consent. When giving details, it was pleaded that the appellant, in the presence of and with the consent of the successful candidate, addressed a public meeting organised for the election propaganda of the successful candidate on 2nd February, 1967, at Village Sarvania Masani in the constituency and, in the course of his speech, said:

“Joshiji, the Congress candidate, had put me up in the election as a candidate of Hindu Maha Sabha by giving allurement of money. Later on he came to give me Rs 5000 and said to contest the election. I did not fall prey to the pursuation and allurement of such a cow-killing (Gohatyari) Congress and did not contest the election.”

As a consequence of this pleading which charged the appellant with commission of corrupt prectice, the appellant also filed his written statement on 14th July, 1967, and denied the commission of this corrupt practice. In 2nd August, 1967, the Court fixed 30th August, 1967 for filing of draft issues by the parties and for giving the list of their witnesses. On 18th September, 1967, issues were framed and, then, on 7th December, 1967, the Court drew up a programme for recording evidence of parties according to which, the evidence of Respondent 1, the election petitioner, waste be recorded between 15th January and 23rd January, 1968. The further direction was that the respondents' evidence was to be recorded between 25th January and 7th February, 1968. Since there was also a recrimination petition, the Court further directed that the evidence of the petitioner, who had filed the recrimination, was to be recorded from 12th February to 15th February, 1968, and the evidence of the Respondent in that petition was to be taken between 19th February, and 22nd February, 1968; arguments were to be heard on 27th and 28th February, 1968.

 2. In accordance with this programme, the recording of the evidence of Respondent 1 was started on 15th January, 1968 and continued for some days. Thereafter, the proceedings had to be stayed because of applications moved in this Court against some of the interlocutory orders passed by the High Court and because of a transfer application. Ultimately, the recording of the evidence of Respondent 1, the election petitioner, was concluded on 16th September, 1968. Before the conclusion of this evidence, the appellant, on 26th August, 1968, filed in the Court a list, dated 24th August, 1968, containing names of 10 witnesses whom he proposed to examine in support of his defence. On the same day, the High Court rejected the prayer for examination of 9 out of 10 witnesses and only permitted the appellant to examine himself which, according to the Court, he could do after Respondent 2 finished his evidence. It is this order which is impugned in the present appeal.

3. The High Court began the impugned order by noting that the appellant had filed process for 10 witnesses and that he had not listed any witness whatsoever at the proper stage. On this view, the High Court held that an exception could be made in favour of the appellant for his own examination, but the request for examination of the other 9 witnesses was disallowed, because the appellant had shown no cause why he sought to examine witnesses without having made any prayer or filed any list at the proper stage. It has been urged on behalf of the appellant that this order made by the High Court is very unjust, because it debars the appellant from giving evidence to refute the evidence given in the trial of the election petition by Respondent 1 to prove that the appellant had committed corrupt practices. Our attention was drawn to Section 99 of the Representation of the People Act 43 of 1951 (hereinafter referred to as “the Act”), under which the High Court is competent to name the appellant as one of the persons who has been proved at the trial of the election petition to have been guilty of a corrupt practice, the result of which under Section 11-A(b) of the Act would be that the appellant will, for a period of six years from the date on which the order under Section 99 takes effect, be disqualified for voting at any election. The grievance is that, with such serious consequences threatened by Respondent 1 by charging the appellant with commission of corrupt practice, the appellant was entitled to defend himself properly and adduce evidence to show that he had not committed any corrupt practice. The High Court purported to deny this right on the ground that the appellant had not filed any list or application for examination of witnesses at the proper stage and had only filed process for 10 witnesses as late as 26th August, 1968. It seems to us that, in making this order, the High Court completely ignored the rules of procedure which were applicable to the trial of the election petition.

4. Under Section 87 of the Act, every election petition is to be tried by a High Court, as nearly as may be, in accordance with the procedure applicable under the Code of Civil Procedure to the trial of suits, subject to the provisions of the Act and of any rules made thereunder. Under the Code of Civil Procedure, the procedure to be adopted by the Court for the hearing of a suit is laid down in Order 18 of which Rule 2 may be usefully quoted:

“2.(1) On the day fixed for the hearing of the suit or on any other day to which the hearing is adjourned, the party having the right to Begin shall state his case and produce his evidence in support of the issues which he is bound to prove.

(2) The other party shall then state his case and produce his evidence (if any) and may then address the Court generally on the whole case.

(3) The party beginning may then reply generally on the whole case.”

In this case, it is clear that the burden of proving the commission of the corrupt practice by the appellant with the consent of Respondent 2 lay on Respondent 1 so that, when the hearing of the election petition started, Respondent 1 was required to state his case and produce his evidence in support of the issue relating to commission of corrupt practices. Under sub-rule (2), the other parties were only required to state their case and produce their evidence thereafter. It is significant that in sub-rule(2) of Order 18 CPC, in laying down the procedure, the stage at which other parties are to be called upon to state the case and produce the evidence is very clearly indicated by using the word “then”, so that there is no requirement on the part of other parties either to state their case or produce their evidence before the party, on whom the burden lies, has first produced and completed his evidence. In the present case, it is true that the recording of evidence of Respondent 1 began on 15th January, 1968; but for reasons with which we are not concerned, the recording, of his evidence continued and could only be completed on 16th September, 1968. Under Order 18 Rule 2(2) CPC, the opposite parties in the petition, including the appellant, could, therefore, be called upon to state their case and produce their evidence only after the 16th September, 1968. The procedure thus laid down in the Code does not envisage that any of those parties, who have to meet the case put forward by the election petitioner, should state their case or produce their evidence prior to the completion of the recording of the evidence of the election petitioner. The appellant actually filed the list of his witnesses on 24th August, 1968, even prior to the completion of his evidence by Respondent 1. Clearly, therefore, this list of witnesses was filed by the appellant well before the stage at which he could be required to state his case and produce his evidence. We cannot understand why the High Court held that this list of witnesses had not been filed at the proper stage.

5. It appears that the High Court took the view that this list had not been filed at the proper stage, because the Court had, at an earlier stage of the trial, directed all the parties to file their lists by 30th August, 1967 and had even drawn up a programme for recording of evidence of parties on 7th December, 1967. It seems that, in adopting this course, the High Court was not following the procedure laid down in the Code of Civil Procedure which does not make any provision for filing of lists or drawing up of programme of recording evidence in the course of a trial of a suit. Our attention was drawn to Para 118 of the Rules relating to the Civil Procedure Code. framed by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh in exercise of the powers conferred by Article 227 of the Constitution, read with Section 23 of the Madhya Pradesh civil courts Act, 1958 and all other powers enabling in that behalf. This para 118 does contemplate that courts, on completion of the interlocutory stage, will generally find it convenient to fix an early date called the “settling date” for giving in lists of witnesses and paying the necessary process fee and expenses. The para goes on to say that, on that date, information should be obtained that will enable the probable length of the trial to be estimated, and a date or several consecutive dates should then be fixed for recording evidence. There is a note attached saying that, on the “settling date” the Court must insist on the parties taking all steps necessary to bring the case to trial, e.g., filing a list of witnesses to whom the issue of summons is required together with necessary particulars to permit the service of summons, paying necessary process fees and expenses, and in cases where parties propose to produce witnesses and do not require the issue of summons, indicating the number of each witnesses so as to permit an estimate of the length of trial, etc. The High Court seems to have adopted the procedure laid down by it in this para 118. Clearly, this para is not a rule of procedure having the force of law and is not a part of the Code of Civil Procedure. It was not a rule framed by the High Court in exercise of its powers of framing rules under the Code of Civil Procedure. This para only contains instructions intended to be carried out by subordinate courts issued by the High Court in exercise of its supervisory jurisdiction under Article 227 of the Constitution. The procedure indicated in this para was, therefore, not applicable to the trial of the election petition by the High Court itself. The procedure that the High Court was required to follow was that laid down by the Code of Civil Procedure which, as we have indicated earlier, gave the right to the appellant to state his case and produce his evidence only after Respondent 1 had completed the production of his evidence.

6. It is also significant that, in filing the list of witnesses, the appellant did not make any request for issue of summons. The Court, no doubt, in its order, stated that the appellant had filed “process for 10 witnesses”; but, in fact, there was no process filed at all. All that was filed was a list of witnesses with a note in the list itself that the witnesses were to be kept present by the appellant. The appellant, thus, did not desire that summons should be issued to enforce attendance of the witnesses. He himself undertook to keep them present. No process was, therefore, required to be issued in pursuance of this list. Obviously, such a list of witnesses would be one envisaged by Rule 1-A of Order 16, CPC. It is true that Rule 1-A Order 16, CPC refers to a list which has been filed on or before the day fixed for the hearing of evidence, and in this case the hearing of evidence of Respondent 1 had started on 15th January, 1968, but, in our opinion, in this rule, the expression “at any time on or before the day fixed for the hearing of evidence” is meant to indicate the day fixed for the hearing of the evidence of the particular party who has filed the list of witnesses. No doubt, in the present case, at an earlier stage, the Court had fixed dates for recording of evidence of opposite parties between 25th January and 7th February, 1968, but that orders became infructuous, because the evidence of Respondent 1 himself was not concluded before that period had expired. In fact the recording of the evidence of Respondent 1 continued for another 7 months or more and was only completed on 16th September, 1968. The dates for the recording of evidence of the opposite parties, including the appellant, could only be some dates after 16th September, 1968, in accordance with the procedure laid down in Order 18, Rule 2(2), C.P.C. The list, which was field by the appellant was, therefore, one presented before the date fixed for the hearing of evidence of the appellant and the appellant had himself undertaken to keep the witnesses present. The order of the Court disallowing the production of witnesses mentioned in the list was, therefore, very clearly against the procedure applicable to the trial of the election petition.

7. The only power, which the Court had to refuse the examination of these witnesses, on which reliance was placed on behalf of Respondent 1 is that contained in the proviso to Section 87 of the Act which lays down that the High Court shall have the discretion to refuse, for reasons to be recorded in writing, to examine any witness or witnesses if it is of the opinion that the evidence of such witness or witnesses is not material for the decision of the petition or that the party tendering such witness or witnesses is doing so on frivolous grounds or with a view to delay the proceedings. In the present case, the High Court clearly did not purport to pass its order under this proviso, because it does not state that, in its opinion, the evidence of any of the witnesses disallowed was not material for the decision of the petition or that their evidence was being tendered on frivolous grounds, or with a view to delay the proceedings. Even though the list was filed on 26th August, 1968, it could not obviously result in delaying the proceedings, because the stage had not yet been reached for the production of witnesses by the appellant, and the appellant was ready to produce the witnesses and keep them present on whatever date the Court fixed for the recording of his evidence. The proviso to Section 87 of the Act was, thus, not applicable in the circumstances of the present case.

8. It also appears that the High Court of Madhya Pradesh, in exercise of its power under the Code of Civil Procedure, has added sub-rule (4) to Rule 2, Order 18 of the Code to the following effect:

“Notwithstanding anything contained in this rule, the Court may order that the production of evidence or the address to the Court may be in any order which it may deem fit.”

Even this provision has neither been applied by the High Court for the purpose of disallowing production of evidence by the appellant, nor in it, on the face of it, applicable. It seems to be clear that the High Court was acting on the lines laid down in para 118 of the instructions issued by the Court for subordinate courts, and ignored the cardinal principle that rules of procedure are meant to advance the cause of justice and are not to be applied too technically to deprive a party of a fair opportunity of putting forward his case or meeting the case sought to be proved against him. While the appellant was not seeking any adjournment and was not trying to delay the proceedings by praying for issue of processes which might have taken time, there was no reason at all why his request for examination of his witnesses whom he promised to keep present, should have been refused. The order passed by the High Court was clearly unjustified.

9. The appeal is allowed, the order of the High Court is set aside and the Court is directed to examine the witnesses named by the appellant in the list, dated 24th August, 1968, filed on 26th August, 1968. The appellant will be entitled to his costs from Respondent 1.


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