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Election Commission of India Vs. All India Anna DMK [1994] INSC 313 (12 May 1994)

Venkatachalliah, M.N.(Cj) Venkatachalliah, M.N.(Cj) Verma, Jagdish Saran (J) Bharucha S.P. (J)

CITATION: 1994 SCC Supl. (2) 689

ACT:

HEAD NOTE:

ORDER

1.This special leave petition arises out of and is directed against an interlocutory order dated 10-5-1994 of the High Court of Madras made in WMP No. 13629 of 1994 in WP No. 8973 of 1994.

2.In the said writ petition, a political party contesting the two bye-elections in the State assailed the constitutional validity of Order No. 3/8/94-J.S.II dated 13- 1-1994, made by the Election Commission imposing certain restrictions on the duration for the use of loudspeakers mounted on mobile vehicles for the election campaigns. The relevant and operative part of the Commission's order which is in paragraph 3 reads :

"3. After considering all aspects of the matter, the Commissioner, in exercise of its powers conferred by Article 324 of the Constitution and all other powers enabling it in this behalf, hereby DIRECT that the use of loudspeakers at future elections shall be strictly regulated as follows :

(i)The use of loudspeakers fitted on vehicles of any kind whatsoever for electioneering purposes during the entire election period starting from the date of announcement of election and ending with the date of declaration-of result shall be permitted only between 08.00 a.m. and 07.00p.m. No moving loudspeakers shall be permitted to be used before 8.00 a.m. and after 7.00 p.m. in any area.

691

(ii) If for the purpose of any public meeting or processions any loudspeakers which are fully static are to be used beyond the said hours specific prior written permission shall be obtained from the Government authorities concerned......

3. The following reasons are set out as justification for the promulgation of these restrictions :

"All political parties, candidates and their workers, supporters and sympathisers use loudspeakers for their electioneering campaigns. These loudspeakers are not only used from fixed rostrums but also used mounted/fitted on vehicles like trucks, tempos, cars, taxies, vans, three wheeler scooters, cycle-rickshaws etc. These vehicles move on all roads, streets and lanes and also go around villages, basties, mohallas, colonies, localities with the loudspeakers broadcasting at very great volume. This results in serious 'noise pollution' and causes great disturbance to the peace and tranquillity of the general public. The student community, in particular, gets seriously disturbed as their studies are badly hampered because the loudspeakers start blaring from very early hours in the morning and continue to do so throughout the day and till extremely late hours ill the night.

(emphasis supplied)

4. On an interlocutory application for stay made in the writ petition, the High Court was persuaded to the view that there was a prima facie case made out and that an interlocutory order of stay of the operation of the impugned order was required to be passed. The Election Commission of India seeks special leave to appeal against the order of stay.

5.We have heard Shri R.K. Garg, learned Senior Counsel for the Election Commission of India, and Shri A.K. Sen and Shri Ashok H. Desai, learned Senior Counsel for the respondents. We grant special leave.

6. In support of the order of the High Court, Shri A.K. Sen and Shri Ashok H. Desai strenuously urged that the essential question is not whether these restrictions are salutary and beneficial and promote the comfort, happiness and well-being of the citizens in the locality but really whether the Election Commission even with the widest amplitude of the reservoir of its powers contained in Article 324 of the Constitution, could be said to be the authority to promote and ensure these otherwise well-meant measures of public comfort and well-being. It is urged, for instance, that respecting the facilities for the student community to pursue studies in a quiet and tranquil atmosphere etc., however laudable and desirable they might otherwise be, the question is as to the power of the Election Commission to appropriate to itself these police powers and constitute itself the guardian of these values.

The argument, in short, which, prima facie, commended itself to the High Court, is that there is no nexus between these restrictions imposed with a view to promoting public good with the objects and purposes of empowerment under Article 324 of the Constitution. It is urged that these measures restricting the use of loudspeakers mounted on vehicles are matters covered by existing laws such as the provisions in the Police Act and do not fall within the ambit of what can reasonably be construed as matters touching "supervision, direction and control" of elections vested in the Election Commission.

692 7.On a consideration of the matter, we are, prima facie, of the view and we abstain from making any final pronouncement one way or the other in view of the pendency of the writ petition that though the specifications in the preamble of the grounds for the need and justification for the restrictions are stated in a manner susceptible to the contentions advanced for the respondents, the plenitude of those powers under Article 324 in the matter of conduct of fair and free elections, however, cannot put out of consideration the element of public inconvenience caused by the election campaigns. This, prima facie, is an area, perhaps, of overlapping powers.

8.Indeed, it was argued that the model code of conduct itself does not refer to this area. That again is a moot point whether Part 1(5) of the model code may not take this matter also in its sweep. This, of course, will have to be considered at the appropriate stage of final hearing of the writ petitions. For the present, we are persuaded to the view that the interlocutory intervention of the High Court cannot be supported. The prima facie position and the balance of inconvenience seem to be in favour of the aspect of public good in a matter which cannot be said to be unrelated to the area of the powers of the Election Commission under Article 324.

9. The interlocutory order dated 10-5-1994 made by the High Court, accordingly, requires to be and is hereby set aside.

10.But, then, we cannot brush aside granting, prima facie, the existence of the power of the Election Commission the argument as to the somewhat excessively restrictive nature and scope of the exercise of that power. Shri R.K. Garg, after some discussion on what might in the circumstances be reasonable restrictions on the use of loudspeakers from mobile vehicles, fairly suggested the time-restriction in para 3(1) of the impugned order which prohibits the use of loudspeakers on mobile vehicles between 7 p.m. and 8 a.m. be modified to read "10 p.m. and 6 a.m." The impugned order dated 13-1-1994 of the Election Commission, shall be read accordingly.

11.The first sentence of para 3(ii) of the impugned order of the Election Commission, it was urged, should not be enforced against the Chief Minister of the State of Tamil Nadu, as the perception of whose security requirements are quite important and serious. Shri R.K. Garg, again, fairly stated that the Chief Minister of the State of Tamil Nadu who is under the 'Z Plus' category of security, shall remain exempt from the restrictions contained in the said part of para 3(ii), and that she shall be entitled to address election meetings beyond the restricted hours from the stationary vehicles equipped with loudspeakers without the requirement of prior permission. The said para 3(ii) of the impugned order shall be construed accordingly.

12. The appeal is, accordingly, disposed of in the above terms. No costs.

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