24 Jun 2121

The disqualification under Section 5B of the Maharashtra Municipal Corporations Act, 1949, cannot be based only on her failure to produce the Caste Validity Certificate within the twelve-month deadline - Bombay High Court

Case : Smt. Kalmati Ramkrupal Yadav v. Chandrapur City Municipal Corporation Writ Petition No. 1904 of 2020

Court : Bombay High Court

Bench : Justice Manish Pitale

Decided on : 24 Jun 2121

The Relevant Statutes

Article 141, 142 of the Constitution of India

Section 5B of the Maharashtra Municipal Corporations Act, 1949

Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 

Commercial Courts Act, 2015

Brief Facts & Procedural History

1. The petitioner was elected to the Chandrapur Municipal Corporation from a seat designated for members of the Other Backward Class (women category). The petitioner was declared elected by the respondent Municipal Corporation's Election Officer through a notice. The petitioner was elected under the abovementioned reservation category, according to a certificate provided by the respondent Municipal Corporation's Election Officer.

2. A person contesting an election for a reserved seat must submit a Caste Certificate issued by the Competent Authority, as well as a Validity Certificate issued by the Caste Scrutiny Committee, along with the nomination paper, according to Section 5B of the Maharashtra Municipal Corporations Act, 1949. A person from the reserved category who has applied to the Caste Scrutiny Committee for verification of caste certificate can also file nomination and contest the election, provided Caste Validity Certificate is produced within twelve months from the date of such person's election, according to a proviso to Section 5B of the Maharashtra Municipal Corporations Act, 1949. The proviso further states that if a Validity Certificate is not presented within the aforementioned twelve-month period, the person's election will be regarded to have been cancelled retrospectively and she would be excluded from membership.

3. In this case, it is uncontested that the petitioner had previously applied to the Caste Scrutiny Committee for a Caste Validity Certificate when she filed her nomination paper to run for the aforementioned restricted seat. As a result, she was obliged to provide a Caste Validity Certificate within twelve months after being elected, as per the proviso to Section 5B of the Maharashtra Municipal Corporations Act, 1949.

4. The petitioner's election was terminated with retrospective effect, and she was disqualified from being a member of the respondent corporation, according to the impugned decision issued by the respondent Corporation's Commissioner, the petitioner had admittedly failed to submit the Caste Validity Certificate after the twelve-month time mentioned in the proviso to Section 5B of the Maharashtra Municipal Corporations Act, 1949, expired on the said day.

5. The petitioner filed the current Writ Petition challenging the said order, claiming that, despite taking all reasonable steps to obtain a Caste Validity Certificate from the Caste Scrutiny Committee, she was unable to do so due to the sudden countrywide lock-down imposed following the COVID-19 pandemic, The Caste Scrutiny Committee was unable to meet, and the petitioner's application was unable to be resolved. The petitioner claimed that the severe consequences of the petitioner's deemed termination of the election with retrospective effect and her disqualification should not apply to her under Section 5B of the Maharashtra Municipal Corporations Act, 1949 because the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lock-down had created an unprecedented and unimaginable situation in which the law's mandatory requirement could not be met.

6. The Writ Petition further claimed that the petitioner followed the matter as soon as the Caste Scrutiny Committee could begin its work, and the Caste Scrutiny Committee issued a Validity Certificate in her favour, demonstrating that the Petitioner belonged to the Other Backward Class. The Writ Petition included a copy of the Validity Certificate, and it was asked that the contested ruling be overturned. In the Writ Petition, the Honourable High Court of Judicature in Bombay issued notice and directed that no further efforts be made to fill the vacancy caused by the impugned decision passed against the petitioner.

7. Following that, the Honourable High Court of Judicature at Bombay noted that the petitioner relied on an order issued by the Honourable Supreme Court in Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) No.3 of 2020, which directed that the period of limitation prescribed under the general law or Special Laws, whether condonable or not, be extended until further orders, as a result of the COVID-19 virus's threat to the country. Honourable High Court of Judicature at Bombay also determined that to fully appreciate the petitioner's arguments, an additional affidavit be filed to show what steps the petitioner had taken about the pending proceeding before the Caste Scrutiny Committee, to determine whether the arguments raised on her behalf were justified. The petitioner filed an additional affidavit with documents to demonstrate how the processes before the Caste Scrutiny Committee went until the Cast Validity Certificate was issued.

The Issue(s) of the Case

Whether the impugned order dated 23 June 2020 valid?

The Observations of the Court

1. Referring to the Hon’ble Supreme Court Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) No.3 of 2020, in light of the extraordinary situation produced by the COVID-19 viral lock-down, the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India utilised its jurisdiction under Article 142 read with Article 141 of the Indian Constitution to give such a relief of time extension. The Hon'ble Supreme Court's orders would apply to a variety of scenarios, including the petitioner's case, given the unique facts and circumstances of this case.

2. Referring to the case of Arjun Panditrao Khotkar vs. Kailash Kushanrao Gorantyal (2020) 7 SCC 1, when it was held that an obligatory legal requirement can be excused if it can be proved that despite all efforts made by the party needed to meet the statutory requirement, the requirement could not be met owing to no fault of such person. In the instance at hand, the party had made every attempt to get the necessary certificate under the terms of the Evidence Act, but the authority that was intended to provide the certificate failed to do so.

3. Honourable High Court of Judicature at Bombay observes that as evidenced by the facts of the procedure supplied by the Committee's office, the petitioner did not make any efforts to obtain a Caste Validity Certificate before the Caste Scrutiny Committee. Despite the petitioner's best efforts, the procedures before the Caste Scrutiny Committee could not be concluded before the necessary twelve-month deadline set out in proviso to Section 5B of the Maharashtra Municipal Corporations Act, 1949 expired. Due to the imposition of lock-down, the Caste Scrutiny Committee was unable to convene meetings or continue with the petitioner's application. The Caste Scrutiny Committee would have been able to conclude the procedure regarding the petitioner's Caste Validity Certificate if not for the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent lock-down.

4. Honourable High Court of Judicature at Bombay also observes that when the impotentia excusat legem and lex non-cogit ad impossibilia legal maxims are applied to the unique facts of the present case, such as the lock-down imposed due to the COVID-19 crisis, it can be concluded that the impotentia excusat legem and lex non-cogit ad impossibilia legal maxims apply and that the petitioner's claim that the impugned order deserves to be set aside has merit.

The Decision Held by the Court

1. Honourable High Court of Judicature at Bombay held that the impugned order, dated June 23, 2020, is set aside. It is held that the petitioner's disqualification under Section 5B of the Maharashtra Municipal Corporations Act, 1949, cannot be based only on her failure to submit the Caste Validity Certificate within the twelve-month deadline.

2. In the context of the COVID-19 situation, it is ruled that she is entitled to protection under the orders given from time to time by the Honourable Supreme Court in Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) No. 3 of 2020.

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