A Full Bench headed by Chief Justice S.A Bobde held that the interpretation of ‘date’ under Section 8(3) of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951 must align with the principle of innocent until proven guilty. The Bench held that the Rajya Sabha member’s vote is valid as it was the cast before his conviction in the afternoon of the same day.
A Full Bench headed by Chief Justice S.A Bobde held that the interpretation of ‘date’ under Section 8(3) of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951 must align with the principle of presuming innocence until proven guilty. The Bench held that the vote cast by the Rajya Sabha member is valid as it was cast before his conviction in the afternoon of the same day.
Brief facts of the case
The Rajya Sabha (Council of States) elections on two seats for the state of Jharkhand was scheduled on 23.03.2018. A total of 80 members of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Jharkhand cast their votes. Shri Amit Kumar Mahto, an elected member of the Assembly of Jharkhand, cast his vote at 9.15 a.m. on that day.
However, Shri Mahto was convicted for two years by the Sessions Court at 2:30 p.m. on the date of the election. After the votes were counted, at 11:20 p.m., an objection was raised to declare the vote cast by Shri Mahto invalid. This request was based on the conviction and sentence imposed on him in the afternoon by the Criminal Court. After that, the results were declared without invalidating his vote.
The defeated member of the Legislative Assembly filed an Election Petition in the High Court against the counting of Shri Mahto’s vote. The High Court found out that Shri Mahto cast his vote in favour of the Congress candidate. Because the margin of victory was significantly less, Shri Mahto’s vote was of significance.
The High Court dismissed the petition based on the complex, technical process of counting the Rajya Sabha elections votes. It was also impossible to determine whether the Petitioner could have won the election had that one vote been rejected.
Hence the present appeal.
Arguments in the Court
Wherever a statute uses the word “date” regarding an event, courts have always interpreted the same to have happened at the intersection of the previous day and the present day, namely 00.01 a.m. This is because it is at that time that the day begins and also because the law ignores fractions.
Therefore, though the Sessions Court delivered its judgment of conviction and sentence at 2.30 p.m. on 23.03.2018, the date of such conviction was deemed in law to have commenced at about 00.01 a.m. Thus, the date of conviction is when the date of March 22 lapsed, and the date of March 23 began.
In such a case, if the time at which the judgment was delivered is irrelevant and the focus is actually on the date of conviction, then the disqualification would also commence at 00.01 a.m. on 23.03.2018.
Thereby, the vote cast at 9.15 a.m. on 23.03.2018 would be a vote by a disqualified member and invalid.
Whether the vote cast by Shri Mahto at 9.15 a.m. on 23.03.2018 should be treated as an invalid vote? The invalidity was on account of the disqualification suffered by the voter under Article 191(1)(e) of the Constitution of India read with Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951(“ the R. P. Act”). He was convicted and sentenced by the Sessions Court in a criminal case, rendered at 2.30 p.m. on the same election date.
Section 8(3) of the RP Act deals both with the conditions of disqualification and with the period of disqualification. Regarding the period of disqualification, Section 8(3) is comprehensive in that it indicates both the commencement of the period and its expiry.
The Court observed that in the present case, the date of conviction was the point of commencement of disqualification. The date of completion of a period of six years after release was the point of expiry of the period of disqualification.
The Bench called the argument of the interpretation of the word ‘date’ a double-edged weapon. If the event of conviction that happened at 2.30 p.m. on 23.03.2018 can relate to 00.01 a.m., the event of voting by Shri. Mahto, which happened at 9.15 a.m., can also relate to 00.01 a.m.
Under Section 8(3) of the R.P Act, the disqualification triggered in this case was a conviction by a criminal Court for various offences under the Penal Code. Therefore, the phrase “the date of conviction” appearing in Section 8(3) should receive an interpretation concerning the penal provisions under which a person was convicted.
The Bench opined that to hold that a Member of the Legislative Assembly stood disqualified even before he was convicted would grossly violate his substantive right to be treated as innocent until proved guilty.
In the present case, it was unnecessary to make a declaration incompatible in using the word “date” with the general rule of law, since the word “date” is quite capable of meaning the point of time when the event took place rather than the whole day.
The well-known presumption that a man is innocent until he is found guilty, cannot be subverted because the words can accommodate both competing circumstances. While it is known that an acquittal operated on the nativity, no case has been cited for the proposition that a conviction takes effect even a minute before itself.
Moreover, the word “date” can denote occasion, time, year, etc. It was also used to denote the time up to the present when used in the phrase “the two dates.”
The Bench quoted Roget’s International Thesaurus and stated that the word “date” can also be used to denote a point of time, etc.
Hence, to say that this presumption of innocence would evaporate from 00.01 a.m., and the conviction handed over at 2.30 p.m., would be to strike at the root of the most fundamental principle of Criminal Jurisprudence.
The Bench opined that to accept the Appellant’s submission would also require to construe the statutory scheme as intending something startling, i.e., positing that the consequence precedes the cause. This would be reducing this provision to absurdity and require Courts to hold that a consequence can precede its cause.
The Bench disagreed with the stance that a provision’s intended effect is to state that a convicted person shall be disqualified from the date of his conviction.
The disqualification arising under Section 8(3) of the Act was the consequence of the criminal Court’s conviction and sentence.
In other words, the conviction is the cause, and disqualification is the consequence. A consequence can never precede the cause. Accepting the Appellant’s contention would mean that the consequence will be deemed to have occurred even before the cause surfaced.
The Bench further pointed out the fallacy of the Appellant’s argument by applying a reverse situation to the case of the word “date” used in a Statute, to be understood to relate to 00:01 a.m.
If in a hypothetical situation, the conviction and sentence had taken place in the forenoon and Shri Mahto had cast his vote in the afternoon, the defeated candidate would not have argued that the voting should be deemed to have taken place at 00:01 a.m.
The Bench also remarked that declaring the vote invalid would result in an expectation that the Returning Officer should have had the foresight at 9:15 a.m. about the outcome of the criminal case in the afternoon.
The Bench held that the vote cast by Shri Mahto at 9:15 a.m. on 23.03.2018 was valid.
Click here to read Pradeep Kumar v. Dhiraj Prasad Sahu.
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