The Andhra Pradesh High Court has held that the constitutional bar against courts hearing election disputes (Article 329 of the Constitution) would prevail over the High Court’s power to issue writs (Article 226 of the Constitution).
A Division Bench comprising Justice Joymalya Bagchi and Justice M. Ganga Rao made the observation in a writ petition seeking to annul the polling conducted in the Tirupati District on April 17 on the grounds of fraudulent polling and booth capturing.
The Bench observed that, “Bar for entertaining an election dispute under Article 226 of the Constitution of India is not a self-imposed restriction like existence of alternate statutory remedy. It is a constitutional bar engrafted under Article 329(b) of the Constitution which is prefaced with a non obstante clause. Hence, Article 329(b) of the Constitution prevails over the powers of the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.”
The Division Bench stated that it would be unwise for the Court to enter the fray by assuming that Article 226 of the Constitution is superior to the constitutional bar envisaged under Article 329(b).
The Bench also took into account the 1951 Representation of People Act. Section 80 of the said Act states that no election can be challenged in court unless it is via an election petition.
Accordingly, the Bench Observed that, “Democracy is a fundamental feature of the Constitution, and elections held at regular prescribed intervals are critical to the democratic structure envisaged in the Constitution. The Election Commission, established under Article 324 of the Indian Constitution, is in charge of supervising, directing, and controlling elections. Article 329 of the Indian Constitution prohibits courts from interfering in election matters.”
The above constitutional scheme, when read in conjunction with the provisions of the Act of 1951, makes it abundantly clear that any election-related conflict will be amenable to adjudication only through an Election Petition filed in accordance with the provisions of the Act of 1951.
Further it was held that, “Whether the Election Commission was justified in failing to act on the writ petitioner’s representations, in our considered view, would fall within the domain of an election dispute amenable to adjudication in an Election Petition and not otherwise.”