Published on: 25 November 2022 at 20:18 IST
The Karnataka High Court ruled that the Registrar of Cooperative Societies cannot assume the authority of a Civil Court to consider election-related evidence when exercising its authority to investigate under Section 25 of the Karnataka Societies Registration Act.
The provision grants the Registrar the authority to investigate a registered society’s constitution, operations, and financial situation on his or her own or with the request of the majority of society members.
The Single Judge bench headed by Justice M. Nagaprasanna said that, “Conduct of elections, declaration of elected candidates, or a direction seeking holding of fresh election will have to be before the competent civil Court…”
“…District Registrar cannot assume power of a civil Court to consider the importance of evidence in election matters in the garb of conducting inquiry under Section 25 of the Act,”
As a result, the petition of unsuccessful candidates challenging the Registrar’s decision to deny their request for an investigation into the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce elections was dismissed.
“The competent civil Court shall have jurisdiction over the conduct of elections, the declaration of elected candidates, or a direction seeking the holding of fresh elections,” it stated.
The bench noted that the complaint calls for an investigation into how elections were conducted.
“As it would become a power akin to the Civil Court in deciding an election petition after recording of evidence, which power admittedly the District Registrar does not possess under the statute,” it was of the opinion that the allegations in the complaint undoubtedly require evidence and that the same would not be within the realm or jurisdiction of the District Registrar.
In addition, the Court cited CMS Evangelical Suvi David Memorial Higher Secondary School Committee v. District Registrar Cheranmahadevi. In that case, a full bench of the Madras High Court interpreted Section 36 of the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act, which is identical to Section 25 of the Act, and concluded that the Registrar’s authority cannot be extended to calling for a new election or annulling an existing one.
“The petition would not be maintainable before this Court, as the petitioners must knock on the doors of the competent civil Court seeking to annul the elections,” it stated in response.
As elections are over, the Executive Committee is in place, and the allegations in the petition point to corrupt practice such as large-scale rigging and several other illegalities and irregularities in the conduct of elections, the indirect attempt to submit that petitioners are not seeking inquiry into the conduct of elections is neither here nor there.
In addition, it stated that the petitioners must approach the appropriate civil court for relief. Even if the petition was for a directive to the District Registrar to inquire into how the elections were conducted, this Court would not consider it after the elections were over.
Since the complaint was about challenging the elections, the District Registrar’s decision not to consider it is without fault. Hence, the court rejected the petition.