The clouds on the fairness of President Pranab Mukherjee's election as head of the country cleared Wednesday as the Supreme Court by a majority judgment rejected a petition challenging the process.
The apex court special bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, Justice P. Sathasivam, Justice S.S. Nijjar, Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice Ranjan Gogoi dismissed the petition filed by defeated presidential candidate P.A. Sangma, who contended that Mukherjee held an office of profit when he filed his nomination papers.
The majority judgment, holding that the petition by Sangma was not maintainable, was given by Chief Justice Kabir, Justice Sathasivam and Justice Nijjar.
"We are not inclined, therefore, to set down the election petition for regular hearing and dismiss the same under Rule 13 of Order XXXIX of the Supreme Court Rules, 1966," the majority judgment said.
Justice Chelameswar and Justice Gogoi, in their separate dissenting judgments, differed with the majority view and held that Sangma's petition challenging Mukherjee's election deserved regular hearing.
While disagreeing with the majority view, Justice Chelameswar said he would pronounce his reasons for such disagreement shortly.
Pronouncing the majority judgment, Chief Justice Kabir said: "It may not be inappropriate at this stage to mention that this court has repeatedly cautioned that the election of a candidate who has won in an election should not be lightly interfered with unless circumstances so warrant."
Mukherjee's holding the office of chairman, Indian Statistical Institute, was not an office of profit, the majority judgment said.
"We are also not inclined to accept (Ram) Jethmalani's submissions that once a person is appointed as chairman of the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, the rules and bye-laws of the society do not permit him to resign from the post and that he had to continue in the post against his wishes."
"There is no contractual obligation that once appointed, the chairman would have to continue in such post for the full term of office," the majority view said.
"In any event, since the holder of the post of chairman of the institute has been excluded from disqualification for contesting the presidential election, by the 2006 amendment to Section 3 of Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1959, the submissions of Jethmalani in this regard is of little or no substance," the majority verdict said.
Justice Gogoi said the disqualification incurred by a presidential candidate on account of holding of an office of profit was not removed by the provisions of the act, which dealt with removal of disqualification for being chosen as, or for being a MP.
Holding that it would be incumbent upon Sangma to prove whether the office of the chairman of the Kolkata institute was an office of profit or not, Justice Gogoi said that no conclusion could be drawn.
"No conclusion that a regular hearing in the present case will be a redundant exercise or an empty formality can be reached so as to dispense with the same and terminate the election petition at the stage of its preliminary hearing," Justice Gogoi said.
Justice Chelameswar in a brief order said: "I have had the advantage of reading the judgments of both the chief justice and my learned brother Justice Ranjan Gogoi. I regret my inability to agree with the conclusion recorded by the learned chief justice that the instant election petition does not deserve a regular hearing. I shall pronounce my reasons for such disagreement shortly."