Former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma's petition challenging the election of Pranab Mukherjee as President was today dismissed by the Supreme Court by a majority ruling holding that it has no substance and does not deserve full and regular hearing.
A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir by the 3 to 2 majority order said it was convinced that Mukherjee was not holding any "office of profit" warranting his disqualification from contesting the Presidential election.
The CJI, who read out the order on his behalf and justices P Sathasivam and S S Nijjar, said Sangma's petition has to be declined at the preliminary stage as the submissions made on his behalf challenging Mukherjee's election as President are of "little or no substance".
However, in separate dissenting orders, justices J Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi, said they disagree with the decision and opinions expressed by the Chief Justice that Sangma's plea did not deserve full and regular hearing.
While Justice Chelameswar said he will shortly give reasons for his disagreement with conclusion arrived by the CJI, Justice Gogoi was of the view that Sangma's contentions cannot be dismissed at preliminary stage as the allegation of holding office of profit as the Chairman of Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) has been made against Mukherjee in which "all facts are in dispute".
However, Justice Gogoi also clarified that so far as Mukherjee occupying the offices of Leader of the Lok Sabha and the Congress Party did not disclose "any triable issue for a full length hearing under the Rules of the Supreme Court".
Justice Chelameswar said, "I have had the advantage of reading the judgments of both My Lord 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".
In the majority order, the judges said they were not convinced with the arguments of Sangma's counsel and senior advocate Ram Jethmalani that the election petition filed by the former Lok Sabha Speaker deserves a full hearing involving trial of the President by ensuring his presence in the apex court under the Supreme Court rules for allegedly holding offices of profit.
The bench said Mukherjee was also not having any pecuniary benefit as the Chairman of the ISI, Kolkata, as to disqualify him under the office of profit.
It said that for the office of profit to apply on a person, he must be getting a "honorarium" and other benefits like chauffer-driven car, rent-free accommodation etc.
"In the instant case, the office of Chairman of the Institute did not provide for any of the amenities indicated hereinabove and, in fact, the said office was also not capable of yielding profit or pecuniary gain," the bench said.
"As would appear from the materials on record, the respondent (Mukherjee) was not holding any office of profit either under the government or otherwise at the time of filing his nomination papers for the Presidential election," it added.
It said that at the time of filing of nomination, Mukherjee had resigned from the Lok Sabha and from the membership of Congress party and its Central Working Committee, which was acted upon by the Speaker and in view of that, Sangma's contention "loses its relevance".
Giving weightage to the submission against Sangma's arguments, the judges said in the majority order that "we are not convinced that in the facts and circumstances of the case, the election petition deserves a full and regular hearing as contemplated under the Rule (relevant) of the Supreme Court Rules, 1966.
The CJI, writing the majority order, said "consequently, Jethmalani's submissions regarding the applicability of Section 141 of the Code of Civil Procedure for trial of the election petition is of no avail.
"We are also not convinced that Section 141 of the Code is required to be incorporated into a proceeding taken under the Supreme Court Rules read with Part II of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Elections Act, 1952 ..."
While holding that it was "not inclined to set down the election petition for regular hearing and dismiss the same", the bench said the submission of Jethmalani regarding Mukherjee holding office of profit as Chairman of ISI, Calcutta, warranting his disqualification from contesting Presidential election "is of little or no substance".
"We are also not inclined to accept Jethmalani's submissions that once a person is appointed as Chairman of the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta, the rules and bye-laws of the Society did 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. There is no such compulsion under the rules and bye-laws of the Society either.
"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 the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1959, the submissions of Jethmalani in this regard is of little or no substance," the majority order said.
It also 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."