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Indian Case Summary

Indian National Congress (I) vs Institute Of Social Welfare & Ors on 10 May, 2002 – Case Summary

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In the case of the Indian National Congress (I) vs Institute Of Social Welfare & Ors on 10 May, 2002, the Supreme Court of India was tasked with addressing a significant question: whether the Election Commission of India, under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, has the power to de-register or cancel the registration of a political party on the grounds that it has called for hartal (strike) by force, intimidation, or coercion, thereby violating the provisions of the Constitution of India.

Facts of the Case

The case arose from directions issued by the High Court of Kerala on writ petitions filed for enforcement of a decision in the case of Communist Party of India (Marxist) vs. Bharat Kumar & Ors. AIR (1998) SC 184. In this case, it was held that there is a distinction between ‘bundh’ (shutdown) and ‘hartal’. A call for a bundh involves coercion of others into towing the lines of those who called for the bundh, and that the act was unconstitutional, as it violated the rights and liberty of other citizens guaranteed under the Constitution.

Despite this ruling, political parties in the State of Kerala continued to call bundh under the name and cover of hartal. The writ petitioners alleged that some of the political parties had contravened the provisions of the Constitution, but the Election Commission of India had taken no action in this regard.

Issues

The primary issue before the Supreme Court was whether the Election Commission of India has the power to de-register a political party for having violated the constitutional provisions.

Court’s Observations and Decision

The Supreme Court noted that neither the Symbols Order nor Section 29A of the Act conferred any express power on the Election Commission to de-register a political party registered under Section 29A of the Act on the ground that it has either violated the provisions of the Constitution or any provision of the undertaking given before the Election Commission at the time of its registration.

The Court held that in the absence of an express power in the Act, the Election Commission is not empowered to de-register a registered political party. The Court agreed with the learned Attorney General’s argument that the Election Commission, while exercising its power under Section 29A of the Act, acts quasi-judicially and in the absence of any express power of review having been conferred on the Election Commission, the Election Commission has no power to de-register a political party.

However, the Court also noted that there are three circumstances when the Election Commission could not be deprived of the power to de-register a party: (a) when the Election Commission finds that the party has secured registration by playing fraud on the Commission, (b) when a political party itself informs the Election Commission that it has ceased to exist, and (c) when a political party has failed to submit its election accounts.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court held that the Election Commission of India does not have the power to de-register a political party for having violated the constitutional provisions, except in the three circumstances mentioned above.