Chairman cannot extend office once retired as a member of Standing Committee as per S.21 Maharashtra Municipal Corporations Act, 1949: Bombay High Court

As per section 21 of the Maharashtra Municipal Corporations Act, 1949, the chairman shall vacate the office as soon as he ceases to be a member of the committee. Therefore, there is no legal basis to contend that he shall be deemed to continue as chairman. This judgment was passed in the case of Bhagwan Shankar Bhalerao vs. State of Maharashtra [Writ Petition no.10801/2021] by a Double Bench consisting of Hon’ble Justice Surendra P. Tavade and Hon’ble Justice S.J. Kathawalla.

The present writ petition pertains to the reconstitution of the Standing Committee and election of a chairman to the Standing Committee of the Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation (the Corporation). By a resolution 8 members of the Standing Committee retired and 8 new members were appointed in place of the retiring members. This was consistent with the mandate and section 20 of the Maharashtra Municipal Corporations Act, 1949 (the Act). Thereafter, the Municipal Secretary with the consent of the collector  called for a special meeting to elect the Chairman of Standing Committee as provided by Section 21 of the Act. Due to Covid the state government vide its order directed all Municipal Corporation, collectors, etc. to postpone the election. Later on it also extended the tenure of the retired chairman and members of the Standing committee who retired in view of Covid. The Petitioner prayed for a writ of certiorari and/or any other writ and/or order and/or direction in the nature of certiorari to quash and set aside the notice dated April 8th, 2021.

The High Court of Bombay observed that clause (a) of the prayer is infructuous since the state government while issuing notification of 6th May 2021, accepted that it would not apply to the reconstituted Standing Committee of the Corporation. The High Court was of the opinion that, to answer clause (b) they have to decide whether the tenure of Shri Patil as the Chairman of the Standing Committee concluded by reason of him retiring as a member of the Standing Committee?; whether his office can continue only up to his membership?; Whether the Standing Committee constituted as of 1st April, 2021 is barred, under Section 21(5) of the Act from appointing a Chairman of the Standing Committee by reason of thirty days from the date of its reconstitution having elapsed?

The Bombay High Court held that on a bare reading of section 20 and section 21 of the Act, a Chairman of the Standing Committee must first and foremost be a member of the Standing Committee. In the present matter Shri Patil was not a member of the same. Section 21(3) of the Act clearly stipulates that the chairman shall vacate the office as soon as he ceases to be a member of the committee. therefore, there is no legal basis to contend that he shall be deemed to continue as chairman. As per section 20(3) read with section 20(4) and 20(5) of the Act the period of one year, which is the term of the Standing Committee before it is reconstituted after 8 persons retiring and 8 fresh appointments, will be from the first day of month in which the first meeting of the Corporation to appoint its Standing Committee took place and every succeeding year thereafter as determined from this date. And as far as postponement of the election is concerned, the term of members cannot be extended beyond 1st April of the next year. Therefore his office will continue only till membership and cannot be extended.

The High Court observed, as per section 21(5) of the Act If there is inaction or indecision on the part of the Standing Committee in appointing its own Chairman within 30 days, the position of Chairman is determined by the alternative method of the Corporation appointing a Chairman within 15 days thereafter. Therefore the State Government could have postponed the elections of Chairman by the members of the Standing Committee. Even as per the lockdown notification some activities were allowed and it was for the corporation and standing committee to determine if the election could have proceeded with a physical meeting or virtual meeting. Therefore, time lost in appointing a Chairman cannot result in Section 21(5) being invoked in order for the Standing Committee to lose their entitlement to appoint their own Chairman under Section 21 of the Act.

The Bombay High Court concluded by holding, “We direct that a meeting of the Standing Committee to appoint its Chairman should be held within 15 days from the date of pronouncement of this Order. Such meeting may be a physical meeting or failing that and subject to there being no prohibition in the applicable Rules, the meeting for appointment of Chairman by the Standing Committee may be held as a virtual meeting.”

Click here to read the judgment.

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