P.R. Raman, J.
1. Petitioner is a returned candidate from Ward No. 15 of Kanjirappally Grama Panchayat as per the election conducted under the provisions of the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act. He won the election by a margin of two votes by securing 689 votes as against 687 votes secured by the first respondent herein. The first respondent challenged the election by filing Election O.P.No. 1/2000 before the Election Tribunal, the Munsiff's Court, Kanjirappally.
2. The main allegation contained in the Election Petition was that three persons named in Schedule A to the Election Petition were figured in the voters list of Ward No. 9 of Chirakkadavu Grama Panchayat. Two persons named in Schedule B were figured in the voters list of Ward No. 12 of Kanjirappally Grama Panchayat as well. It was further alleged that the above five persons cast their votes in both the constituencies and therefore, they have committed the mischief of double voting and hence their votes are void. It was his further case that six postal ballots were to be rejected for want of proper authorisation. On behalf of the first respondent herein PWs. 1 to 11 were examined and Exts.X1 to X33 were marked. Exts.C1 to C7 were marked as court exhibits. DWs. 1 to 4 were examined on the side of the petitioner herein. The Election Petition was ultimately allowed and the petitioner was unseated. He challenged the above order by filing Election Appeal 73/2003 before the District Court Kottayam, which was dismissed confirming the order of the Court below. Hence he has approached this Court by filing this revision.
3. The appellate Court, in para 21 of its judgment has drawn up a table for the purpose of easy consideration of the allegations and counter allegations. The five persons whose votes were contended to be invalid are shown as item 1 to 5 in the tabular column. The corresponding serial number in Constituency 15 of the Kanjirappally, the marking given to the counter foil ballot paper, the serial number in the voters list in the other constituencies, the disputed signature and their markings and the signature in the summons and the marking given on them are contained in the tabulation. The name of the first three persons appear in the A schedule to the Election Petition and the name of 4th and 5th persons appear in the B Schedule. The disputed ballot papers were sent to the Handwriting Expert and he submitted a report which is marked as Ext.C7. Based on Ext.C7 report and the evidence of PW 11 it was contended that only two persons were guilty of double voting and when their votes were excluded then the votes polled in favour of the petitioner and the first respondent are equal in number and if that be the position, recourse has to be made under Section 104 of the Panchayat Raj Act by putting the name to lots to decide the result. But the court below, on a consideration of the oral testimony of the voters as well as Ext.C7 report and the deposition of PW. 11 found that there has been double voting by atleast four persons named in the petition. On that basis, the first respondent herein was declared elected by a margin of two votes. It is contended that the court below ought not have compared the signature and to come to a conclusion regarding the two votes in respect of which even the expert did not give a positive finding. Relying on Ss.45 and 73 of the Evidence Act and following the dictum laid down in Lalit Popli v. Canara Bank, (2003) 3 SCC 583 and Elected Commission of India v. All India Anna Dravida Munetra Kazhagam, 1994 Suppl. (2) SCC 689, the learned counsel respondent contended that it is not the law that the Court is incompetent to compare the signature but only that it should be done with extreme care and caution. It was also contended for the respondent that an impartial consideration of the evidence in the case would clearly reveal that the mischief of double voting has been committed by atleast four persons. Section 76(3) of the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act provides that no person shall vote at a general election in more than one constituency of the same level and if he does so, his votes in all such constituencies shall be treated as void. The trial Court has, found that four persons have committed the mischief of double voting their votes have to be declared as invalid and the consequent result would be that the first respondent would win over the petitioner by two votes. Though a contention was raised that the Court is incompetent to compare the signature contained in the voters list for arriving at any conclusion and that in respect of atleast two votes opinion of the expert was inconclusive and hence the Court below ought not have rejected those two votes as invalid, the appellate Court in para 23 of its judgment observed that there is no dispute before the appellate court that the name of Appukuttan, Ashokan, Bency and Manikuttan whose serial numbers are shown as 1 to 4 in the table appeared in the voters list of both the constituencies and there was also no dispute regarding the fact that votes in their names have been cast in both the constituencies. If so, the provisions contained in Section 76 of the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act is attracted and thus the votes cast in both the constituencies are to be rendered void.
4. In Ext.C7 report of the expert, the finding regarding Appukuttan is contained in para 4 accompanied by reasons. As regards Asokan, his name appeared as Serial No. 2 in the tabular column noticed above and the finding of PW11 is contained in para 2 of the report. Serial No. 3 in the tabular column is Bency and the report of the Forensic expert is in para 5 and the reasons for conclusions are in para 4 of the report. As regards Manikuttan, the findings are in para 3 and 6 of the report with reasons thereon and as far as Usha is concerned, the finding is in paragraphs 7 and 8 of the report. The appellate Court after referring to the report, in paragraph 34 concluded that the report does not rule out the possibility of Appukuttan and Bency having exercised franchise in two constituencies at the same level. In the case of Asokan and Manikuttan the expert opinion is conclusive that same persons have voted in both the constituencies. In the case of Appukuttan it was found only probable that the same person might have voted and in the case of Bency, it may be. Therefore, in the case of Bency and Appukkuttan it was concluded that the expert opinion is not conclusive. It is true that Ext.C7 report is definite as regards two persons and the case of Bency it is only probable that this person might have voted in both the constituencies. Hence both the trial Court as well as the appellate Court referred to the entire evidence in the matter. Appukuttan was examined as PW2 who admitted his signature on Exts. C1 and C2 summons. Exts.X1 and X9 are the voters lists of Kanjirappally Grama Panchayat Constituency and Chirakadavu Grama Panchayat Constituency, respectively. The appellate Court in para 36 of its judgment found that the witness admitted that he was named in both the voters list. Ext.X10(a) signature in Column 6 of the table was shown to the witness and he admitted that it is his signature. The appellate Court also observed that though the witness was confronted with the signature which is marked as Ext.X2(a) shown in Column 4 of the table he denied it and he maintained that he had voted only in the Kanjirappally constituency attached to Kanjirappally Grama Panchayat. The admission made by the witness as regards his signature was referred to in extenso by both the courts below. Asokan was examined as PW3 and admitted that his name appeared in Exts. X1 and X9 and it is same person. Bency was examined as PW.4 and he too admitted that his name appeared in both in Ext.X1 and X9 voters lists. Manikuttan was examined as PW.5. His name also appeared both in Exts.X1 and X15 voters lists of Kanjirappally Grama Panchayat Constituency No. 15 and 12 respectively. Though he disputed that it is the same person, the trial Court, on an appreciation of the evidence, came to the conclusion that it is one and the same person which was confirmed by the Appellate Court as there was no challenge to the said finding. The Appellate Court also found that as far as Appukuttan is concerned, a reading of Ext. C7 report would show that the two counterfoils namely Exts.X16 shown in column No. 6 and Ext.X2 shown in column No. 4 in the table contain the signature of one arid the same person. He also admitted his signature therein as a whole though later he denied the signature in Ext.X16 as his. But this was discarded by the court below in the light of Ext.C7 report. In the circumstances, the trial Court undertook the exercise of comparison of the signature but it did not concluded merely based on such comparison but adverted to the oral testimony of the voters examined as already mentioned above. It was after making a thorough assessment of the evidence - both oral and documentary, as well as taking into consideration of the opinion of the expert examined as PW.11 and his report Ext.C7 that the trial Court came to the conclusion that all the four persons have committed the mischief of double voting. This exercise made by the trial Court cannot be assailed for any valid reasons. It is not a mere comparison of the signature based on which conclusions were reached. It was on a comparison of the signature along with the admission made by the witness and based on other evidence that conclusions were reached by the trial Court which was confirmed by the Appellate Court. The Appellate Court clearly found that the trial Court did not base its conclusions solely on comparison of the signature but it was only taken as a piece of evidence along with other evidence available in the case. There is hardly any reason to disagree with the finding arrived at by the trial Court as confirmed by the Appellate Court.
5. The learned counsel however, contended that as per Section 76(3) of the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act, in order to fall within the mischief of double voting the vote should have been cast in the same constituency of the same Panchayat of the same level. According to him, if the votes have been cast in two different Panchayat in two different constituencies that will not fall within the mischief of double voting and unless the plaintiffs have a case of impersonation the conclusion reached is wrong. According to him, Section 76 of the Panchayat Raj Act only prohibits voting by a person in more than one constituencies in the same Panchayat.
6. According to the learned counsel for the respondent, what is prohibited as per Section 76(3) of the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act is no person shall vote at a general election in more than one constituency of the same level. It does not refer to the word "same panchayat". In other words, even if the two constituencies form in different panchayats, such votes will be invalid under Section 76(3) of the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act.
7. In order to appreciate the contention raised by the parties, it is necessary to refer to some of the important provisions of the Act. As per part IX of the Constitution of India, Article 243 the "Grama Sabha" means a body consisting of persons registered in the electoral rolls relating to a village comprised within the area of Panchayat at the village level. "Intermediate level" means a level between the village and district levels specified by the Governor of a State by public notification to be the intermediate level. "Panchayat" means an institution (by whatever name called) of self-government constituted under Article 243-B, for the rural areas. As per Article 243(B)(1) there shall be constituted in every State, Panchayats at the village, intermediate and district levels in accordance with the provisions of Part IX of the Constitution. The composition of panchayats are dealt with in Article 243(C). As per Article 243(C)(2) all the seats in a Panchayat shall be filled by persons chosen by direct election from territorial constituencies in the Panchayat area and for this purpose, each Panchayat area shall be divided into territorial constituencies in such manner that the ratio between the population of each constituency and the number of seats allotted to it shall, so far as practicable, be the same throughout the Panchayat area. The legislature of a State can also provide by law for the representation of the chairpersons of the Panchayats at the village level, in the panchayats at the intermediate level or in the case of a State not having panchayats at the intermediate level, in the panchayats at the District level. As per Article 243(4) the chairperson of a panchayat and other members of the panchayat whether or not chosen by direct election from territorial constituencies in the panchayat area shall have the right to vote in the meetings of the panchayats and Article 243(C)(5) specifically provides that the Chairperson of the panchayat at the village level shall be elected in such manner as the Legislature of a State may, by law, provide, and a panchayat at the intermediate level or district level shall be elected by and from amongst the elected members thereof. The State Legislature as empowered under Article 243 enacted the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act, 1994 in replacement of the then existing enactments relating to the Panchayat and District Councils. One of the statement of objects and reason accompanying the Kerala Panchayat Raj Bill is that as per the Constitution 73rd amendment 1992 the new part provides for the constitution of Grama Panchayat Sabha in a village or group of villages, constitution of Panchayats at village, intermediate and District levels, direct elections to all seats in Panchayats at Village and intermediate levels, reservation of seats and offices of chairpersons for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population in the Panchayats at each level etc. This would show the purpose and object of enacting the law. As per Section 2(vii) 'Constituency' means the territorial area (by whatever name called) for the purpose of election of a member to a Panchayat at any level. "As per Section 2(xiv) 'Election' means an election to fill a, seat in any of the constituencies in a Panchayat at any level. As per Section 2(xv) the word 'elector' in relation to a constituency (by whatever name called) means a person whose name is entered in the electoral roll of that constituency, for the time being in force, and who is not subject to any of the disqualifications mentioned in Section 17".
8. Chapter III of the Act deals with Constitution of Panchayat at different levels. As per Section 4(1) thereof the Government shall, by notification in the Gazette, constitute with effect from such date as may be specified in the notification, a Village Panchayat for each village or for group of villages, a Block Panchayat at intermediate level and a District Panchayat for each District Panchayat area and specify the names and headquarters of such panchayats. As per Section 6(1) the total number of seats in a Village Panchayat, a Block Panchayaat and a District Panchayat to be filled by direct election shall be notified by the Government in accordance with the scale specified in Sub-section (3) thereof. The composition of Village Panchayat is provided for under Section 7. Section 8 deals with composition of Bolck Panchayat, as per which every Block Panchayat shall consist of (a) elected members equal to the number of seats notified under Sub-section (1) of Section 6; (b) the Presidents of the Village Panchayats in the territorial area of the Block Panchayat. As per Section 8(2) all the seats in a Block Panchayat notified under Sub-section (1) of Section 6 shall be filled by persons chosen by direct election in accordance with the provisions of the Act. Preparation of electoral rolls is dealt with in Chapter VI of the Act. As per Section 16(1), for every constituency in a Village Panchayat there shall be prepared an electoral roll in accordance with the provisions of this Act. Section 16(3) says that 'the electoral rolls for the constituencies of Block Panchayats and District Panchayats shall consist of the electoral rolls for all the constituencies of the Village Panchayats comprised within the constituencies of the Block Panchayat or, as the case may be, of the District Panchayat and it shall not be necessary to prepare or revise separate electoral rolls for such constituencies. As per Section 18 of the Act, no person shall be entitled to be registered in the electoral roll for more than one constituency. As per Section 19 of the Act, no person shall be entitled to be registered in the electoral roll for any constituency more than once and Section 76(3) of the said Act states that no person shall vote at a general election in more than one constituency of the same level, and if a person votes in more than one such constituency, his votes in all such constituencies shall be void.
9. The argument of the learned counsel for the petitioner is that the prohibition contained in Section 18 is only that a person shall not be entitled to be registered in the electoral roll for more than one constituency in a Panchayat. In other words, if the registration is made in two different constituencies in different panchayats, then that is not hit by Section 18. In other words, he want to read into Section 18 the word "in a panchayat" after the word constituency which is conspicuously absent in Section 18. Section 18 prohibits registration in the electoral roll for more than one constituency and the section stops there. According to the learned counsel for the petitioner, the word "constituency" as defined in Section 2(7) means a territorial area for the purpose of election of a member to a Panchayat at any level. Therefore, if the expression "Constituency" in Section 18 is understood as defined in the Act, according to him the prohibition contained in Section 18 will apply only as against registration of a person in more than one Constituency in the same panchayat. According to him, atleast in the case of two persons their registration is in two different panchayats and voting in two different constituencies of different panchayats will not constitute double voting. Though the argument prima facie appears to be attractive, on a careful consideration of the legislative history and the object sought to be achieved by prohibiting the registration in more than one constituency, it could be found that the 'constituency' referred to cannot be restricted to mean within the panchayat alone. It is settled principle that the meaning of the expression as defined in the Act can be substituted wherever such expression occurs in any other provisions of the Act unless the context otherwise requires. The expression cannot be understood in the same manner as defined if a different meaning in the context is required to be given while understanding the said provision. The right of an elector to cast his vote in the panchayat level election has got an indirect consequence in the matter of election to a block panchayat or to a district level panchayat. As per the" definition of the term "Block Panchayat" it is constituted at intermediate level and Section 4 amply makes it clear that the village panchayat is to be constituted for each village or group of villages, Block panchayat at intermediate level and district panchayat for each district panchayat. Therefore, two or more adjoining panchayat may constitute a block panchayat and all such block panchayat in the District will constitute a district panchayat. Hence a person who happens to be registered in an electoral roll in two constituencies of two adjoining panchayats have an indirect say in the matter of election to a block panchayat or to a district panchayat because adjoining panchayats may constitute a block panchayat and all the members elected to these panchayats may have a say while constituting a block panchayat at intermediate level and district level. Therefore, to allow a person to cast his vote in two constituencies, though happen to be in two adjoining panchayats of the same block will suffer from the same consequence of the mischief of double voting.
10. While interpreting a statute where literal construction or plain meaning may cause hardship, futility, absurdity or uncertainty, the court can prefer purposive or contextual construction to arrive at a more just, reasonable and sensible result. (See D. Saibaba v. Bar Council of India, (2003) 6 SCC 186). Therefore, reading a word for word and assigning a literal meaning if leads to any absurdity which the legislature never intended and when the provision is capable of reading in more than one way then that interpretation of the provision which will advance the object and purpose of the legislation has to be preferred.
11. In gathering the intention of the legislature, the previous legislation on the same law must be presumed to have taken note of by the legislature while enacting the latter legislation. In the Representation of People Act, 1950 in Section 17 after the word "constituency" the words "in the same State" were inserted by way of 20 of 1956 but the words "in the same State" were omitted by the Amendment Act, 1958 (58 of 1958). After the deletion by Act 58/1958 Section 17 of the Peoples Representation Act, 1950 reads as follows:
"No person shall be entitled to register in, the electoral in roll in more than one constituency".
12. Therefore, what was inserted by an amendment namely "in the same State" has been deleted consciously by another amendment namely by Act 58/1958. In other words, it was not intended while expressing the term "constituency" to confine itself to "same State". Further, when the language is used as capable of bearing more than one construction, in selecting the true meaning regard must be had to the consequences resulting from adopting the alternative constructions, as stated in "Principles of Statutory Interpretation" by Justice G.P. Singh, at page
103. Hence going by the language used in Section 76(3) of the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act, it admits of no doubt that the legislature has only intended that a person shall not cast his vote in more than one constituency irrespective of whether it is in the same panchayat or in different panchayats. The sanctity of the election has to be preserved and if the argument is accepted that a person can cast his vote in more than one constituency and when he cast his vote in another panchayat in another constituency, then his votes cannot be invalidated on the ground of double voting. It is not the intention sought to be achieved. At any rate, the peculiar facts and circumstances of this case when both the panchayats are adjoining and coming under the same Block and same District, the election of a member in a particular ward to the panchayat has therefore an indirect say in the Block level and District level and in such circumstances, the expression referred to in Section 76(3) of the Act cannot be understood as "constituency in a panchayat", as contended by the petitioner.
Accordingly, this Civil Revision Petition is dismissed.