Courts Should Avoid Construction Which Would Reduce Legislation To Futility - Supreme Court Clarifies
A two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice B.R. Gavai has held that Section 2(9), Section 39A, and Section 56 of the Maharashtra Municipal Corporations Act, 1949 will have to be read in reference to each other and cannot be read in isolation.
The Court held that "Therefore, we are of the view that the finding of the High Court that in view of Section 39A of the MMC Act, the Commissioner or the Corporation will not have power to suspend or initiate departmental inquiry against the AMC, is in ignorance of the provisions of Section 56 and subsection (9) of Section 2 of the MMC Act."
The appellants before the Court were KDM Corporation and the State of Maharashtra. They challenged the judgment of the Division Bench of Bombay High Court that held that KDM Corporation was not the competent authority to suspend respondent no. 1.
The High Court quashed the departmental inquiry and directed KDM to reinstate him forthwith to the post of Additional Municipal Commissioner.
R-1 was initially appointed as Assistant Municipal Commissioner which was approved by the State under Section 45 of Maharashtra Municipal Corporations Act, 1949.
An FIR was registered against R-1 for offences punishable under Sections 7, 8, 13(1)(d) along with Section 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
Mr. PS Patwalia, Senior Counsel appeared on behalf of KDM while Mr. Rahul Chitnis, Advocate appeared for the State. Mr. Anupam Lal Das, Senior Counsel appeared for R-1.
Pertinently, the High Court had held that since the appointment of R-1 was made by the State in view of Section 36 of the MMC Act, it is only the State who was competent to suspend and the suspension order issued by the Commissioner and ratified by KDM was beyond their powers.
In reference to Section 39A of the MMC Act, the Apex Court made the following observations
"The perusal of subsection (1) of Section 39A of the MMC Act would reveal that the State Government is empowered to create one or more posts of AMCs. However, such a post is created in the particular Corporation. The State Government is also entitled to appoint suitable persons on such posts. It is further clear that the AMCs so appointed, though shall exercise all or any of the powers and perform all or any of the duties and functions of the Commissioner, the same shall be subject to the control of the Commissioner. Subsection (2) of Section 39A of the MMC Act provides that every person so appointed as the AMC shall be subject to the same liabilities, restrictions and terms and conditions of service, to which the Commissioner is subjected to as per the provisions of MMC Act."
The Court crystallized the question for its consideration as follows:
"Therefore, the question that we will have to consider is as to whether the respondent No.1 though an employee of the KDM Corporation, can neither be suspended nor any departmental proceedings can be initiated against him by the KDM Corporation, since his selection and appointment was done by the State Government."
The Court made the following crucial observations:
"It could thus be seen that under Section 39A of the MMC Act, though the AMC will exercise all or any of the powers and perform all or any of the duties and functions of the Commissioner, the same shall be subject to the control of the Commissioner. No doubt, that the AMC would be subject to the same liabilities, restrictions and terms and conditions of service, to which the Commissioner of the Corporation is subjected. However, the legislative intent is clear that the powers to be exercised by AMCs would be subject to the control of the Commissioner.
The legislative intent would also be gathered from subsection (9) of Section 2 of the MMC Act. It could be seen that in the definition of the "Commissioner", though an acting Commissioner appointed under Section 39 of the MMC Act has been included, an AMC appointed under Section 39A of the MMC Act has not been included. We are, therefore, unable to accept the contention of respondent No.1 that the post of AMC is pari materia with that of the Commissioner. The legislative intent is clear that though the AMC exercises all or any of the powers and performs all or any of the duties and functions of the Commissioner, he would be subject to the control of the Commissioner, and as such, subordinate to him."
The Court noted that the legislature had created two classes of municipal officers and servants. One class is of municipal officers and servants and others were of ones holding the post equivalent to or higher in rank than the post of Assistant Commissioner.
The Court noted that the Statute must be read as a whole and for finding out the true meaning of one part of a statute, a reference will have to be made to another part of the statute and that will best express the meaning of the makers.
The Court made the following observations:
"It can thus be seen that this Court has held that it is the duty of the court to avoid a headon clash between two sections of the Act and to construe the provisions which appear to be in conflict with each other in such a manner so as to harmonise them. It has further been held that the provisions of one section of a statute cannot be used to defeat the other provisions unless the court finds the reconciliation between them impossible. It has further been held that when two conflicting provisions in an Act cannot be reconciled with each other, they should be so interpreted that, if possible, effect should be given to both. It has further been held that an interpretation, which reduces one of the provisions as a "dead letter" or "useless lumber", should be avoided."
"…It has further been held that if the court has a choice between two interpretations, the narrower of which would fail to achieve the manifest purpose of the legislation, such an interpretation will have to be avoided. The court should avoid a construction which would reduce the legislation to futility. A broader interpretation which would bring about an effective result, will have to be preferred. Applying this principle, we are of the considered view that subsection (9) of Section 2, Sections 39A and 56 of the MMC Act will have to be read in reference to each other. They cannot be read in isolation."
The Court noted that the Statute has to be interpreted in such a manner that it preserves its workability.
Hence the Court held that the High Court erred in setting aside the suspension and departmental proceedings against R-1.
The impugned judgment was set aside. The writ before the High Court was dismissed. There was no order as to costs.