In a boost to teachers of government-aided private colleges, the Meghalaya High Court has today set aside the amended notification issued by the Education Department on March 23, 2021 that bars such teachers from joining politics or contesting elections.
In the judgement passed today, the division bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Wanlura Diengdoh rejected the appeal filed by the State government against the previous verdict passed by the single bench of the High Court on the matter.
“…..the impugned notification of March 23, 2021 is set aside, restoring the position to as it stood immediately prior thereto. The amendment introduced by the notification is found to be in excess of the authority available to the State government and otherwise onerous, unconscionable and unreasonable. The impact of the amendment on the individual teachers is so overwhelming to the extent it curtails a fundamental legal right and the only choice available to the teacher is, effectively, to give up his livelihood, that the distinction between the post and the person is illusory.”
The High Court also observed that the right to contest elections to any legislative or public body is recognised as a right. “However, it may only be said that once the Preamble to the Constitution declares the State to be both democratic and a republic there is a promise held out therein that, subject to what may be prescribed by any procedure established by law, any citizen of this country would be entitled to both vote and contest elections to legislative and public bodies,” the court added.
“While it may be perfectly justified for a State government to ensure that the teachers in the private colleges to which it grants aid only concentrate on their teaching activities and not indulge in any politics in class or on the campus, the altogether barring of a person occupying such position of a teacher from contesting any election to any legislative or public body or office of any political organisation appears to be far too draconian, unreasonable and unconscionable,” the High Court observed.
Further, the court said that no State government has any authority to disqualify a person from contesting any election to a legislative body. “It is the sole prerogative of Parliament to do so as would be evident from Articles 102 and 191 of the Constitution pertaining to Parliament and Legislative Assemblies, respectively,” it added.
Observing that the matter touches upon the right to livelihood of a citizen, the High Court said that if a middle-aged career lecturer or professor has to quit his hard-earned job to pursue his right to contest the election to a legislative or public body or to an office of a political organisation, he virtually signs a death warrant for himself and his dependants. For, if he loses, there is no coming back; and, he may be too old to be eligible to obtain a new position.
It may be mentioned that VPP MLA from Mawlai Brightstarwell Marbaniang and several assistant professors in government-aided colleges in the State have challenged the amendment on the ground that they had been willy-nilly disallowed from holding office in any political organisation or to engage in political activities and contest in elections to legislative and public bodies as well as to posts in political organisations.