R. C. Lahoti, J. -
(1.)The controversy centres around the interpretation of sub-section (7) of S. 6 of the Press Council Act, 1978 (hereinafter 'the Act,' for short), viz., for how many terms of the Council a member can be nominated
(2.)The facts are jejune. Harbhajan Singh, the appellant, is an editor of Indian Observer. All India Small and Medium Newspapers Federation, the respondent No. 2 is an 'association of persons' within the meaning of Cl. (b) of sub-section (4) of S. 5 of the Act. The appellant had been a member of the Council for two terms of three years each, namely, 1982-1985 and 1985-1988. Steps were taken for the constitution of the Seventh Council commencing from the year 1998. A Notification in that regard was issued on 21-11-1997. On 5-5-1997 and 9-8-1997 the Federation-respondent No. 2 had sought for a clarification-cum-opinion from the Chairman of the Press Council of India as to whether a person who had already been a member of the Council for two terms earlier is eligible for being nominated though such nomination did not amount to renomination, that is to say, at the time of being nominated he was not a retiring member. In response, the Council circulated an opinion of the President dated 30-9-1997, the substance whereof is, that S. 6(7) debars the same person from holding the office as a member of the Council for more than two terms in his life. The appellant and the Federation, respondent No. 2 herein, filed a writ petition before the High Court of Delhi seeking quashing of the opinion of the Chairman of the Press Council. A learned single Judge of the High Court directed rule nisi to issue and on 9-12-1997 issued an interim direction that the decision of the Press Council would be subject to the decision in the writ petition. The Federation-respondent No. 2 nominated the appellant and also his son as cover candidate. The appellant's nomination was not accepted by the Council on the ground that he having remained a member of the Council for two terms, was ineligible for nomination as per sub-section (7) of S. 6 of the Act.
(3.)After hearing the petitioners and the Press Council, as also the Union of India, the learned single Judge vide order dated August 18, 2000 allowed the writ petition and quashed the decision of the Press Council of India rejecting the nomination of the appellant. The learned single Judge formed an opinion that the language of the statue was plain, admitting of no ambiguity, and therefore, deserves to be assigned the plain meaning which naturally flows from a reading thereof. In the opinion of the learned single Judge the disqualification spelled out by sub-section (7) of S. 6 attaches to a member 'retiring' in presenti and was sought to be 're-nominated' but did not apply to a person who had 'retired' some time in the past though having held two consecutive terms as member of the Council and was now being only 'nominated' and 'not renominated.' The Press Council of India preferred an intra-Court appeal before a Division Bench which allowed the appeal and set aside the judgment of the learned single Judge. Tracing out the legislative history of the enactment and giving a liberal interpretation to sub-section (7) of S. 6 in its desire to spell out and read the objective sought to be achieved by the Act, the Division Bench formed an opinion that the Legislature intended not to allow a member to hold office for more than two terms in his life-time, and therefore, the appellant was not eligible for nomination to membership of the Council for the term commencing 1998 in view of his having held membership of the Council for two terms 1982-1985 and 1985-1988. The appellant has filed this appeal by special leave.