Two children limit for panchayat members will include biological offspring, not stepchildren, says Bombay HC

The limit of two children set for panchayat members in Maharashtra will only include biological offspring and not stepchildren, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court ruled on Saturday.

A division bench of Justices A S Chandurkar and Vrushali Joshi directed for a petition filed by one Khairunisa Sheikh Chand, challenging her disqualification as the member of a gram panchayat on the ground that she has more than three children, to be heard by a single bench of the high court on merits.

Chand in her plea claimed that her husband Sheikh Chand had two sons from a previous marriage and that they now have only one child from their marriage.

The single bench referred the matter to the division bench to clarify whether the expression ‘two children’ in the provisions of the Maharashtra Village Panchayats Act has been used in a generic sense to include stepchildren or in a restricted sense to mean only children born to the person.

The division bench in its order noted that the expression ‘two children’ has a direct nexus with the word member as used in the provision of the Act.

“The expression ‘two children’ in the context of a male member would include all his children for whose birth he is responsible, irrespective of the fact that they were born from his previous and/or present wedlock. In the context of a female member, it would include all children whom she has given birth to, irrespective of the fact that they were born from her previous and/ or present wedlock,” the court said.

The petitioner’s advocate Sukrut Sohoni argued that the expression ‘two children’ under the Act would mean only the biological children of the person in question and the stepchildren of the person cannot be taken into consideration for disqualification.

The high court in its order noted that a person, male or female, may be disqualified if they had given birth to child/children in an earlier wedlock and had again given birth to child/children in subsequent marriage.

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“It will therefore have to be held that the expression ‘two children’ is related to the ‘person’ who is a member of a panchayat and who is sought to be disqualified,” the court said.

In case of a male member, if he is responsible for the birth of more than two children irrespective of the number of marriages, then he would be disqualified, it added.

“Same analogy would apply to a female member when she has given birth to more than two children irrespective of the fact that the children are born from previous or present marriage,” the court said in its judgment.

The court noted that the objective behind the provision was to disqualify a person, who has birthed more than two children.

“It is not the object of the said provision to discourage remarriage of a person who has more than two children from his or her previous wedlock,” the court said.

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