Bengal urges SC to lift stay on notification of unanimous election results

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New Delhi : The West Bengal government on Monday urged the Supreme Court to lift a stay on the notification of results of candidates elected unopposed to rural local bodies as it was hampering the release of funds.

Describing the petitions by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India-Marxist that alleged large-scale irregularities as political in nature, senior counsel Vikas Singh told the bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud that "it is clearly an attempt to bring politics into the electoral process."

The counsel referred to the Finance Commission report that said that money could only be released to the elected panchayats.

The top court ordered the State Election Commission on May 10 not to notify the results of candidates declared elected unopposed.

It also stayed the May 8 High Court order permitting e-filing of nomination papers by candidates.

The court is hearing a SEC plea against the Calcutta High Court's May 8 order permitting e-nominations and reading the provision of the Information Technology Act into the Representation of the People Act, 1954.

On July 3, the apex court had said that it would examine whether the High Court, in exercise of its powers under Article 226 of the Constitution, could do so.

Appearing for the West Bengal State Election Commission, senior counsel Amaendra Sharan cited statistics from other states to buttress his stand that the "political phenomenon" of uncontested candidates in the panchayat elections is present in all the states.

"In every state, there are a large number of uncontested candidates," Sharan said. Those aspiring to contest panchayat elections were given the option to file nomination papers at the offices of Block Development Officers or the District Magistrates.

He said that there were no complaints by individual candidates that they were denied an opportunity to file nominations and that the court had been moved by political parties.

Justice Chandrachud said: "They may not have filed the complaints out of fear... a large number of seats going uncontested... if it was because of fear and intimidation."

To this, Sharan said that it was presumptive on the part of the bench since none of the candidates had filed a complaint.

Besides Vikas Singh, Sharan, other senior counsel Siddhartha Luthra and lawyer turned lawmaker Kalyan Banerjee focused on the point that political parties had moved the apex court and not individual candidates and that such a practice was unknown to jurisprudence involving electoral laws.

Flagging the issue of purity of an electoral process as pivotal to democracy, senior counsel P.S. Patwalia said that out of 58,692 candidates, as many as 20,159 were elected unopposed and wondered that all these belonged to the ruling Trinamool Congress.

Appearing for the BJP, Patwalia told the court: "I understand that an individual has to file a complaint and raise the issue, but what happens in this situation?"

He referred to an earlier court judgment, arguing that when there are large-scale irregularities, and the entire election process is polluted, it is no more a question of an individual but the electorate is vicariously a party to the matter.

The hearing will continue on Tuesday.