West Bengal Panchayat Elections

Supreme Court Refused to countermand West Bengal Panchayat Elections:

These were the reasons given by Supreme Court for declining to interfere:

“[I]t would be inappropriate for this Court to exercise its jurisdiction to interdict the declaration of results of the uncontested seats. First and foremost, it is necessary for the Court to notice that no specific relief was claimed before the High Court in regard to those seats where there was no contest. Neither were there adequate pleadings nor indeed were specific prayers set up before the High Court when its jurisdiction under Article 226 was invoked. The proceedings before the High Court were brought by several political parties, each of whom would have been well aware of the situation on the ground and the need to formulate an adequate basis in fact to invoke the jurisdiction of the High Court. Absent such a factual foundation, the High Court dealt with the only issue which had been addressed, which was the plea that nominations should be allowed to be filed in the electronic form. No other plea was raised.

The second important consideration which must weigh with the Court is that if the above submission is accepted, election results to over 20,000 seats will be set at naught in the absence of the affected parties before the Court. Thirdly, once the election process has commenced, it is trite law that it should not be interdicted mid stage. The electoral process is afforded sanctity in a democracy. That is the reason why in a consistent line of precedent, this Court has insisted upon the discipline of the law being followed so that any challenge to the validity of an election has to be addressed by adopting the remedy of an election petition provided under the governing statute.

For this Court to set aside elections to over 20,000 seats would be to prejudge the basic issue as to whether in each of those constituencies, the election stands vitiated by obstruction having been caused to candidates from filing their nominations. A general assumption of this nature cannot be made. Ultimately whether this is correct would depend upon the evidence adduced in the facts of individual cases where such a grievance has been made in an election petition. The Court has been apprised that approximately 1,700 complaints were filed and about 168 election petitions have been instituted. We are emphatically of the view that any challenge to the election must take place in a manner which is known to law. 30 Under Section 79(1) a period of 30 days is prescribed for instituting an election petition, where a dispute arises as to the validity of an election. The period of 30 days commences after the date of the declaration of the results of the election. The pendency of these proceedings may have dissuaded aggrieved individuals from seeking recourse to the remedy of an election petition, particularly after the interim order of this Court restraining the State Election Commission from notifying the results of the constituencies where there was no contest. While we are of the view that the validity of the elections must be tested in election petitions under Section 79(1), the question as to whether there was a large scale obstruction from filing nominations is a serious matter which needs to be resolved. This is particularly because even the Election Commission, as we have seen, had proceeded to take notice of the grim situation while extending the date for the filing of nominations. Having regard to the seriousness of the allegations and bearing in mind the fact that these proceedings were pending, we are of the view that it would be necessary to exercise the power under Article 142 of the Constitution to extend the period of 30 days for the filing of election petitions in respect of the uncontested seats.

…… For these reasons, we are of the view that challenges in regard to the validity of the elections to the uncontested seats in the panchayats, panchayat samitis and zilla parishads must also be pursued in election petitions under Section 79(1) of the Panchayat Elections Act. We leave it open to any person aggrieved to raise a dispute in the form of an election petition in accordance with the provisions contained in the Panchayat Elections Act. In exercise of the power conferred by Article 142, we direct that the period of 30 days for filing election petitions in respect of the uncontested seats shall commence from the date of the publication of the results in the Official Gazette.

[Source: West Bengal Election Commission vs. Communist Party of India, decided by SC on August 24, 2018]

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