The Supreme Court today stayed the Calcutta High Court order asking the West Bengal State Election Commission to accept the nomination papers filed through e-mail for the panchayat elections and directed the poll body not to declare s those candidates who have won unopposed as winners.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra termed as “worrying” the High Court order allowing e-mail filing of nomination papers and the nearly 17,000 candidates of the ruling party winning unopposed in the panchayat polls in the state.
But the bench, which also comprised Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, did not agree to the submissions that the poll process was vitiated and should be stayed, observing that there were a plethora of judgements which have held that once the poll process has begun, it cannot be interfered with by any court.
“Once the election process starts, it cannot be interfered with. I have said this in one of the cases in the morning also,” the CJI reiterated.
The counsel for CPI(M) and the BJP alleged that several of their candidates were not allowed to file nomination papers, which has led to 34 per cent candidates, belonging to the ruling Trinamool Congress, winning unopposed.
“The High Court order has read the Information Technology Act into into the Representation of People Act. Both things are worrying — the High Court order directing the State Election Commission to accept nominations through e-mails and 34 per cent candidates winning unopposed,” the bench said.
“There shall be a stay on the Calcutta High Court order,” it said, adding that the state poll panel “shall not declare the results” of those candidates who have won unopposed.
The bench directed the state and the poll panel to ensure “free and fair” panchayat elections on May 14 in West Bengal.
However, senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, representing the state poll panel, opposed the plea regarding the winning candidates and said this was not part of the litigation.
Referring the High Court order on nomination papers as “the most absurd kind of order”, Dwivedi said the nomination papers are filed before the returning officer (RO) and candidates sign the documents. After such filings, the RO scrutinises the nomination papers and either accepts or rejects them on merits.
Here, the High Court simply asked the state poll panel to accept the nomination papers, he said, adding, “what will happen to the procedures prescribed under the law”.
At the outset, senior advocate Ashok Bhan, appearing for CPI(M), referred to Constitution schemes and said the right to contest elections was being infringed in the state due to the prevailing circumstances and it was reflected from the fact that 34 per cent candidates have won the panchayat polls unopposed.
Senior advocate P S Patwalia, representing the BJP, also said there has been no contest for 17,000 out of nearly 54,000 panchayat posts, which indicated the position at the ground level.
When both lawyers alleged that the poll panel was acting at the behest of the state government, it was strongly opposed by the West Bengal Election Commission.
The bench made it clear that the “singular legal question” was whether the nomination papers can be filed electronically and can the IT Act be read into the RP Act.
The bench posted the plea of the state poll panel for further hearing on July 3.
On May 8, the high court had directed the SEC to accept the nominations of those candidates named by CPI(M) who had filed their papers through e-mails within the stipulated time before 3 pm on April 23.
The SEC today moved the apex court challenging the Calcutta HC order directing it to accept the nominations of candidates who have filed their papers electronically within the stipulated time for the panchayat elections.
The CPI(M) has claimed that many of its candidates were prevented from filing nominations by the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress.
The SEC petition arrays CPI(M) as a respondent, besides the state government, the ruling Trinamool Congress, state panchayat secretary and others.
Passing the order, the HC had observed that the poll process itself involved participation and to shut out an intending bona fide candidate from participating in it, thwarted the very basic democratic principles on which it stood.
The court had said that though the filing of nominations through e-mail was not a recognised procedure under the West Bengal Panchayat Act of 2003, but in a situation where allegations of obstructing candidates from filing nominations had surfaced and had also been noted by the SEC, it should have allowed the filing of papers through e-mail.
The SEC, being a constitutional body, has to act “fairly, transparently and independently” to advance the democratic principles by allowing the intending candidates to contest, the high court had said.
The CPI(M) had submitted a list of over 800 intending candidates, claiming they were prevented from filing nominations at the designated offices and had hence sent their documents to the SEC through e-mail.
The SEC had said it had received 340 complaints on the last day of filing of nominations, of which 25 were sent through e-mail.