SC seeks EC reply on plea by 21 opposition leaders for verification of 50 pc VVPAT slips

The Supreme Court Friday agreed to hear the plea of 21 opposition leaders, led by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, seeking that VVPAT slips of at least 50 per cent of voting machines in each assembly constituency be checked randomly in the Lok Sabha elections.

The leaders from six national and 15 regional parties, claiming to represent 70-75 per cent of the population, have also sought the setting aside of the Election Commission of India (EC) guideline on random verification of one assembly seat.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said that notice be issued to the EC, and the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) should depute an officer to assist the court in the matter.

The bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, posted the matter for further hearing on March 25 and asked the ECI to file its reply in two weeks.

The parties include the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Aam Aadmi Party, CPI (Marxist), CPI, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Loktantrik Janata Dal and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

“The petitioners are presidents/ leaders of 21 different national and regional political parties (six out of seven national parties and 15 regional parties) across the country electorally representing about 70-75 percent of the people of India,” the plea said.

It has sought quashing of the EC guideline which provides that random verification of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips shall be conducted in one polling stations in case of assembly election and in each assembly segment in case of Lok Sabha election.

The plea also sought, “a further direction to the election commission for random verification of at least 50 per cent electronic voting machines (EVM) using the VVPAT per assembly segment/ assembly constituency”.

The plea referred to the 1975 verdict of apex court in the case of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, which held that free and fair elections are part of the basic structure of the Constitution of India.

It also referred to the 2013 verdict of Supreme court in the case of BJP leader Subramanian Swamy where it was held that paper trail for EVM are an “indispensable requirement” for free and fair elections.

“The impugned guideline issued by Respondent No.2 (Election Commission of India) hits at the basic structure of the Constitution by making VVPAT completely ineffective and merely ornamental in nature as it translates to an actual check on less than 0.44 per cent of EVMs in the country.

“The said Guideline, therefore, defeats the entire purpose of introducing VVPAT and renders the judgment and directions passed by this court completely otiose,” it said.

The plea further stated that the guideline amounts to taking away from the left hand what was given by the right and reduce the safeguards and substantive essence of the judgments of this Court to a nullity.

“The petitioners submit that a procedural or executive instruction in the form of guidelines cannot render the main substantive safeguard nugatory, more so where the latter traces itself back not only to a Constitutional provision but, indeed, to the basic structure of the Constitution,” it said.

The plea further stated that the directions are being sought for giving effect to the judgment of this court declaring VVPAT as “integral and intrinsic to free and fair elections which, in turn are part of the basic structure of the Constitution of India”.

Naidu, the lead petitioner, had declared in February that the parties will be moving the apex court against the use of EVMs.

The move comes after the leaders of the opposition parties met at NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s residence.

The parties had raised apprehensions in a meeting with the EC in February about the credibility of EVMs, although the poll panel has denied allegations of machines being tampered with.

The EC, while announcing the Lok Sabha election schedule, had said that mandatory checking of EVMs and VVPAT will be done on the basis of one polling station for each Lok Sabha constituency.

Earlier, Kamal Nath and Sachin Pilot last year had approached the apex court for conducting VVPAT verification at least 10 per cent of randomly selected polling booths in each assembly constituency to ensure free and fair elections in MP and Rajasthan last year.

However, the apex court, which was dealing with other poll issues ahead of the assembly polls in MP and Rajasthan had refused to go into the VVPAT issue in its judgement delivered on October 12, 2018 saying these issues were dealt by the apex court in earlier petitions and orders have been passed.

Supreme Court asks WB election commission to ensure ‘free and fair’ Panchayat polls

The Supreme Court today asked the West Bengal state election commission to “ensure fair and free” panchayat poll in the state and take appropriate steps to allay the apprehensions of BJP or other intending candidates of not being allowed to contest the elections.

The top court, however, refused to interfere with the poll process, saying that with the April 2 notification of the State Election Commission, the poll election process has been set in motion.

“We hope and trust that in order to ensure fair and free election to the panchayats, the State Election Commission shall take appropriate steps to remove the apprehensions of the petitioner (BJP) and/or intending candidates and they may not be deprived of their chance to contest the panchayat elections,” a bench of Justices R K Agrawal and A M Sapre said.

The apex court said if any grievances are raised by any political party or any candidate in writing, then the State Election Commissioner (SEC) would ensure disposal of such grievance strictly in accordance with the law forthwith.

It said the SEC should consider the grievance once made by any party or candidate and pass appropriate orders keeping in view the nature of grievance made and the relevant factors concerning the poll and its process.

“We are, therefore, inclined to dispose of this petition by granting liberty to all political parties, their candidates, including any independent candidate/s proposing to contest the election in question, to approach the State Election Commissioner with their any individual or/and collective grievance,” the bench said.

Referring to the provisions of West Bengal Panchayat Elections Act, 2003, the bench said that law has empowered the SEC to pass appropriate orders in relation to any grievance, when made by any political party or their individual candidate or any independent candidate with regard to issues related to the election or its process.

The apex court referred to its 1996 verdict and said it was a settled law that “once the election process has been set in motion, the Court ought not to interfere. We are not inclined to interfere.”

It noted that the West Bengal SEC had issued a notification on April 5 providing for additional venues for filing of nomination papers in the wake of media reports about incidents of violence and prevention of some candidates from filing their nominations.

The West Bengal unit of BJP had moved the apex court seeking direction to the SEC to issue nomination forms to the party candidates, so as to enable them file their nominations.

The party had also sought urgent directions to ensure submission of the nomination papers through email and provide police protection to the candidates. It had also sought deployment of central paramilitary forces to maintain the law and order during the conduct of the Panchayat elections in the state.

It had alleged that the “democracy is being murdered” in West Bengal as ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) was engaged in large scale poll violence.

The ruling TMC had told the apex court that it was a settled law that once the poll process has started, it cannot be tinkered with by the court and if the BJP had any grievances, they can easily file election petitions or approach the SEC.

The panchayat polls are scheduled to be held on May 1, 3, and 5. The votes will be counted on May 8. According to the notification, the last date for filing of nominations was today and the last date of scrutiny of the nominations is April 11.

Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury moves Calcutta High Court seeking central forces for panchayat polls

The Congress’ West Bengal unit chief Adhir Chowdhury today moved the Calcutta High Court seeking deployment of central forces for three-tier panchayat polls to be held in the state next month.

He also sought the court’s direction to the State Election Commission to take steps for free and fair polls and to ensure that opposition candidates can file their nomination papers peacefully.

The state Congress president appeared before the court in person owing to an ongoing ‘cease work’ strike by lawyers and pleaded for an early hearing as the panchayat election process has already started with nomination papers being filed now.

Chowdhury said he would formally mention the petition before Acting Chief Justice J Bhattacharya tomorrow.

In his petition, he claimed that the ruling Trinamool Congress workers are perpetrating violence in the state to terrorise terrorise the opposition candidates for the panchayat polls.

The former Union minister also prayed for directions for deployment of central forces to ensure security of both the voters and the candidates during the panchayat elections.

The sitting Lok Sabha MP claimed that opposition candidates are not being allowed to file nominations, the process of which is on at present, and prayed that the time for filing nominations be extended by a few more days.

Calcutta HC grants stay on criminal proceedings against Supriyo

Calcutta HC grants stay on criminal proceedings against Supriyo
Calcutta HC grants stay on criminal proceedings against Supriyo

The Calcutta High Court today granted a six-week stay on criminal proceedings against Union minister Babul Supriyo in connection with a case filed against him by Trinamool Congress MLA Mohua Moitra.

Justice Joymalyo Bagchi passed an interim stay on the criminal proceedings which had been initiated by a city court order on Supriyo’s alleged derogatory comment against Moitra during a television debate.

The High Court stayed the proceedings against him following a prayer by Supriyo.

While passing the order Justice Bagchi observed that public representatives should exercise restraint in making remarks about a person.

He observed that Indian Parliament had seen revered parliamentarians like Hiren Mukherjee and Atal Behari Vajpayee and said that an elected representative should be cautious about the language he uses.

Taking exception to the comments related to her, the TMC MLA had filed the complaint with the police.

An Alipur court judge had issued a bailable warrant against Supriyo following his failure to appear in connection with the case filed under Section 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) of the IPC.

The Union minister had challenged it in the High Court.

( Source – PTI )

Calcutta HC declines making Mitra’s bail terms more stringent

Calcutta HC declines making Mitra's bail terms more stringent
Calcutta HC declines making Mitra’s bail terms more stringent

The Calcutta High Court today declined making bail conditions of Trinamool Congress leader Madan Mitra more stringent, while adjourning hearing of CBI’s application for cancellation of bail to the former West Bengal minister till November three.

A division bench comprising Justices Nishita Mhatre and Tapas Mukherjee also rejected CBI’s plea to keep Mitra, an accused in the Saradha chitfund scam, under house arrest till disposal of its prayer for cancellation of bail to the former minister.

The bench would hear CBI’s application on November three after the Durga Puja vacation.

Meanwhile, the bench directed Mitra’s counsel to file an affidavit stating reasons as to why his bail should not be cancelled and directed him to serve a copy of the affidavit to the investigating agency.

The CBI counsel claimed the bail conditions were not stringent enough as Mitra was not a common man.

Whether he is a minister or MLA or not, his clout and influence continues, CBI counsel K Raghava Charyulu said, claiming that minutes after he was granted bail by a sessions court, the “whole state government was with him”.

He also apprehended that during the Puja vacation and celebrations Mitra would meet many people and could influence witnesses and affect investigation.

Charyulu prayed for Mitra’s confinement in his house under police and CBI surveillance, saying similar restraining orders were passed by a division bench presided over by Justice Joymalyo Bagchi on an earlier application by the investigating agency pending its plea for cancellation of bail granted to Mitra by a city court.

An Alipore court had granted the relief to Mitra on a bail bond and surety of Rs 15 lakh each.

Imposing conditions for bail, the court had directed Mitra to appear before the CBI investigating officer once a week, surrender his passport and not to leave Bhowanipore police station limits.

The former minister has been charged under sections 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant), 420 (cheating) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC.

Mitra, who was arrested on December 12, 2014 for his alleged complicity in the Saradha scam, was earlier granted bail by the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate (ACJM) of Alipore Sessions Court on October 31, 2015 after several of his bail pleas were rejected by different courts.

But, the breather had turned out to be a brief one as the Calcutta High Court cancelled his bail on November 19 on a petition by the investigating agency.

( Source – PTI )

Calcutta HC asks Narada News chief to file affidavit detailing events

Calcutta HC asks Narada News chief to file affidavit detailing events
Calcutta HC asks Narada News chief to file affidavit detailing events

The Calcutta High Court today directed Narada News chief Mathew Samuel to file an affidavit detailing all the events leading to the news portal’s sting operation in which persons resembling senior Trinamool Congress leaders are shown to be purportedly taking money.

Observing that the sting tapes are only the climax of a story, a division bench comprising acting Chief Justice G C Gupta and Justice A Banerjee directed Samuel to submit before the court in affidavit form the full story leading to the tapes showing the persons purportedly taking money.

The bench directed Samuel to submit the affidavit by November four, when the matter would be taken up for hearing again.

The high court had sent the Narada sting tapes to Chandigarh CFSL after its counterpart in Hyderabad had expressed its inability to analyse the genuineness of the recordings.

Samuel had claimed that the alleged sting operation had been recorded using an iPhone, transferred to a laptop and then to a pendrive, all of which were sent by the high court to CFSL, Chandigarh for examination of the genuineness of the recordings.

The court had directed the CFSL to analyse the tapes on the basis of a PIL urging the court to find out the genuineness of the sting tapes and a follow up investigation into the matter.

( Source – PTI )

Singur: SC sets aside land acquisition for Tata’s Nano plant

Singur: SC sets aside land acquisition for Tata's Nano plant
Singur: SC sets aside land acquisition for Tata’s Nano plant

In a ruling which can have far- reaching consequences, the Supreme Court today set aside the controversial acquisition of 997.11 acres of land in Singur in 2006 by the then Left Front government in West Bengal to set up Tata Motors’ ambitious Nano car manufacturing plant.

The verdict, which came as a huge setback to the auto major, was delivered by a bench of Justices V Gopala Gowda and Arun Mishra which quashed the land acquisition process invoked by the erstwhile CPI(M)-led government headed by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government, which first came to power in 2011 after spearheading agitation of cultivators affected by the acquisition, got a shot in its arm as the apex court approved its political plank that the land should be returned to the cultivators.

The two judges, who were unanimous in quashing the acquisition process and for retainment of the compensation awarded to the land owners and the cultivators for being deprived of the use of their land for last 10 years, gave their own separate reasonings for arriving at their findings.

They agreed that the land should be restored in 12 weeks to the owners and cultivators after completing the survey, identification and other formalities within 10 weeks.

The apex court said the state government cannot claim back the amount of compensation given to the land-losers as it had enjoyed the right over the acquired land for ten years.

There was disagreement between the two judges on two points, with Justice Gowda saying that the land was not acquired for public purpose directly by the Tata Motors and Justice Mishra holding that there was no illegality in the land acquisition of land for public purpose as it would have given employement to thousands of people in West Bengal.

Immediately after the verdict, Banerjee, the Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo, termed the judgement as a landmark victory and said “We waited for ten years for this judgement and it is a victory of the farmers”.

Her party’s Lok Sabha MP and senior advocate Kalyan Bandopadhyay who spearheaded the legal battle told PTI that the judgement is going to be an “eye-opener” in land acquisition cases.

“After 10 years of a long political and legal battle, the apex court has successfully approved the stand taken by us to the extent that the acquisition was illegal,” he said.

( Source – PTI )

Roopa Ganguly surrenders before court in assault case

Roopa Ganguly surrenders before court in assault case
Roopa Ganguly surrenders before court in assault case

BJP candidate Roopa Ganguly today surrendered before a Howrah court in connection with the case of an alleged assault on a Trinamool Congress activist during the Assembly polls.

The actress-turned politician was later granted bail on a personal bond of Rs 500.

The case was lodged against Roopa by TMC activist Soma Das for allegedly “pushing” her on April 25 during the fourth phase of polling in the ongoing Assembly elections in West Bengal.

Roopa was charged under the Indian Penal Code 341 (Punishment for wrongful restraint), 323 (Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 354 (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation), 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) along with her election manager Animesh Roy.

Roopa, after receiving complaints of a booth being jammed by TMC workers in Salkia, went to one such booth where she was surrounded by them triggering a war of words between them.

Das had alleged she was pushed and obstructed by Roopa.

The Election Commission has also taken cognizance of the incident.

( Source – PTI )

Forensic tests should be done on Narada tapes: Calcutta HC

Forensic tests should be done on Narada tapes: Calcutta HC
Forensic tests should be done on Narada tapes: Calcutta HC

The Calcutta High Court today observed that since the Narada sting tapes created a flutter in society, forensic tests needed to be done to find out the genuineness of the videos circulated which show some Trinamool Congress leaders purportedly accepting money.

A division bench, comprising Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice A Banerjee, observed that since the allegations were serious in nature and had caused a flutter in society, investigations needed to be completed fast to meet the ends of justice.

A court-appointed three-member committee submitted the raw video footages and a mobile phone used to record the sting operation before the bench which is hearing a PIL seeking an investigation by an independent agency into the allegations of Trinamool Congress leaders, including MPs and state ministers, allegedly accepting money and forensic examination of the tapes.

Observing that the matter had impacted the people, the bench said that a proper investigation was required to be done to unravel the truth.

The issue is dangerous as if the allegations are true and equally dangerous if the allegations are found not to be true, the court said.

Public trust and confidence are of utmost importance and all of them are public representatives, the bench observed.

It said that in order to find out whether the footage was genuine, forensic test should be done.

The bench had formed the committee, comprising a CBI officer, an IGP-rank officer of West Bengal Police and the Registrar (original side) of the High Court to go to Delhi and collect the video tapes and the device used to record the sting as Mathew Samuel, editor of Narada News portal, had expressed apprehension that he could be harmed if he came to Kolkata for handing over the tapes to the court.

Samuel handed over the tapes and the mobile phone used to videograph the sting to the committee at Banga Bhavan, West Bengal government’s guest house, in Delhi yesterday.

The matter was posted for further hearing on April 27.

The footage and device were directed to be kept in a nationalised bank locker in the meantime.

( Source – PTI )

Ex-Bengal minister Madan Mitra’s JC extended

Ex-Bengal minister Madan Mitra's JC extended
Ex-Bengal minister Madan Mitra’s JC extended

A Kolkata court today extended the judicial custody of former West Bengal minister and Trinamool Congress leader Madan Mitra, an accused in the Saradha chit fund scam, by another 14 days till December 17.

Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Sougata Roy Chowdhury remanded Mitra, who was present in the court room, to 14 days’ judicial custody.

Though Mitra’s counsel did not press for bail, they prayed for the release of Rs one lakh which the TMC leader had deposited as security bond and his passport which was submitted to the police during his release on October 31.

Requesting that Mitra be treated as a Division-I prisoner, they also requested that all necessary medical assistance be extended to the former minister as he was suffering from various ailments.

Mitra, former Transport Minister, had surrendered before the court after his bail was cancelled by the Calcutta High Court on November 20.

The TMC leader was earlier arrested on December 12, 2014.

The investigation into the ponzi scam, which came to light in 2013, showed that the Saradha Group allegedly used 338 bank accounts and 224 companies to dupe investors from various states. Official estimates peg the swindle at Rs 1,200 crore.

Former Union minister Matang Sinh is among those arrested in the case, while several TMC functionaries, including Mamata Banerjee’s former aide Mukul Roy, have been questioned.

CBI had taken over the investigation in June, 2014 on the Supreme Court’s orders.