The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, turned down a plea made by All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) to postpone the Tripura local body elections scheduled on November 25, on account of political violence in the state. The bench was hearing a contempt petition filed by AITC and its Rajya Sabha MP Sushmita Dev alleging non-compliance on the part of Tripura authorities of the order passed by the Supreme Court on November 11 to ensure free and safe atmosphere for political campaigning for the local body elections scheduled on November 25.
In the contempt petition, the AITC has alleged that the situation in the State is “worsening by the day”. Senior Advocate Jaideep Gupta, appearing for Trinamool Congress, submitted that even after the Supreme Court direction, the security situation in Tripura has worsened, and the attacks against the party workers were going on, reported Live Law. He submitted that AITC member Shahini Ghosh was attacked during the campaign and a criminal case was registered against her. He said, “Political workers are being driven out. Kindly consider how much effect will it have on voters. Will the voters come out? We are asking for a committee of observers.”
The Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Vikram Nath also took serious note of the incidents of political violence in the run up to the municipal polls in the state, and has issued directions to the state and police authorities. “Instead of postponing the elections, the apprehension which has been expressed on behalf of the petitioners by Senior Counsel, can be redressed by issuing peremptory directions to the State of Tripura to ensure that (i) the remaining phases of the municipal elections take place in a peaceful and orderly manner; and that (ii) reports of the breaches of law and order which have been drawn to the attention of the law enforcing agencies are duly dealt with in accordance with law,” the court ordered.
“Postponing elections is a matter of last and, even extreme recourse. Judicial interdiction of the electoral process has grave implications for a democratic polity. Article 243 O, Article 243ZG and Article 329 underscore a constitutional principle, which emphasizes the sanctity of the electoral process,” said the Bench.
The Bench also asked the State of Tripura to give details of security arrangements in place for polling and counting of votes and during the hearing had asked if Central Armed Forces were deployed, and asked the state to inform it about the arrangements in place for safety and security for polling booth, staff, up to declaration of results. According to news reports on Bar and Bench when it was informed of the number of troops deployed, the Court ordered, “…a requisition shall be submitted to CRPF or the Home Ministry. Any such request will be duly considered having regard to situation to maintain peace in conducting free and fair polls in Tripura.”
It also told the State to submit “tabulated data” on the complaints made, steps taken on the same and whether FIRs have been registered, and said, “It is duty of the DGP, IGP & Home Secretary to assuage any misgiving of law enforcement machinery in supporting the electoral process. Law enforcement agencies must discharge duty in a non-partisan and non-biased manner and allay apprehensions that political adversaries are being targeted.”
The contempt petition filed by AITC had alleged that violence against its party workers is continuing unabated in Tripura, and false cases are being filed against them by the ruling BJP government, stated the news report. Appearing for the State of Tripura, senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, said that this was a “a politically contrived matter. Same prayers were raised in Tripura High Court. The High Court issued notice in September and made it returnable on October 7. They come here on the eve of elections. Today is the last campaigning day. Polling is on 25th. Suddenly they come up with string of incidents. We have a compliance report.”
However, the Court has come down heavily on the state and said, “When an MLA is assaulted in a public rally and if a statement is made on affidavit, we have no reason to disbelieve it. Tell us who is in charge of security for these elections.” According to the report, AITC had earlier filed a petition seeking protection from violence against its party workers in Tripura in view of the municipal elections. The party had submitted that “ever since it began campaigning for polls, its workers have faced violent attacks from goondas in a bid to prevent the party from contesting the elections”. On November 11, the SC passed an order directing State authorities to ensure that law and order is maintained and no political party is denied its right to political campaigning in the State.
“While we are not inclined to accede to the prayer for postponing the elections for the reasons indicated earlier, we are equally of the view that it is the duty of the Director General of Police, the Inspector General of Police (Law and Order) and the Home Secretary of the State of Tripura to assuage any misgivings about the fairness of the law enforcement machinery in supporting the electoral process. The law enforcement agencies must discharge their duties in an even handed and non-partisan manner to obviate the grievance which has been urged before this Court that candidates and supporters of the AITC are being unfairly targeted by contesting political groups,” the court added.
The Court issued these directions:
(i) The Director General of Police and the Inspector General of Police (Law and Order) Tripura shall hold a joint meeting with the State Election Commission no later than by tomorrow (24 November 2021) morning for the purpose of assessing the requirement of a sufficient strength of paramilitary forces drawn from the CRPF for ensuring the peaceful conduct of the remaining phases of the elections;
(ii) After making an assessment of the situation on the ground, if so required, a requisition shall be submitted to the CRPF or, as the case may be, to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. Any such request shall be duly considered having regard to the situation and in the interest of ensuring peace, security and the orderly conduct of elections in the State of Tripura on 25 November 2021;
(iii) The Director General of Police and the Inspector General of Police (Law and Order) Tripura shall take all steps to ensure that the election process is conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner and without any disruption, particularly, on the date of polling which is to take place on 25 November 2021, leading up to the counting of ballots on 28 November 2021; and
(iv) Since a serious grievance has been expressed on behalf of the petitioners that despite the lodging of FIRs, no action has been taken by the law enforcing agencies, the respondents shall submit before this Court a statement of (a) the complaints which have been lodged; (b) the FIRs which have been registered; (c) action which has been taken against those who have resorted to violence; and (d) arrests that have been made. The tabulated statement shall be submitted, together with the compliance affidavit, which has already been directed to be filed by this Court, by its previous order dated 11 November 2021.
The court has also sought a compliance affidavit from the respondents containing detailed elaboration of the steps which have been taken to:
(a) preserve law and order;
(b) ensure security for political workers, voters and contesting candidates;
(c) protect the electoral process leading up to the counting of votes and the declaration of the results; and
(d) deal with criminal offenders in accordance with law.
The petition will next be heard on November 25.
The complete order may be read here: