On Thursday, May 10, the Supreme Court of India stayed Calcutta High Court’s order that had allowed the West Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) to accept the online (via email) filing of nomination papers by 3pm on April 23 for the Panchayat elections scheduled to begin on May 14. Election poll process is already underway with the deadline to file nominations having lapsed.
It is alleged that the Trinamool Congress (TMC) has virtually won 34% (more than 16,000) seats, uncontested as members of other parties were unable to file their nominations due to alleged interference and coercion by TMC members.
Brief Background of the Case
As per claims by the CPI (M), many of its candidates were prevented from filing nominations and hence had to send their nominations through emails. The CPI (M) had approached the Calcutta High Court against the SEC for rejecting the nominations that it had received through emails to the EC as well as the Returning Officer. The main contention was that the Information Technology Act, 2000 read with Section 90 permits the SEC to accept nominations through email and that there is a mechanism in the website of State Election Commission to accept nominations through email. On May 8, the Calcutta High Court had directed the SEC to accept nominations of those candidates who had submitted their candidature electronically as per a plea by the CPM. Both the CPM and BJP had filed caveat before the Apex Court seeking to be heard before an order was passed.
What the Supreme Court said
The Bench comprised of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar
In its directions, the court said,
- There shall be a stay on the impugned judgment and order date May 8, 2018 passed by the Division Bench of the High Court.
- The West Bengal State EC shall see to it that the election is held in “absolute fairness” , keeping in view the “concept of purity of an election in a democracy”
- That the Election process shall be completed in all aspects and the results of the election can be notified as per law.
- The petitioners shall not notify the results in respect of the constituencies where there has been no contest without the leave of the court.
It said that the Panchayat elections should proceed as scheduled on May 14, 2018. Senior Counsel Rakesh Dwiwedi appearing on behalf of the State Election Commission, had opposed the order passed by the High Court. He drew the attention of the Bench to the order passed by Justices A.Mukherjee and B.Somadder.
“The State Election Commission has been constituted under section 3 of the West Bengal State Election Commission Act, 1994 with Constitutional sanction. It therefore does not strictly come within the ambit ofsection 6(1)(a) of the Act of 2000 to be a body or agency owned or controlled by the appropriate Government. Similarly, the State Government is not called upon to make rules in terms of section 90of the Act of 2000 in respect of filing of nomination forms through email. It is for the State Election Commission – being a Constitutional body/authority – to provide for the same, as filing of nomination through e-mail invariably prevents large scale violence centering around the Panchayat elections and above all, bloodshed and loss of precious human life. Further, it eliminates hurling of accusations and counter-accusations and encourages peaceful and wider participation. Above all, it upholds the democratic principles which form a pivotal part in the Panchayat election process and is not to its derogation but on the contrary, furthers it. To that extent, the relevant provision of the Act of 2000 shall be deemed to be read into the applicable provision of the (West Bengal Panchayat Elections) Act of 2003 in respect of filing of nomination papers, purely by implication…”
Regarding the High Court order, Mr. Dwiwedi said that “The order was passed without even an enquiry into the facts relating to the alleged prevention of the candidates nominated by the appellant [CPI (M)] from filing their nomination…”.
The Bench didn’t agree with the submissions that the poll process was vitiated and should be stayed quoting several judgments which held that once the poll process has begun, it can’t be interfered with by any court. The Bench has now posted the case for July 3.