The Madras High Court has quashed notification issued by the State Election Commission on 26th September, 2016, for the conduct of local body election for non-compliance to Rule 24 of the Tamil Nadu Panchayat (Elections) Rules, 1995.
The court has ordered the authorities to issue a fresh notification and complete the election process latest by 31st December, 2016.
The court also deliberated and expressed concern on the rising tide of candidate with criminal antecedents making forays into the democratic infrastructure of our nation and issued pointed directives to the State Election Commission and the state government in this regard.
As per the original notification, the elections were to be held in two phases i.e. on October 17 and October 19. And the filing of nomination ended on Monday.
A single judge bench of Justice N Kirubakaran, acting on a batch of petitions, including those by the DMK, has, however, put on hold the upcoming elections based on the flawed notification process and violation of Rule 24 of State Panchayat Election Rules of 1995.
The petitions were mainly filed challenging the local body election on the ground that reservation to Scheduled Tribe (ST) population has not been made proportionate to their population in this election.
The court took cognisance of the contention made during arguments with respect to delay in issue of notification in contravention of the aforesaid rule and stated; “There is no level playing field available to all the parties, as the ruling party, obviously, had prior information about the election, as proved by announcement of its candidates on the date of notification. There is no sufficient time given to other parties to get ready for the election and the Election Commission having delayed the onset of the election work, is rushing through the procedures, in a hurried manner, thereby causing prejudice to the other contesting parties.”
The court has directed the state government to invoke Section 251 – transitory provision of the Tamil Nadu Panchayats Act, 1994, to administer the local bodies by appointment of special officers till the elections are held, as the present terms of the present local bodies are to expire soon and the same cannot be extended beyond five years.
The state government is also directed to amend Rule 26 of the Tamil Nadu Panchayats (Election) Rules, 1995, by insertion of a sub-rule to incorporate State Election Commission notification dated 01.09.2006. It mandates the submission of a separate affidavit by the candidate to furnish full and complete information in regard to five categories including criminal background, at the time of filing nomination, the details hence provided shall be uploaded on the official website. The State Election Commission has also been advised to reject nominations that fail to file the above mentioned affidavit.
The judgment further states that after issuance of notification and before conducting the elections the state government and state Election Commission shall deal with issues related to reservation and de-reservation of posts, scrutinize deletion and addition of genuine voters and also take action on enrolment of bogus voters etc.
The court took a definitive stand on criminalisation of politics and in an attempt to curb the entry of such elements, directed the state election commission to write to recognised and registered political parties/organisations in exercise of power under Article 243K of the Constitution, restraining them from fielding/sponsoring any candidate with criminal antecedents for the local body election within in four weeks to prevent criminalisation and hijacking of local bodies by criminal elements.
In this regard, the State Election Commission is specifically directed to sensitise the public, especially candidates about its notification dated 01.09.2016, requiring affidavit disclosing criminal cases against the candidate by issue of advertisements so that the voters would be informed about the details of the candidates.
The court also issued a hard hitting statement on politically backed candidate with criminal antecedents and stated ‘major political parties are fielding candidates for local body elections, except at the village Level. The candidates fielded by them, should be persons with integrity, honesty and a sense of commitment to serve the society. However, invariably, many candidates, who contest the elections, are chosen by political parties, based on their affluence and muscle power and they are also found to be persons with criminal antecedents.’
The court expressed concern over media reports that reveal that many elected representatives are being done to death due to their criminal antecedents or illegal mining operations or real estate business. The judge reinstated the fact the political parties are duty bound to comply with election commission’s directives against fielding such elements.
“The offices of local bodies are not places for profit-making, but for doing service to the society. The framers of our Constitution reposed faith in the political leaders and they are only elected by the people, with utmost trust and faith in them. Therefore, it is their duty and responsibility to avoid criminal elements and choose appropriate candidates, who will be in a position to serve the public,” states the judgment.
Enunciating the need for public awareness, it was stated: “People should frown up and shun people with questionable integrity, criminal background irrespective of the political considerations. Then only, there would be a chance for this country to safeguard and sustain democracy.”
Read the Judgment here.