Prohibiting Candidates From Contesting From More Than One Constituency Might Infringe Their Rights: Centre Tells SC
The Centre has sought dismissal of a plea seeking directions to restrict candidates from contesting from two constituencies simultaneously, asserting that any change in the law “may cause infringement of the rights of the candidates contesting elections as well as curtail choice of candidates to the polity”.
The affidavit has been filed in response to a petition filed by BJP leader and Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay before the Supreme Court, challenging section 33(7) of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951, which allows a candidate to contest election for the same office from two constituencies simultaneously. Mr. Upadhyay also relies on Section 70, which clarifies that in case the candidate wins in both the constituencies, they can hold only one of the two seats won by them.
In its affidavit, the Centre has defended Section 33(7), submitting, “…the rationale behind insertion of section 33(7) in the RP Act, 1951 is to enable the acceptance of both the parts of section 70 of RP Act and sub-clause 7 of section 33 harmoniously and striking the balance between rights of the candidates contesting elections and rights of voters. That the aforesaid provisions provide for wider choice to the polity as well as the candidate,and are in line with the democratic set up of the country.”
The Affidavit points out that prior to insertion of clause 7 in Section 33 in 1996, there existed no limit on the number of constituencies that a candidate was allowed to contest elections from. It, therefore, submits that the provision in fact imposes a “reasonable restriction” on the candidates’ right to contest elections.
It further denies claims of the provision being burdensome on the exchequer due to bye-elections, asserting that the it makes an attempt to strike a balance between “preserving the rights of the police and the candidates on the one hand, and the burden on the exchequer on the other”. It also contends that Mr. Upadhyay has failed to submit any material to substantiate his claim of the law being onerous to the exchequer.
The Centre finally assumes responsibility for electoral reforms, submitting that it is holding consultations to assess the viability and necessity of different measures. It avers, “…the Answering Respondent is conscious of the need for ‘electoral reforms’ is a complex, continuous, long drawn and comprehensive process and the Union of India through the Answering Respondent is taking all possible action to delineate upon the measures of electoral reforms required in our country through various forums like consultations, meetings, e-views, etc. with all stakeholders including political parties, jurists, public members, etc. and appropriate modifications and additions of the relevant laws will be made from time to time.”
Contrary to the Centre’s submissions, the Election Commission of India (ECI) had, back in April, supported the petition, sticking to the claim it made in 2004 that candidates should not be allowed to contest from two seats simultaneously and if allowed, those who contest and win from two seats resulting in a bye-election should deposit in the government account an appropriate amount of money being the expenditure for holding bye-elections.