The Supreme Court, on Wednesday, refused to interfere with the order of the Bombay High Court at Goa passed on 28th June, 2022, which had directed the State of Goa and the State Election Commission to ensure that the elections are held and completed within 45 days from the date of order. It observed that the High Court order was in compliance with Article 243E of the Constitution of India, which deals with the Panchayat and the decision of the Apex Court in Suresh Mahajan v. State of MadhyaPradesh, demanded no interference.
"We find no reason to consider any reason to interfere with the order passed by the Bombay HC at Goa, for the order being precisely in conformity with the requirements of Article 243E of the Constitution of India and the decision of this court in Suresh Mahajan v. State of MP."
However, the vacation Bench comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Krishna Murari allowed the State Election Commission (SEC) to approach the High Court as and when requirement arises in this regard.
"However, in the interest of justice we deem it appropriate to observe it would be open for the SEC to approach HC for necessary direction. . These petitions stand dismissed."
The Bench noted that the in compliance with the direction of the High Court to issue a notification under Rule 10 of the Zilla Panchayat (Election Procedure) Rules,1996 within three days to appoint a date for holding elections in 186 Panchayats in Goa, the State Government had issued notification for election on 30.06.2022. As per the notification the Panchayat elections will be conducted on 10.08.2022.
"Further, it has been noticed that in compliance with the impugned order, notification for election has been issued on 30th June, 2022. That being the position we find no reasons to interfere in the process of elections."
Senior Advocate, Neeraj Kishan Kaul, appearing on behalf of the State sought for an extension by a month and a half for conducting the Panchayat elections in Goa as holding elections in peak monsoon might not be conducive. He submitted -
"We are requesting for a month and a half. We will finish by the end of September. Everything will be over…This time what happened was that for the last six months this entire exercise of the SEC on the delimitation and the OBC database as per the judgment of the Supreme Court in the triple test was going on. The SEC kept asking for documents, which were given. The SEC changed dates thrice. We did not object to it. Our problem arose that the last date fixed by SEC was 18th June, which was the last date when Panchayat's term was getting over. It was right in the middle of monsoon. That is when we moved."
He further argued that since the notification for the election had already been issued, the Model Code of Conduct has come into effect. In view of the same, the budget session held in July would be prohibited from even disbursing financial aid towards flood relief. Moreover, as per the reports of the meteorology department, there are flash floods and landslides in the State.
"Our predicament is two fold. One is that the budget session is on in July and even for construction of a road, for relief work for flood at the moment it is prohibited as the Model Code of Conduct has come into effect. With the nature of monsoon, there are flash floods and landslides."
Mr. Kaul beseeched the Court to provide time till September to conduct the election. He reminded the Bench that the Apex Court had previously interfered in similar cases on reasons of natural calamity. The position in Goa being such that an orange alert has been issued, the monsoon can be classified has taken the shape of a natural calamity and it implores the indulgence of the Apex Court. He repeatedly offered the Court to record his undertaking on instructions that the elections process would be completed by the end of September.
The Bench was not convinced that once notification for election is issued the State Government could seek such a relief. It was of the opinion that any difficulty in conducting election ought to be brought to the notice of the Court by the SEC.
"You have ultimately issued the notification. Thereafter whatever is the problem that is the problem of the State Election commission."
It further stated -
"You (State Government) would be the first institution that would be willing to go ahead with the democratic process."
Mr. Kaul argued that the entire staff for conducting the election is provided by the State Government. But given the flood situation in Goa, he argued, it might be difficult to conduct the election in 45 days as directed by the High Court.
"The entire staff comes from the State govt. There is an orange alert, latest reports show there is flash flood, landslides. Today in the financial session, any flood relief required is prohibited. I cannot do it. In my budget session after the new Government came in, I cannot even announce anything because of the Model Code of Conduct. We are more than eager to comply with the election process. All we want is time. Give us time till September. Record our undertaking."
On 27.12.2021, the SEC issued a letter to the Secretary (Panchayats) informing that it was carrying out the process of delimitation and OBC reservation. It also directed the Secretary to take steps to comply with the direction of the Apex Court in Vikas Kishanrao Gawali v. State of Maharashtra And Ors. to conduct triple test before reserving seats in the local bodies for Other Backward Classes. Subsequently, the Director of Panchayats issued a letter to the Director of Social Welfare and the Goa State Commission for Backward Classes asking for village wise OBC population of the Panchayat areas in the State. On 25.01.2022 SEC sent another request for collection of data pertaining to OBCs. The draft delimitation proposal was sent by the SEC to the Director of Panchayats with a request to provide ward-wise population data for SCs, STs and OBCs by 31.03.2022. On 28.03.2022, the SEC issued a letter to the Director of Panchayat proposing to hold General Elections in 186 Village Panchayats on 29.05.2022. Thereafter, the dates were revised to 04.06.2022 and subsequently by a letter dated 20.05.2022, SEC further revised the date to 18.06.2022. On 26.05.2022, the State Government in terms of Section 15 of the Goa Panchayat Raj Act, 1994 and Rule 10 of the Goa Panchayat and Zilla Panchayat (Election Procedure) Rules, 1996 decided that given the severity of rainfall in monsoon season in Goa it would not be conducive to hold election on the proposed date and the SEC was intimated about the same. In June, 2022, one Mr. Sandeep Vazarkar challenged the Government's decision. Other petitions were filed thereafter.
[Case Title: State of Goa And Anr. v. Sandeep Vazarkar And Ors. SLP(C) No. 11378-11379/2022
Counsels for the Petitioner: Neeraj Kishan Kaul, Sr. Adv. Devidas Pangam, Advocate-General, Abhay Anil Anturkar, Standing Counsel for GOA, Abhikalp Pratap Singh, AOR]