1 Sep 2023 11:13 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Friday reserved judgment on the petition filed by the Union Territory of Ladakh opposing the allotment of the 'plough' symbol for the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) party for the upcoming Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) elections in the Kargil region. The Ladakh Administration has filed a special leave petition challenging the direction...
The Supreme Court on Friday reserved judgment on the petition filed by the Union Territory of Ladakh opposing the allotment of the 'plough' symbol for the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) party for the upcoming Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) elections in the Kargil region. The Ladakh Administration has filed a special leave petition challenging the direction passed by the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir & Ladakh to notify the 'plough' symbol for JKNC.
The bench comprising Justices Vikram Nath and Ahsanuddin Amanullah said that the orders will be pronounced on September 6 (the elections are scheduled on September 10). The case of the JKNC is that the 'plough' symbol is reserved for it as it was recognized by the Election Commission of India as a State Party of Jammu and Kashmir.
The bench asked the Administration why the plough symbol was not included in the list of available symbols.
“Why was it not included, Mr Natraj? Why "plough" was not included in the list of symbols? Whether it was deliberately, malafidely or as per law”?, Justice Vikram Nath asked Additional Solicitor General of India KM Nataraj.
ASG Nataraj referring to Rule 18 of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (Election) Rules, stated that JKNC has not been recognized as a national party or a State Party of the Ladakh region. As per the Rules, only the recognized parties are entitled to reserved symbols, the law officer added.
When the bench asked if any party has been notified for Ladakh, ASG replied in the negative.
ASG further argued that the High Court erred in placing reliance on the Election (Symbols) Order 1968 as it did not apply to the State of Jammu and Kashmir. “HC relies on Election symbols order, 1968. But it applies to all parliamentary and assembly elections except the State of Jammu and Kashmir.”
Seemingly unconvinced with this argument, Justice Vikram Nath shot back, “Once there's no state of Jammu and Kashmir, rightly it(EC Order) will apply. Today there's no State of Jammu and Kashmir. Is there any amendment that it will not apply to UT?".
ASG submitted, “This applies only to Parliamentary elections. For local body elections, this doesn't apply. Moreover, HC issued us directions under paragraph 10, 10-A of the Election Symbols Order, 1968. But Candidates have not opted for the symbol.”
Justice Nath asked,“How could they have opted when the symbol was not notified?
ASG replied, “That could not have been notified. The interpretation will have a serious bearing across the country.”
ASG stated that candidates had declared themselves as independent and had filled out forms accordingly. He argued that no relief could be granted at this stage, especially with the election process already underway. He informed that the last date for nominations was August 23 and withdrawal was August 26.
The counsel representing JKNC submitted that the administration notified only symbols for national parties. "There are 2 symbols-reserve symbol and a free symbol. Now, let us see now free symbol would be allotted? Who can contest on a free symbol? Only those who are not set up by national/state parties". He asserted that a recognized party can't fight on a free symbol. It has never happened in the history of any election.
He contended vehemently, “A level playing field was disrupted. I am an incumbent party. How can I go to the polls without my symbol? It has only notified national symbols but has not allotted them to the party in power"
He continued, “Earlier I was recognized state party before the bifurcation. In 2019- I had the required number of votes. Rights accrued to me were saved- by “removal of difficulties" order. My symbol was saved".
The JKNC's counsel further asked how the administration was aggrieved with allotting the reserved symbol for the party.
The bench however pointed out that the UT can allot symbols only as per the LAHDC Election Rules. The party's counsel replied that the Election Symbols Order was applicable.
“But this is neither assembly nor parliament", Justice Vikram Nath said to which the counsel replied that the administration goes by the symbols allotted by the Election Commission.
Case title: UT of Ladakh v. J&K National Conference
Click Here To Read/Download Order
Citation: SLP(C) No. 18727/2023