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[Tripura Polls] 'We Intervened Only To Ensure Peaceful Elections': Supreme Court Suggests Trinamool Congress To Move High Court For Other Reliefs

Mehal Jain
2 Dec 2021 8:59 AM GMT
[Tripura Polls] We Intervened Only To Ensure Peaceful Elections: Supreme Court Suggests Trinamool Congress To Move High Court For Other Reliefs

Noting that the electoral process in Tripura is now complete and that it has taken care of the urgent situation which had arisen in terms of the poll violence, the Supreme Court on Thursday orally considered relegating the All-India Trinamool Congress to the Tripura High Court to revive its writ petition there as regards the residual prayers for investigation into acts of vandalism...

Noting that the electoral process in Tripura is now complete and that it has taken care of the urgent situation which had arisen in terms of the poll violence, the Supreme Court on Thursday orally considered relegating the All-India Trinamool Congress to the Tripura High Court to revive its writ petition there as regards the residual prayers for investigation into acts of vandalism and hooliganism and immediate action on complaints of victims of assault, intimidation and other criminal activity.

The bench of Justices D. Y. Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath was hearing AITC's writ petition filed in view of the then-impending municipal elections in Tripura, where the other prayers were for a direction to the state for maintenance of safety and security in areas where the elections were scheduled to be held, to provide security to the members of the petitioner, and to restrain arbitrary and illegal use of power by the state authorities to allow free campaigning by the petitioner. The bench was also considering a contempt plea moved by the AITC for alleged infringement of directions towards safety arrangement etc passed by the bench on the writ petition.
On Thursday, SG Tushar Mehta, for the state, advanced, "One fact which is very crucial has not been brought to notice. On the first effective date of the present petition on November 11, the petitioners had disclosed that they had moved a petition under 226 also before the Tripura High Court, Further, stating that the petition could not be taken up as the High Court was in the midst of recess. In this regard, it is submitted that the petitioner's petition before the High Court of Tripura was instituted on September 24, making similar and identical players as the present petition. It was first taken up on September 28. On that day, notice was issued by the High Court, made returnable on October 7. Then on the next date of hearing on October 7, it was the advocate for the petitioner who requested the matter to be posted after the vacation and therefore the High Court adjourned the matter. However before the scheduled date fixed by the High Court, the petitioner preferred present writ petition seeking identical relief, having themselves got the writ petition adjourned. The petitioner, by suppressing these facts and misleading this court, said that they were compelled to invoke 32. The fact of the matter is that when there was adjournment of the matter on October 7, there was no vacation in the High Court and it was working. I had a detailed meeting with the advocate general who said he has been appearing regularly in these matters. It was only after the order of November 11 that the petitioners got the writ petition dismissed as not pressed."
"A similar petition with regard to the poll violence in Calcutta came here. Your lordships relegated them to the High Court. The High Court of Calcutta is looking into it. And the situation in Calcutta was much worse", he continued.
Justice Chandrachud noted, "Now the election process is complete, the results have been declared. The reason why we assumed the seisin of the matter was because our concern was that the election process must take place peacefully. We intervened only as the interest of free and fair elections is of such overall importance that we felt that the Supreme Court could not have wasted any time...Rationally, they withdrew the petition before the High Court because having come here, they cannot have a second bite in the cherry. But for the rest of the prayers, we will permit them to revive their writ petition. The circumstances in which we have assumed jurisdiction were peculiar to the situation. Whatever was urgent, we have dealt with. But the normal remedy is 226- we should trust the High Court for looking into the prayer for pursuing the criminal process, filing of complaints etc as it is the locally-situated court. The Supreme Court should not take up all this exercise."
Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, for the petitioner, advanced that despite the Court's best efforts, "unfortunately, 112 of 384 seats went uncontested."
At this, Justice Chandrachud indicated a 2018 judgment by a bench of the then-CJ Dipak Misra, Justice A. M. Khanwilkar and himself in context of the West Bengal gram panchayat elections- "I am sure you will have read that judgment where an identical allegation was made against your party in the gram Panchayat elections in West Bengal. The Calcutta High Court had issued sweeping directions like acceptance of ballot papers on emails, no scrutiny etc. We set aside those directions by the Calcutta High Court and said normal law has to take its course. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If you say there are 112 uncontested seats as a result of coercion or force or whatever, you have your remedies in law that you can always pursue. Because, hypothetically, in a given case, if a candidate is prevented from filing a nomination in an election and the declaration of result follows, as a matter of course, an election petition would still lie on the ground that nomination was not accepted."
Mr. Sankaranarayanan persisted, showing breaches of the orders passed by the Supreme Court on the present petitions, "Once Your Lordships took seisin of the matter on November 11, certain directions were passed by Your Lordships which were fairly strong directions. Your Lordships passed three orders in which very specific directions were issued to the DGP and SP. We have shown previously that there are 16 instances where we have set out what has been taking place. There were Photographs also, of People (attackers) with helmets, candidates bleeding from the heads, admitted to hospital etc etc. No one has been arrested, only 41A notices have been issued. If they had complied with Your Lordships' earlier directions, then the order of November 25 for 2 additional companies for security would not have been needed. There has been a contempt."
Justice Chandrachud noted that prayer (i) in the writ petition for the issue of a writ of mandamus or any other writ or order or direction for maintenance of security and safety in areas where elections are scheduled to held in November 2021, prayer (ii) to provide the security to the members of the petitioner and prayer (v) to restrain the respondent-authorities from using power in an arbitrary and illegal manner to allow the petitioners to continue campaigning, were pending the electoral process and have been dealt with by the Supreme Court.
As regards prayers (iii) and (iv) for a free and fair investigation by an SIT headed by retired judge into instances of hooliganism and vandalism against the petitioners, and for direction to take immediate action into complaints of victims of criminal activity, criminal assault and intimidation, Justice Chandrachud opined that the same can be addressed by the High Court. "Very well, Your Lordships", said Mr. Sankaranarayanan
As both the SG and Mr. Sankaranarayanan were engaged in other courts in the post-lunch session, the bench listed the matter on Tuesday for further consideration.
On, November 25, the polling day for the Tripura local body elections, a bench comprising Justice DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath had passed a series of directions to ensure the presence of Central Armed Police Force personnel in each of the 770 polling booths in the state. The bench had directed the DGP and the Secretary of Home Department of Tripura to review the security situation and to requisition additional battallion of CRPF if needed. The Court had also directed that the print and electronic media should be given unhindered access to give complete coverage of election process.
The bench passed the directions after hearing All India Trinamool Congress, the writ petitioner and Communist Party of India (Marxist), the intervenor. Both the opposition parties alleged that the members of the ruling Bharathiya Janata Party had unleashed violence to disrupt peaceful elections and the police and administration were complicit.
On the previous hearing date, November 23, the bench had turned down the plea made by Trinamool Congress to postpone the local body elections, scheduled to take place today. However, the bench issued a slew of directions to the DGP and IG (Law and Order) of Tripura to ensure that the polls take place in a peaceful manner. The Court asked the police to act in an "even handed" and "non-partisan" manner to assuage the grievances of the opposition members. The Court also directed the Tripura police to submit a chart today indicating the action taken on the complaints lodged by the Trinamool congress members.

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