Supreme Court of India on Friday sets aside the Calcutta High Court order directing the State Election Commission to accept the nominations filed online. The Court has allowed the candidates in the uncontested seats to file Election petitions challenging the election within 30 days.
The bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice D. Y. Chandrachud and Justice A. M. Khanwilkar was pronouncing its judgment on an appeal against the May 8 order of the Calcutta High Court directing the State Election Commission to accept the nominations of those intending candidates to the panchayat elections in the state who had submitted their papers through e-mail before the last date.
On May 10, the apex court had stayed the impugned order, passing a string of interim directions-
(i) The Panchayat election scheduled to be held on 14.5.2018, shall proceed as per law;
(ii) The petitioners i.e. the West Bengal State Election Commission and its functionaries shall see to it that the election which is scheduled for 14.5.2018 is held in absolute fairness, keeping in view the concept of purity of an election in a democracy;
(iii) The election process in respect of the constituencies shall be completed in all aspects and the results of the election can be notified as per law.
The bench also restrained the State Election Commission from issuing, without the leave of the court, the results in respect of the constituencies where there has been no contest.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) had approached the high court against the State Election Commission for rejecting the nominations through e-mail to the Election Commission as well as to the Returning Officer. As the single bench refused their the party approached the division bench in appeal.
The main contention was that the Information Technology Act, 2000 read with Section 90 thereof permits the State Election Commission to accept nominations sent through e-mail and that there is a mechanism in the website of State Election Commission to accept nomination papers through e-mail.
When the court asked the commission about the acceptance of nomination through WhatsApp, it was submitted that the said intending candidates had gone physically to the office of the Commission to submit their nomination papers and pursuant to order passed by the single bench, such papers were accepted on the basis of whatever documents they had filed with the Commission through WhatsApp communication.
In the impugned order, Justices A. Mukherjee and B. Somadder had observed, “The State Election Commission has been constituted under section 3 of the West Bengal State Election Commission Act, 1994 with Constitutional sanction. It, therefore, does not strictly come within the ambit of section 6(1)(a) of the Act of 2000 to be a body or agency owned or controlled by the appropriate Government. Similarly, the State Government is not called upon to make rules in terms of section 90of the Act of 2000 in respect of filing of nomination forms through email. It is for the State Election Commission – being a Constitutional body/authority – to provide for the same, as the filing of nomination through e-mail invariably prevent large-scale violence centering around the Panchayat elections and above all, bloodshed and loss of precious human life. Further, it eliminates the hurling of accusations and counter-accusations and encourages peaceful and wider participation. Above all, it upholds the democratic principles which form a pivotal part in the Panchayat election process and is not to its derogation but on the contrary, furthers it. To that extent, the relevant provision of the Act of 2000 shall be deemed to be read into the applicable provision of the (West Bengal Panchayat Elections) Act of 2003 in respect of filing of nomination papers, purely by implication…”
The court had then directed the State Election Commission to accept the nomination of all the candidates who have duly filed their papers electronically with the Panchayat Returning Officers or the Commission by 3:00 PM on April 23.