West Bengal panchayat polls: SC allows State Election Commission to notify results of uncontested seats

The Supreme Court on Friday allowed the Election Commission to notify winning candidates on uncontested seats in West Bengal panchayat polls. The top court did not allow the pleas of Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seeking cancellation of panchayat polls over 20,000 uncontested seats. In May, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) had won 20,159 seats without contest.

The apex court, however, took note of the allegations and said the aggrieved candidate may file election petitions to challenge panchayat polls in courts concerned. A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud exercised its power under Article 142 of the Constitution and held that the limitation period of 30 days for filing the election petitions, which has expired, would now commence from the date of notification of panchayat poll results.

Representational image. AP

Representational image. AP

The Supreme Court also set aside the Calcutta High Court order, which had allowed the filing of nomination papers through email and WhatsApp in the West Bengal panchayat polls.

The apex court had earlier also stayed the Calcutta High Court's order asking the state election body to accept the nomination papers filed through email for the panchayat elections and directed the poll panel not to declare in the gazette the names of those candidates who had won unopposed.

Earlier, the apex court had termed the situation as "grim and grave" and had directed the West Bengal State Election Commission not to declare and notify the results of panchayat body elections in the wake of allegations of large-scale violence and alleged obstruction of filing nomination papers.

The top court had on 13 August asked the West Bengal State Election Commission (WBSEC) as to whether it conducted any probe into the fact that a large number of seats in the local body elections in the state went uncontested.

Out of a total 58,692 posts for gram panchayat, village and zilla parishad and panchayat samiti, 20,159 had remained uncontested in the violence-marred local polls in the state held in May. The top court had  told the state poll panel that the issue of the huge number of uncontested seats has been bothering it.

The poll panel had argued that 33 percent of nearly 50,000 panchayat seats going uncontested in the state was not "an alarming situation".

It had cited Uttar Pradesh where almost 57 percent panchayat seats went uncontested and the figure was 51 percent, 67 percent and 27.6 percent in Haryana, Sikkim and Andhra Pradesh respectively. The panel had also said that it cannot persuade political parties to field candidates and, moreover, it took prompt actions when it received complaints about panchayat elections and even held re-polls.

The West Bengal government had said that the panchayat polls cannot be set aside on the basis of "conjecture and surmises" of some political parties as no individual candidate has approached the court with the claim that he or she has been restrained from filing nomination papers.

The ruling All India Trinamool Congress party had contended that not a single candidate has approached any court with the grievance that he or she has been stopped from filing nomination papers. The Opposition parties CPM and BJP, who have opposed the contention of the state government, poll panel and the TMC, alleged that West Bengal did not witness a free and fair election and the candidates hailing from these two parties were stopped from filing nomination papers.

During the previous hearings, the apex court had expressed shock at the fact that "thousands and thousands" of seats in the recent West Bengal panchayat polls had remained uncontested, observing that these figures showed that grass root-level democracy was not working.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Aug 24, 2018 12:14 PM

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