New Delhi: In a relief for Mamata Banerjee, the Supreme Court on Friday turned down the pleas of CPI(M) and BJP seeking cancellation of elections on over 20,000 uncontested local body seats in West Bengal.
All these uncontested seats were won unopposed by candidates of the ruling Trinamool Congress and opposition parties had alleged that their candidates were obstructed from filing nomination papers.
However, taking note of allegations, the court allowed those obstructed from filing nomination papers to challenge polls by filing election petitions.
A bench comprising Chief Justice DIpak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud exercised its extraordinary 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
“Due to BJP, Congress and CPI (M) – all the development work in the Panchayat was badly affected. They should apologise before the people of Bengal. Now with the judgment of SC, we will be able to form the boards to speed up the pending pilot projects. Our Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee already briefed us on how to take forward the development work at the panchayat level,” said state Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee.
“We are very happy. We welcome the verdict of the court. It is a victory of democracy. We have been saying this for a long time,” said TMC Lok Sabha MP Kalyan Banerjee.
The BJP, however, had the satisfaction that those with complaints can file petitions before the local courts.
State BJP president Dilip Ghosh said, “We are not against the SC’s decision because the apex court has said that those who are aggrieved with the Panchayat poll results can file their petitions before the local courts within 30 days. This is a fact that a large number of our candidates were threatened and prevented from filing nominations. Actual strength of the TMC will be clear in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.”
Out of a total 58,692 posts for gram panchayats, zilla parishads and panchayat samitis, 20,159 had remained uncontested in the violence-marred local polls in the state held in May this year.
The court, meanwhile, set aside the Calcutta High Court decision directing the state poll panel to allow filing of nomination papers in panchayat elections through electronic forms such as e-mails and WhatsApp.
“The high court was in error while allowing the filing of nomination papers through electronic forms,” it said, adding, “no such process is either mentioned nor allowed under the provisions of the Representation of Peoples Act
The apex court had earlier restrained the EC from notifying winning candidates on uncontested seats.
The court had questioned the EC and state government over complaints by rival parties that other candidates were terrorised and stopped from filing nominations.
The West Bengal government had told the Supreme Court that the row over the recently concluded panchayat polls in the state has led to a “constitutional crisis” since the tenure of several panchayats were over and new bodies have not been made functional.
The top court had on August 13 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.
The poll panel had argued that 33 per cent of nearly 50,000 panchayat seats going uncontested in the state was not “an alarming situation”
The panel had 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.
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.
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.