The Supreme Court today 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.
It directed the state election commission to provide exact statistics about such contested posts by tomorrow.
Out of a total 58,692 posts for gram panchayat village, zilla parishad and panchayat samiti, 20,159 of them had remained uncontested in the violence-marred local polls in the state held in May this year.
"We cannot remain oblivious of this fact that such a huge number of seats were uncontested in panchayat elections in the state... What is puzzling us is that of 48,000 gram panchayat seats, more than 16,000 go uncontested," a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said.
"What is bothering us is that out of total 48,650 panchayat seats, 16,000 posts remained uncontested," the bench, also comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud," he said, adding that same was the situation with regard to elections for the posts of zilla parishads (district level) and panchayat samitis at the villages.
The court said it was "shocking" that "thousands and thousands of seats" have gone uncontested and referred to the percentage of seats which went uncontested in districts like Birbhum, Bankura and Murshidabad.
These figures showed the grass root-level democracy, as enshrined in the Constitution, was not working, the top court said.
The bench directed the West Bengal State Election Commission to file an affidavit by tomorrow providing exact statistics about the number of seats that went uncontested in the local bodies elections in the state.
Elections were held in phases for 48,650 posts in Gram Panchayats, 825 posts in Zilla Parishads and 9,217 posts in Panchayat Samitis and it has been alleged that around 34 per cent seats were uncontested.
The bench questioned the decisions of the state election body and said it had first extended the time limit for filing of nomination papers and took back the decision within a day.
"You (state election commission) are the guardian of law. It was vivid that so many seats were going uncontested," it said, adding "if nobody is contesting, then there will be no litigation. The fact that there were litigations and it means that everyone was aware of the fact that something was missing".
Senior advocate PS Patwalia, appearing for West Bengal unit of BJP, said violent incidents took place during the elections and people were not allowed to file their nomination papers. He also provided a district-wise break-up of the uncontested seats.
Earlier, the top court had stayed the Calcutta High Court order asking the state election body to accept the nomination papers filed through e-mail for panchayat elections and directed the poll panel not to declare in the gazette the names of those candidates who had won unopposed.
The bench, however, had then refused to stay the poll process observing that there were a plethora of judgements which have held that once the poll process has begun, it cannot be interfered into by any court.
The counsel for CPI(M) and the BJP had alleged that several of their candidates were not allowed to file nomination papers, which had led to about 34 per cent of the candidates belonging to the ruling Trinamool Congress, winning unopposed.
The court was hearing an appeal filed by the state election panel against the High Court order asking it to accept the nomination papers filed through e-mail for the panchayat elections.
The CPI(M) had claimed that many of its candidates were prevented from filing nominations by the state's ruling Trinamool Congress.
The SEC petition arrayed CPI(M) as a respondent, besides the state government, the ruling Trinamool Congress, state panchayat secretary and others. BJP was later allowed to be a party to the litigation.
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