The Supreme Court on Monday said it will have to consider the issue that there was no contest on over 20,000 seats in recently-held elections for local bodies in West Bengal in the wake of allegation that the candidates were obstructed from filing their nomination papers.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud reserved its verdict on the pleas filed by the West Bengal State Election Commission and parties like the BJP and CPI (M).
It has been alleged by the BJP and the CPI (M) that candidates from ruling All India Trinamool Congress in West Bengal were only allowed to file nomination papers and as a result, they won without any contest.
"The issue of non-acceptance of nomination papers by the Election Commission has to be dealt by the election tribunal in election petition.
"The issue was that over 20,000 seats went un-contested and the allegation was that the non-contest was due to the obstruction in filing of the nomination papers. The another aspect, which has been highlighted, was that nomination papers were filed by the candidates of one party. We have to see as to what can be done in such a situation," the bench said.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the state government, raised the issue of constitutional crisis in view of the fact that panchayat and local bodies have to be notified to avail funds to the tune of Rs 20,000 crore.
The election results of local bodies have to be notified to ensure that the funds are availed and utilised for the public welfare, he said.
The bench made clear that that it did not approve of the Calcutta High Court order allowing the filing of nomination papers through e-mails and WhatsApp.
It, however, said the it would consider the circumstances in which the high court passed such a direction to infer that there were obstructions in filing of nomination papers.
The counsel for the ruling party opposed the plea of BJP and CPI (M) and said that not a single affected candidate is a party before the top court and it is the political parties which are before it.
Earlier, the West Bengal government had told 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 earlier stayed the 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 funds allotted to panchayats will go back. There is a constitutional crisis under Article 243(E) of the Constitution. The development in the villages has come to a standstill," the counsel for the state government said.
The top court had on August 13 asked the state election panel 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, zilla parishad and panchayat samiti, 20,159 had remained uncontested in the violence-marred local polls in the state held in May this year.
The top court had said that the issue of huge number of uncontested seats has been bothering it.
The poll panel, however, argued that 33 per cent of nearly 50,000 panchayat seats going uncontested in the state was not "an alarming situation".
It had cited Uttar Pradesh where almost 57 per cent panchayat seats went uncontested and the figure was 51, 67 and 27.6 per cent in Haryana, Sikkim and Andhra Pradesh respectively.
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.
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 top court had earlier refused to stay the poll process observing that there were a plethora of judgments which have held that once the poll process has begun, it cannot be interfered into by any court.
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.
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