Vijayawada: The Andhra Pradesh High Court has directed the State Election Commission (SEC) to issue fresh notification to resume elections process for MPTCs/ZPTCs from where it was stopped and re-impose the model code of conduct in the state, strictly adhering to Supreme Court direction.
A single member bench headed by Justice M. Satyanarayana Murthy delivered the verdict here on Friday, based on petitions filed by Jana Sena and Telugu Desam, seeking cancellation of elections held to MPTCs/ZPTCs on April 8, for violation of the apex court order that said the poll code should be imposed for four weeks prior to the date of polling. The court observed that the election notification issued on April 1 by the SEC was illegal as it was contrary to the SC direction on poll code. It said that the election notification was issued, limiting the poll code from April 1 to 10 and opined that such a move was meant to scuttle a level playing field for political parties and their candidates in the elections.
The court made critical observations against SEC Nilam Sawhney for taking a decision in utmost haste to resume the election process on the day she took charge of her office, after retirement with six month extension of service as the Chief Secretary in the same government.
The court said, “The State Election Commissioner interpreted the judgement of the apex court on poll code, on her own and concluded that four weeks time prescribed is the outer limit so that she can reduce it. Such interpretation by misreading or misunderstanding of the order is totally misplaced and it is nothing but purposive interpretation which cannot be accepted by any stretch of imagination.”
The court observed, “Even a common man who can read, write and understand English language can easily find out the direction of the apex court. But the state election commissioner despite being a senior most IAS officer could not understand the simple direction in right perspective and it creates doubt as to her suitability and fitness to the post of Election Commission. The state election commissioner failed to understand the apex court order for the reasons best known to her. The understanding of the order is not based on any reasoning except non-application of mind. The election commissioner despite being constitutional authority acted in clear defiance of the directions with utmost disrespect to the SC order.”
The court said, “No doubt, the court has to balance the equities since the state had already spent Rs 160 crore for holding elections, based on such illegal notification. If such equities are balanced on the basis of spending a huge amount, it is nothing but perpetuating illegality or legalising an illegality on the basis of equity which is impressively under law. In fact, when the single judge passed on a order setting aside election notification for conduct of polls, the state government in a hurry moved the division bench and obtained order and held elections in utmost haste. Had the state waited for some time, it ought to have saved the amount at least to some extent. When the state incurred huge expenditure on account of hasty acts of officials, infringement of rights of the citizen or public cannot be permitted and such equity cannot outweigh the statutory rights of electors and contestants.”
The State Election Commission held elections on April 8, for 9,696 MPTCs in which 2,371 were elected unanimously and also for 652 ZPTCs in which 126 were elected unanimously. Though counting votes was to be held on April 10, it was not allowed.
On behalf of the state government, advocate general S. Sriram and for State Election Commission, senior counsel C.V. Mohan Reddy argued in the court.
Petitioners Ch. Srinivasa Rao from Jana Sena and Varla Ramaiah from TD were represented by their counsels V. Venugopal Rao and V. Venkata Ramana respectively. The petitioners moved the court, alleging poll-related irregularities like violence, prevention of candidates from filing nominations and forcible withdrawal of nominations by the contestants and asked for cancellation of elections already held and conduct them afresh.