J&K National Conference gets ‘Plough’ symbol

SC sets aside notification for election to Ladakh Hill Council, imposes a fine of Rs one lakh

J&K National Conference gets ‘Plough’ symbol

The Supreme Court on Wednesday set aside the notification for the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) election and imposed a fine of Rs one lakh on the Ladakh administration.

Rejecting a plea by the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council challenging the Jammu and Kashmir High Court order granting ‘Plough symbol’ to the National Conference, a bench of Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah in a judgment today, directed the Chief Election Officer of the Ladakh UT to issue a new notification for the elections to the LAJDC within seven days from today.



The top court in its order said, “the entire election process, initiated pursuant to Notification dated 02.08.2023 issued by the Administration of Union Territory of Ladakh, Election Department, UT Secretariat, Ladakh, … stands set aside. A fresh Notification shall be issued within seven days from today for elections … R1 (National Conference) is declared entitled to the exclusive allotment of the Plough symbol for candidates proposed to be put up by it.”


The court ordered that the Rs. One lakh fine imposed on LAHDC administration will be deposited in the Supreme Court Advocates on Record Welfare Fund.

Ruling in favour of the allotment of plough symbol to the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference, the bench upheld the J&K High Court decision directing the Ladakh Union Territory administration to notify the allotment of the ‘plough’ symbol to the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference party for the LAHDC elections.


Upholding the High Court order allotting Plough symbol to J&K National Conference, the bench in its judgment said, “The request for allotment of the Plough symbol by R1 (National Conference) was bonafide, legitimate and just, for the plain reason that in the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir (which included the present Union Territory of Ladakh), it was a recognized State Party having been allotted the Plough symbol.”


Upon bifurcation of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir and the creation of two new Union Territories, the top court  said that though the Election Commission of India had not notified Nationals Conference as a State Party for the Union Territory of Ladakh, “it cannot be simpliciter that the Nationals Conference was not entitled for the allotment of plough symbol to it, in the factual background.”


The top court further said, “What is also clear is that the Appellants (LAHDC and others) are attempting to approbate and reprobate, which this Court will not countenance.”


“In the present case, there is no conflict with any other stakeholder for the reason that the Plough symbol is neither a symbol exclusively allotted to any National or State Party nor one of the symbols shown in the list of free symbols. Thus, there was and is no impediment in such a symbol being granted to R1 (National Conference), the top court said in the judgment.


Rejecting the arguments on behalf of the LAhDC that court should not now interfere with the election process as it has reached a  penultimate stage, Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah speaking for the bench said, “Having chosen, with eyes open, to not comply with successive orders of the learned Single Judge and the learned Division Bench, both of which were passed well in time, such as not to stall/delay the notified election schedule, the Appellants cannot be permitted to plead that interference by us at this late juncture should not be forthcoming.”


Stating that the courts could not be left “helpless” by the “systemic delays” on the part of the administration, Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah pronouncing the judgment said, “The Court would categorically emphasize that no litigant should have even an iota of doubt or an impression (rather, a misimpression) that just because of systemic delay or the matter not being taken up by the Courts resulting in efflux of time the cause would be defeated, and the Court would be rendered helpless to ensure justice to the party concerned.”


It further said that it would not be out of place to mention that “this Court can even turn the clock back, if the situation warrants such dire measures. The powers of this Court, if need be, to even restore the status quo ante are not in the realm of any doubt.”


Further stating that the self-restraint imposed by the top court not to interfere with the ongoing election process would not stand in the way of it (top court) stepping in when the actions of the executive, the top court today said, “… attempt to disturb a level-playing field between candidates and/or political parties with no justifiable or intelligible basis, the Constitutional Courts are required, nay they are duty-bound, to step in.”


The LAHDC had challenged the August 14, 2023, order of the Division bench of J%K High court that had upheld August 9, 2023, an interim order of a single judge allotting “Plough” symbol to J&K National Conference.


The court noted that the National Conference, which is a ruling party in LADHC, had applied for the allotment of Plough symbol well in time on July 7, 2023, but the Election department did not decide on it till last date and on August 5, announced the election.


The court noted that the LADHC, while sitting on the representation of J&K National Conference , “went ahead and notified the elections on 02/05.08.2023. We are unable to appreciate such conduct. This recalcitrance to decide in time speaks volumes. Instances like these raise serious questions.


Imposing a fine of Rs one lakh on the administration of LADHC, the top court in its judgment said, “Elections to any office/body are required to be free, fair and transparent. Elections lie at the core of democracy. The authority entrusted by law to 29 hold/conduct such elections is to be completely independent of any extraneous influence/consideration.”


Having said this, the court said: “It is surprising that the Union Territory of Ladakh not only denied R1 the Plough symbol, but even upon timely intervention by the learned Single Judge, has left no stone unturned not only to resist but also frustrate a cause simply by efflux of time.”