In a major boost to the ruling Trinamul Congress (TMC) in West Bengal, the Supreme Court on Friday refused to set aside the election results in over 20,000 uncontested seats in the three-tiered panchayat polls in the state, rejecting the pleas of the BJP and the CPI-M seeking their quashing on the ground of alleged large-scale obstruction in the filing of their candidates’ nomination papers in the violence marred polls.

The apex court also set aside the Calcutta High Court order directing the Bengal Election Commission to allow filing of nomination papers in panchayat elections in electronic form.

Exercising its extraordinary power under Article 142 of the Constitution, the top court, however, allowed the candidates of the aggrieved parties in the uncontested seats to individually file election petitions to challenge the poll results in the courts.

Of a total of 58,692 seats for Gram Panchayats, Panchayat Samiti and Zila Parishads, 20,159 seats were uncontested in the Bengal rural polls in May.

The candidates of Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamul, which swept the panchayat elections, had also won an overwhelming majority of the 20,159 seats uncontested.

The Supreme Court on Friday, while refusing to scrap the elections to the uncontested seats, referred to the settled legal principle, saying once the election process has commenced, it is “trite law” that it should not be “interdicted mid-stage”.

The Bench, however, took note of the “serious allegations” with regard to the uncontested seats, allowing the aggrieved candidates to file election petitions to challenge their polls.

Exercising the extraordinary power under Article 142 of the Constitution, the apex court ruled that the limitation period of 30 days for filing election petitions ~ which has expired ~ would now commence from the date of notification of panchayat poll results of the 20,159 uncontested seats.

“We are of the view that challenges in regard to the validity of the elections to the uncontested seats in the panchayats, panchayat samitis and zilla parishads must also be pursued in election petitions under Section 79(1) of the Panchayat Elections Act.

“We leave it open to any person aggrieved to raise a dispute in the form of an election petition in accordance with the provisions contained in the Panchayat Elections Act,” a Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A M Khanwilkar and Justice D Y Chandrachud said.

The Bench said that a general observation on the uncontested seats cannot be made as it would depend on the evidence in each individual case in an election petition.

It turned down the pleas of the Bengal’s Opposition parties, the BJP and the CPM, seeking its intervention for quashing the election results of the over 20,000 uncontested seats.

Writing the judgment for the Bench, Justice Chandrachud stated that “the important consideration which must weigh with the court is that if the above submission is accepted, election results to over 20,000 seats will be set at naught in the absence of the affected parties before the Court. Once the election process has commenced, it is trite law that it should not be interdicted mid stage.

The electoral process is afforded sanctity in a democracy. That is the reason why in a consistent line of precedent, this Court has insisted upon the discipline of the law being followed so that any challenge to the validity of an election has to be addressed by adopting the remedy of an election petition provided under the governing statute….”

Scrapping the polls to over 20,000 seats would amount to prejudging the basic issue whether the elections were vitiated by obstructions, caused to candidates from filing nominations, in each constituency, the Bench added.

“We are emphatically of the view that any challenge to the election must take place in a manner which is known to law,” it said. Earlier, the apex court had described the Bengal rural poll situation as “grim and grave” and asked the state poll body not to notify the results of uncontested seats.

The apex court on Friday also accepted the plea that the High Court erred in directing the state poll body to accept nomination papers in electronic form, saying it was contrary to the election laws and rules.

SC to examine CBI probe plea

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to examine a plea seeking a CBI probe into the alleged killing of three BJP workers in West Bengal after the recently held local bodies elections in the state.

The plea filed by a BJP leader alleged that family members of the victims were being threatened and FIRs had been lodged in these cases.

A bench of justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan of the Supreme Court issued notices to West Bengal and the CBI on the plea and sought their reply in four weeks.