The Supreme Court on Thursday put a stay on publication of results of the 18,000 uncontested seats in the upcoming Panchayat elections in West Bengal which had fallen into the kitty of the Trinamool Congress (TMC).
The apex court also put a stay on nominations sent via email for the polls as was directed by the Calcutta High Court in an order to West Bengal State Election Commission.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud also asked the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the SEC plea that challenged the High Court’s 8 May order to allow e-nomination and reading into the Representation of People Act, 1954, the provision of the Information Technology Act.
The CPI(M) has reportedly claimed that many of its candidates were prevented from filing nominations by the Trinamool Congress.
The SC said that it was concerned about the election of 34 per cent of the 48,000 seats unopposed.
“What is worrying us is both the High Court order and 34 per cent candidates getting elected unopposed,” the Chief Justice said, adding that the SEC will ensure “absolute fairness” in the conduct of the 14 May elections.
The SEC had opposed the Calcutta High Court order on the ground that a candidate is supposed to appear before the Returning Officer concerned, which is not possible under e-nomination. Every candidate is required to file nomination papers in person, sign the nomination form, and submit the deposit fee.
It had told the top court that the HC order would make the SEC “suffer irreparable loss and injury”.
Senior counsel Rakesh Dwivedi said that there is a procedure for further scrutiny of the nomination papers and objection raised by contesting candidates, but the High Court had directed the State Election Commission to straightway accept nominations filed through emails.
The court directed for the next hearing on 3 July.
TMC said on 10 May that it was ready for the elections as per the direction of the court.
On 29 April, the SEC released the list of uncontested seats which revealed that Trinamool Congress won hundreds of seats in the three-tier panchayat elections in West Bengal uncontested, setting a record of sorts for winning most elections without a contest.
TMC was the only party to have fielded candidates in all of the seats in the rural body polls.
According to SEC data, 16,814 seats of the 48,650 seats in gram panchayats remained uncontested. In panchayat samitis, 3,059 of the 9,217 seats remained uncontested. Further, 203 of 825 seats in 20 zilla parishads were uncontested.
The ruling party had termed the victory in the uncontested seats a victory of the masses.
State BJP president Dilip Ghosh had alleged that it was because of TMC’s violence that opposition candidates could “neither file nominations nor were they allowed to contest”.
“Our candidates were threatened with dire consequences if they did not withdraw, so some of them had to give in,” he said.
The TMC fielded more nominations than the number of seats.
The party led by the West Bengal CM had filed 1,000 nominations for the zilla parishads, followed by the BJP with 782, CPI(M) with 537 and the Congress with 407. In panchayat samitis, the TMC had filed 12,590 nominations, the BJP 6,149, the CPI(M) 4,400 and the Congress 1,740.
For the gram panchayats, the TMC filed 58,978 nominations, the BJP 27,935, the CPI(M) 17,319 and the Congress 7,313.
All three parties withdrew the names of many candidates before the end of deadline.
There are 3,358 gram panchayats, 341 panchayat samitis and 20 zilla parishads in West Bengal.