Updated: February 26, 2021 9:10:33 pm
The Gujarat High Court disposed of plea highlighting the rejection of nomination form of 14 prospective Congress candidates in Botad and conveyed that “high constitutional functionaries” should not indulge in “any activity during an election, which may give chance to people to level allegations.”
The 14 prospective candidates were expected to contest the district panchayat elections from the talukas of Botad and Gadhada.
It was alleged by the petitioners that while nomination papers were filed within the deadline, it was due to intervention by a BJP minister, who is also an MLA from Botad, Saurabh Patel, “the Respondent Election officer at the last moment refused to accept the changed/rectified forms.”
It was submitted by the petitioners the “Election officer has not acted impartially and independently but rather towed the line as drawn by the political masters therefore bringing into disrepute the office of the State Election Commission (SEC).”
It was the case of the petitioners, represented by advocate Anand Yagnik, that the first round of scrutiny for the nomination and allied forms of the 14 candidates, was over with an oral observation on the part of Returning Officer that all the forms are accepted and the same was also videographed by the Returning Officer.
However, after the oral assurance was given and half of the candidates left the office room of the Returning Officer, a telephone call was received by the Returning Officer from Saurabh Patel, a cabinet rank minister representing the Botad Constituency.
“Due to these intervening factors the second round of scrutiny on the date of scrutiny was undertaken behind the back of the writ applicants. An objection was lodged by the candidates belonging to the opposite party, viz. Bharatiya Janta Party, behind the back of the writ applicants representing the Indian National Congress and relying upon the same all the nominations were rejected. The decision was given at about 7:00 pm on the date of scrutiny and before that the Cabinet Minister Mr.Saurabh Patel announced before the visual media that they had won the election. Hence, the rejection of the nomination papers is malafide and smacks of political intervention…,” the petitioners had submitted.
The division bench of Justices JB Pardiwala and Ilesh Vora however adjudged that “the only jurisdiction the Returning Officer has, at the stage of scrutiny, is to ensure whether the nominations are in order and to hear and decide the objections. He cannot, at that stage, remedy the essential defects or permit them to be remedied,” while relying on an earlier Supreme Court verdict.
However, commenting on the allegation of minister Patel’s presence, while the court refused to “go onto the issue,” it also observed that such visits by functionaries such as ministers should not be indulged in, so as to not give space for levelling of allegations.
“It has been very boldly and emphatically argued before us that the presence of the Minister can be taken note of if the CCTV footage is called for by this Court. We do not intend to go into the issue… In this regard, all the allegations levelled have been outright denied by both, the State Election Commission as well as by the Returning Officer… what we want to convey is that the high constitutional functionaries, like the cabinet rank ministers, should not indulge in any activity, more particularly, during any election, which may give chance to the people to level allegations,” the court observed.
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