The Gujarat High Court on Wednesday held as “illegal” the two ordinances recently put out by the Gujarat government to postpone the local body elections. The court held that the ordinances were not in the spirit of holding timely election and deserved to be set aside. The court also pulled up State Election Commission (SEC) for not abiding by the Constitution despite being a constitutional body. While refusing to stay its order, the court directed the commission to hold elections immediately.
The division bench of acting Chief Justice Jayant Patel and N V Anjaria allowed the petition filed by two persons from Gandhinagar and Bhavnagar challenging the state government’s ordinance that allowed the poll panel to postpone elections on the ground that the situation was not conducive for holding free and fair elections in view of Patidar agitation for reservation.
The state government had told the court that a “caste war” like situation prevailed, which would not allow the free conduct of elections. The Gujarat government had recently issued an ordinance putting off local bodies elections. The ordinance allowed appointment of administrators in local bodies since it wasn’t possible to hold elections and constitute body in corporations, panchayats and nagarpalika. These administrators would have control over the local bodies after expiry of their five year terms. The ordinance was passed stating that due to unforeseen circumstances such as natural calamity, riots, disturbance, free and fair polls would not be possible.
The court held that ordinance passed by the state government was unconstitutional and unjust. While pronouncing the order, the court said that the constitutional provisions have envisaged a timely election prior to the expiry of concerned bodies. It said that this ordinance goes “against the spirit of timely election”. The court observed that the appointment of “administrator” is also unknown to Constitution and there is no room left for such a provision.
Incidentally, in a press release on Saturday, the state Election Commission Secretary Mahesh Joshi said that the commission had done a thorough assessment of the law and order situation and decided to postpone the local body elections, which should be held in a free and fair atmosphere. The release added that the commission will again do the assessment of the law and order situation in the state and hold elections within three months.
It had set the date of December 25 as the completion of the process of elections. The local body polls to 253 municipalities, 208 taluka panchayats, 26 district panchayats and six municipal corporations were expected to be held in the state in October.
The five-year terms of these bodies expire in October-November. The high court directed the Election Commission to hold these immediately and take all possible help from the state machinery to conduct polls. After pronouncement of the order, Advocate General for the state government Kamal Trivedi and senior counsel for the Election Commission Mihir Thakore sought a stay on the order to approach the Supreme Court which was rejected by the court.