Updated: June 29, 2022 1:15:21 pm
The High Court of Bombay at Goa Tuesday quashed the decision of the Goa government to postpone elections to 186 Village Panchayats in the state and directed it to issue a notification announcing the date of the polls within three days.
While the five-year tenure of some of the Panchayats had expired and was about to expire in others, the court directed the state government and the State Election Commission (SEC) to ensure that the elections are held and completed in “no later than 45 days”.
In a bunch of petitions filed before the court, the question before it was whether the state government and the SEC had avoided holding elections to constitute the Panchayats before the expiry of their duration as mandated under Article 243-E of the Constitution of India. Article 243-E(1) provides that every Panchayat shall continue for five years from the date appointed for its first meeting and no longer. Article 243-E(3) provides that an election to constitute a Panchayat shall be completed before the expiry of its duration.
In their 44-page order, Justice M S Sonak and Justice R N Ladda observed, “This is the fourth instance in the last two decades when the state government and the SEC have avoided or failed to comply with the constitutional mandate in Article 243-E. The delay and consequent defiance of the constitutional mandate have become a regular feature.”
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“The attempt is to bring about a situation of fait accompli, emboldened by the fact that not even the most powerful Court can turn the clock back or recoup the lost time. There are no reported instances of any action against those responsible for the defiant breaches of the constitutional mandate. In most instances, the SEC would meekly toe the line of the State Government and plead helplessness,” they said.
This time, however, the court said that the SEC had “made it clear that it not only wants to hold the elections at the earliest, and it made all efforts to hold the polls on 29.05.2022, 04.06.2022, 11.06.2022, 15.06.2022, and 18.06.2022.”
The SEC’s counsel S N Joshi had told the court that the SEC was prepared to complete the elections within 30 days after the announcement of the date.
Advocate General Devidas Pangam, however, told the court that the government was prepared to hold the election on June 4 “but for the SEC’s irrelevant queries and correspondence, the polls could have been held before the onset of monsoons”. Pangam said that Goa receives rainfall of about 110 to 120 inches and in the past, there have been cyclones and floods. “The government staff and machinery are involved in disaster management. Therefore, with all responsibility, the state government has taken a ‘conscious decision’ to hold the elections in September 2022,” he told the court.
He said that reservation of wards for OBCs following the triple test as mandated by the Supreme Court also had to be carried out and monsoon could affect the voter turnout.
“The SEC’s insistence on holding elections during monsoons would render democracy a casualty,” said Pangam.
The court, however, said that the petitioners’ lawyers’ were “justified in contending that the monsoons, a yearly feature in Goa, cannot be elevated to the level of “a natural calamity”. The court said that “there may have been some flash floods or even cyclones in the past, monsoons generally cannot afford an excuse for defying the constitutional mandate in Article 243-E”.
“The court said, “… we think that if the state government was indeed serious about holding the polls in terms of Article 243-E, then nothing prevented the state government from issuing the necessary Notification…. appointing 04.06.2022 as the date for holding of the polls”.
The correspondence between the state government and the SEC, the court said, shows that “the SEC was making repeated efforts to persuade the state government to issue Notification…without which the SEC felt handicapped in completing the elections consistent with the constitutional mandate in Article 243-E”.
Section 15 of the Goa Panchayat Raj Act provides that the election of members from wards of a Panchayat shall be held in a manner and as prescribed a date as the government may direct by notification. The court, however, said, it “cannot be interpreted as a charter or a license to the state government to violate the constitutional mandate in Article 243-E. B”.
While the state government had appointed administrators in Panchayats across Goa, the court said, “The administrators must, however, take no policy decisions or expend Panchayat funds other than for routine matters.”
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