November 23, 2021 11:50:13 pm
THE SUPREME Court Tuesday rejected a plea by All India Trinamool Congress to postpone the local body polls in Tripura but issued additional guidelines to the state’s top police officers to ensure that the conduct of elections remains peaceful.
“The DGP and IGP shall take all steps to ensure the election is conducted without disruptions, especially on the day of polling and counting,” said the court.
The ruling came on a contempt plea by TMC alleging that its cadre was being targeted in the state and false cases foisted on them in the run-up to the elections despite earlier orders of the court. The ongoing municipal poll process in Tripura will witness voting on November 25 and counting of votes on November 28.
“Postponing elections is a matter of last and extreme recourse. It is our considerate view that, short of postponing elections, the apprehensions expressed by the petitioners can be redressed by issuing directions to Tripura to ensure that remaining phases of municipal elections take place in a safe and secure manner and the reports of law and order, which have been drawn to the attention of enforcement agencies, are dealt with in accordance with law,” a bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud said.
“Postponing elections is an extreme thing to order in a democracy, and we are averse to it. If we do it, then it will set a wrong precedent,” observed the bench also comprising Justice Vikram Nath.
The bench said in its order that “it is the duty of DGP, IGP & Home Secretary to assuage any misgiving about the fairness of the law enforcement machinery in supporting the electoral process”. “The law enforcement agencies must discharge duty in an even-handed…manner to obviate the grievance that the candidates and supporters of All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) are unfairly targeted by contesting political groups,” it said.
The court asked the Tripura DGP and IG to hold a joint meeting with the State Election Commissioner by Wednesday morning for assessing the availability of central paramilitary forces in sufficient strength to be deployed for peaceful conduct of the polls.
Taking note of Trinamool’s contention that the police were not lodging FIRs against those attacking its cadre, the court asked the state “to submit tabulated data on complaints made, steps taken and if FIR has been registered…”.
Senior Advocate Jaideep Gupta, appearing for Trinamool, said the attacks were continuing against its cadre despite the court’s directions. Referring to photographs of the alleged violent acts, Gupta urged the court to consider postponing the polls.
Senior Advocate Gopal Shankaranarayanan, also appearing for Trinamool, referred to the 2013 polls in West Bengal being rescheduled as the deployment of forces was not enough. “Heavens will not fall if the same happens here,” he said.
Appearing for Tripura, Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani said that “it’s a politically contrived matter”. He said they had approached the Supreme Court even when the matter was pending in the High Court.
Jethmalani said that the main grievance is that “incidents” are happening and arrests are not happening. “Every incident that has been mentioned has an FIR… in some cases, there may be no arrests as the offences are not serious,” he said.
But the bench said “when an MLA is assaulted in a public rally and if a statement is made on affidavit we have no reason to disbelieve it” — and sought to know who is in charge of security for the elections.
Jethmalani responded that the DGP and Home Secretary are supervising the exercise following which the court asked him to take instructions from the state government and the top police officer regarding security arrangements and deployment of central forces.
When the court took up the matter in the afternoon, Jethmalani submitted a report on the deployment of central forces. The court also asked him to inform it about the August 18 speech of BJP MLA Arun Chandra Bhowmik, where he allegedly asked party workers to take action against Trinamool leaders in “Talibani style”.
Jethmalani said: “The recording is received….A section 65B evidence act certificate (for admission of electronic evidence) is being filed.” However, he said: “I don’t think it incited violence. The MLA has been called for questioning. But the petitioners are making mountains out of molehills.”
On CRPF deployment, Jethmalani said “78 sections of CRPF are there and another 12 will be sent”. He also said that the Transport Minister from West Bengal had delivered a “fiery speech” in Tripura. The court sought to know how many arrests have been made so far to which Jethmalani said 88 “trouble mongers” have been identified and appropriate measures taken.
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