Updated: November 24, 2021 3:28:35 am
The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected the plea by All India Trinamool Congress to postpone the local body polls in Tripura scheduled on November 25, but issued additional guidelines to ensure that the conduct of the elections remains peaceful.
“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 which also comprised Justice Vikram Nath.
The order said 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 even-handed and non-partisan manner to obviate the grievances that the candidates and supporters of All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) are unfairly targeted by contesting political groups”.
The court asked the Tripura Director General of Police and Inspector General of Police to hold a joint meeting with the State Election Commissioner by Wednesday morning to assess the availability of sufficient strength of central paramilitary forces to be deployed for peaceful conduct of the local body polls.
After assessing the situation on ground, a requisition shall be submitted to the CRPF or the Home Ministry, it said, adding that any such request will be duly considered having regard to the situation to maintain peace in conducting free and fair polls in the state.
“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. Counting of votes is scheduled for November 28.
Taking note of the Trinamool contention that the police was not lodging FIRs against those attacking its cadre, the court also asked the state “to submit a tabulated data on complaints made, steps taken and if FIR has been registered…”.
The bench cautioned that the “steps cited must be followed to obviate this court from taking any steps if there is a breach of directions ordered”.
When the court took up the matter in the morning, senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, appearing for the AITC, said attacks were continuing against its cadre despite the court’s directions. “Political workers are being driven out. Kindly consider how much effect it will have on voters. Will the voters come out? We are asking for a committee of observers,” he said, and referred to photographs of the alleged violent acts. Gupta also urged the court to consider postponing the November 25 polls.
Senior advocate Gopal Shankaranarayanan, also appearing for the AITC, referred to the 2013 polls in West Bengal being rescheduled as the force deployment was not enough. “Heavens will not fall if the same happens here,” he said.
Appearing for Tripura, senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani said, “It’s a politically contrived matter”. He added that they had approached the SC even when the matter was pending in the high court.
Jethmalani said the main grievance is that incidents are happening and arrests are not happening. “Every incident that had been mentioned has an FIR… in some case, 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 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 it, following which the court asked him to take instructions from the state government and the DGP regarding the security arrangements till the counting of votes and regarding 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 then sought to know if more paramilitary forces can be requisitioned.
Gupta said the “situation is so bad now that we are standing up now. That is why it is an election, otherwise there would not have been any opposition at all”.
The court also asked Jethmalani to inform it about the August 18 speech of MLA Arun Chandra Bhowmik, in which he allegedly asked BJP workers to take action against Trinamool leaders in “Talibani style”.
Jethmalani said he had the details. “The recording is received…. A section 65B Evidence Act certificate (for admission of electronic evidence) is being filed.” He added that he, however, had a different take. “I don’t think it incited violence. The MLA has been called for questioning. But the petitioners are making mountains out of molehills,” said Jethmalani.
On the CRPF deployment, Jethmalani said, “78 sections of CRPF are there and another 12 will be sent”. He added that the Transport Minister from Bengal made a fiery speech in Tripura.
The court also 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. He added that there can’t be arrests for scuffles in view of a previous SC ruling which says no arrest if the offence is punishable for less than seven years.
The court was hearing a contempt plea filed by AITC alleging that its cadre was being targeted in the state and false cases were being foisted on them in the run-up to the elections despite earlier orders of the court.
Hearing a plea by the Trinamool Congress on November 11, the SC had asked the Tripura government to ensure that no political party in the fray for the elections “is prevented from pursuing its electoral rights in accordance with law and from campaigning in a peaceful and orderly manner”.
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