The Gujarat High Court on Thursday directed the Election Commission (EC) to allow candidates contesting the Assembly elections to appoint people who are voters of the constituency, and not necessarily from the same polling station, as polling agents at booths.
Till now, the commission allows only those to be appointed as polling agents who are voters of the same polling station and not from anywhere from the constituency.
Granting relief to the candidates, the Division Bench of Justice Akil Kureshi and Justice A Y Kogje directed the Election Commission to “permit a candidate to appoint a polling agent or substitute agent, any person who is the resident and the elector of the same constituency, of which, the polling booth in question forms a part.”
The court also issued notices to the Election Commission and Chief Electoral Officer of Gujarat, seeking replies by December 20.
The order came on a set of two petitions moved by Arjun Khatariya, a Congress candidate contesting from Gondal Assembly seat in Rajkot district. Khatariya had alleged that due to fear of his BJP rival candidate Gitaba’s husband, Jayrajsinh Jadeja, no one was ready to become his polling agent. He had therefore sought permission fromt the High Court to appoint polling agents from anywhere from the whole of constituencies.
On Thursday, he was joined by state Congress challenging “the insistence of the Election Commission that the polling agent and the relief agents of every booth must be a voter of the area falling within the same polling station”.
Appearing for the Election Commission, counsel Megha Jani told the court: “In order to conduct free and fair election, it would be within the authority of the Election Commission to issue appropriate guidelines. These guidelines also have a binding force.”
Jani also said that the Election Commission officers are guided by the handbook of polling agents issued by the commission that states, “….a local person might be knowing many of the electors personally and might be of assistance in preventing impersonation at election. Therefore, the polling agents shall be ordinarily resident and electors of the concerned polling areas or of the neighbouring polling station.”
The petitioners had contended that the EC had no authority to frame such guidelines under the Representation of the People Act, 1951. This amounted to usurping of the candidate’s powers to appoint polling agents of his or her choice, the petitioners had said.