The Gujarat High Court on Monday sought a written affidavit from the Election Commission of India (ECI), to be filed by Tuesday, in the ongoing hearing on the disqualification of Congress MLA Bhaga Barad.
This comes after the court heard an oral submission by advocate Sahil Shah, representing the Election Commission, and was dissatisfied. The division bench of Justice SR Brahmbhatt and Justice VB Mayani sought an explanation from the ECI as to why the bypolls for Talala constituency were declared despite the stay on conviction that was valid on March 10.
Barad was suspended on March 5, and the ECI announced the bypoll to Talala Assembly constituency on March 10, thereby declaring it a vacant seat. This despite a stay on the conviction having been granted on March 7 by the Gir Somnath Sessions Court.
Barad had been convicted by a magistrate court on March 1 and sentenced to two years, nine months of rigorous imprisonment on a 24-year-old illegal limestone mining case.
The division bench Monday, however, noted, “We have to look at subsequent developments.” This was in reference to the high court bench of Justice Sonia Gokani on March 15 quashing the stay on the conviction granted by the appellate court. Gokani had also asked the appellate court to hear the plea afresh for staying the conviction.
The petitioner’s representative Anshin Desai told the court, “Paragraph 31 of Lily Thomas judgment when read with paragraph 66 of Bajrang Bahadur Singh judgment, supports our argument of announcement of bypolls in a haste by the ECI, which is expected to be a neutral body.”
Barad approached the sessions court on Friday for the fresh relook at his petition for staying his conviction, and the case is expected to be heard on Monday. But the judge is on leave until April 1.
Advocate Desai also emphasised his petitioner’s contention that politics was being played by the ruling BJP in Barad’s case. To substantiate this, Desai pointed out the double standards that the Gujarat government had employed in the case of two BJP leaders – former Gujarat Water Resources Minister Babu Bokhiriya and MP Naran Kachhadiya – both of whom were convicted to more than two years of imprisonment (three years of imprisonment for both) but against whom no action was taken. “Elections (for their respective seats) were not announced up to four weeks after conviction,” Desai argued. “Taking eight weeks as it is, ECI could not have declared bypolls. You don’t take action against two BJP leaders but you pick a Congress MLA?”
Advocate General Kamal Trivedi, representing the state government, argued, “Eight weeks’ time can’t (be given) in all cases, (but) only in cases where there’s a doubt on the validity of disqualification.”
Desai responded, “I am not arguing disqualification today. My argument is how can the ECI and the Speaker (Rajendra Trivedi of the Assembly) ignore the stay on conviction.”