Andhra HC sets aside SEC notification on polls to local bodies


Amaravati: The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Friday set aside the State Election Commissions (SEC) April 1 notification on the conduct of elections to mandal and zilla parishad territorial constituencies.

The court, setting aside notification, said it was illegal, arbitrary and violative of the direction issued by the Supreme Court.

The High Court directed the SEC to issue a fresh notification resuming the election process from where it was stopped (in March 2020).

It said the April 1 notification was illegal as it was issued what the court said was to scuttle the level-playing field of candidates of Jana Sena Party or retard the progress of free and fair election.

The court observed that the recent situation is a fine example of democratic backsliding and said the impugned notification was issued by State Election Commissioner Nilam Sawhney in deliberate and intentional violation of the Supreme Court direction of March 18, 2020.

The State Election Commissioner, who worked as Chief Secretary to the State, being a senior-most retired IAS Officer, could not understand the simple direction issued by the Honble Supreme Court in the right perspective, which creates doubt as to her suitability and fitness to the post of Election Commissioner, Justice M Satyanarayana Murthy remarked.

Such act of respondent No.1 (State Election Commissioner) can be described as democratic backsliding, it is also known as autocratisation and de-democratisation, he observed.

The court, however, declined to order the election process afresh from the stage of nominations, as pleaded by the petitioner Jana Sena Party.

As a Division Bench of the High Court, comprising Chief Justice Arup Kumar Goswami and Justice C Praveen Kumar, gave the green signal, elections to MPTCs and ZPTCs were completed as per schedule on April 8 this year but the counting process was yet to be taken up in accordance with the court order.

The Division Bench set aside the single judge U Durga Prasads order of April 6 staying the parishad poll process.

Justice Murthy subsequently heard the writ petitions filed by the Jana Sena Party and TDP leader Varla Ramaiah, challenging the April 1 notification of the SEC on the ground that it violated the Supreme Court order of March 18, 2020, wherein it was directed that the Election Commission shall impose the model code of conduct four weeks before the notified date of polling.

Jana Sena, the main petitioner, sought a fresh notification by cancelling the one issued in March 2020 because of large-scale violence reported during the poll process last year.

In his judgement delivered today, Justice Satyanarayana Murthy came down heavily on Sawhney, saying she issued the notification on the day she took charge of the office (April 1) even without looking into the purport of the order issued by the Supreme Court.

Accordingly, I hold that the impugned notification was issued in deliberate and intentional violation of the direction issued by the Supreme Court, which is in the nature of direction issued under Article 142 of the Constitution of India, and the same is binding on the State, he noted.

Referring to the petitioners prayer for cancellation of the entire election process in view of the violence reported in March last year, the judge maintained that it was no ground.

When the entire election process is completed, the alleged vandalism in the process of election by the men or supporters of the political party in power may be a ground to set aside the election of a particular candidate, but it is not a ground to cancel the entire election process and direct to issue a fresh notification for elections, Justice Satyanarayana Murthy added.

On the SEC counsels contention that a sum of Rs 160 crore was already spent on the conduct of elections, the judge observed: “If such equities are balanced on the basis of spending huge amount, it is nothing but perpetuating illegality or legalising an illegality on the basis of equity, which is impermissible under law.”

The judge dismissed TDP leader Varla Ramaiahs petition in the matter, saying it was not maintainable since the petitioner did not espouse the public cause.