2 petitions challenge ECI relaxation which allowed CM to contest by-election

Gangtok, 22 Oct:

Two petitions, one in the Delhi High Court and the other in the Supreme Court, have challenged the relaxation extended by the Election Commission to SKM president, Chief Minister PS Tamang [Golay], which allowed him to contest the recent by-elections.

Both petitions, media reports inform, challenge Section 11 of the Representation of the People Act which extends to Election Commission the power to reduce the period of disqualification imposed on certain persons when it comes to contesting elections.

Mr Tamang, it may be recalled, was disqualified from contesting elections for a period of six years following his imprisonment upon conviction in a corruption case. Despite this disqualification, he was sworn in as the Chief Minister in May earlier this year and to continue in office, needs to win an Assembly election before November-end to continue on the post.

With nearly five years still left on his disqualification period, Mr Tamang had moved the Election Commission praying that this period be reduced. While his request was tabled in June, it was only on 29 December, a Sunday, a day after his party, Sikkim Krantikari Morcha, formalized a seat-sharing arrangement with the BJP for the by-elections in Sikkim and a day before the last date to file nomination papers for the bypolls.

A court case on the matter was always expected, and this came through today as news arrived of two such petitions, the one in the Delhi High Court filed by SDF general secretary DB Katwal, who was also the party’s Lok Sabha candidate earlier this year, and a PIL filed in the Supreme Court by BJP leader and Delhi-based lawyer, Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.

The Delhi High Court today asked the Centre and the Election Commission to respond to the plea challenging the poll panel’s decision to reduce the disqualification period.

The Delhi High Court bench of comprising of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar also issued notices to the Sikkim government and the CM on the matter which has been posted for a hearing 24 December.

Mr Katwal has argued that Section 11 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, was unconstitutional since it provided “uncanalised, uncontrolled, and arbitrary power” to the Election Commission to remove or reduce the disqualification period.

As for the ECI order in Mr Tamang’s favour, Mr Katwal has thumbed it down as “wholly erroneous, based on perverse reasoning and bad in law”.

“While this may seem to be an innocuous condonation, the fact that condonation was granted just before the fresh state elections were to be held, demonstrates arbitrariness,” he has highlighted, while adding, “The only inference from the period condoned, that is, four years 11 months, seems to be for the specific purposes of allowing the candidate to contest the state elections.”

The PIL in the Supreme Court also makes similar arguments and questions the contradictions contained in Section 11 in that while the ECI has been provided "superintendence, direction and control” of elections, the original provisions do not arrogate any powers to the ECI regarding disqualification.