Thursday, December 01, 2011

PIL against Anna’s Hisar-type Campaign: HC issues Notices to Election Commission & Ors for holding accountable those who Resort to such Campaigns during Assembly Elections

Report by: 
Advocate H.C. Arora, Petitioner In Person.
He is a practicing Lawyer at Punjab & Haryana High Court at Chandigarh.
Chandigarh, 29 November: On a PIL filed by local lawyer, H.C. Arora, a Division Bench of the HC comprising CJ Ranjan Gagoi and Justice Surya Kant today issued notices for 02 February to Election Commission of India, Chief Electoral Officer Punjab, Union Law and Home Ministries, and State of Punjab.

Petitioner has stated in his PIL that under Rule 90 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, in the State of Punjab, maximum limit of election expenses in an Assembly Constituency is Rs. 6 lacs. Thus, if a non-contestant third party participates in electioneering and injects Rs. 1 Crore in the campaign against a particular political party, it would remain unaccountable, as neither such a non-contestant third party player has to submit a return of expenses to the Election Commission of India, nor it would be otherwise accountable under section 171-H of the Indian Penal Code or any other provisions of the election laws. Thus, such a trend even for a genuine cause if continued or perpetuated, it would result into complete hijacking of election process without any accountability. Thus, it is constitutional obligation of Election Commission of India to ensure accountability of non-contestant third party players, who intervene in election process and are found to be holding public meetings, distributing pamphlets, thereby damaging the electoral prospectus of candidates of any political party and by necessary implication, promoting or procuring the election prospectus of its rival candidates.

In support of his prayer, petitioner stated that a unique phenomenon was noticed during the elections to Parliamentary Constituency at Hisar recently. There was a campaigning by ‘India against Corruption’ exhorting the voters to vote against a particular political parry for the reason that the said political party had failed to give concrete written assurance to the Core Committee members of ‘India against corruption’ that the candidates of said political party shall vote in favour of Jan Lokpal Bill. The petitioner has no grievance against ‘India against Corruption” or any other NGO propagating for or against any candidate or any political party. The submission of the petitioner is that intervening in electioneering process must be subject to some accountability norms.

In the PIL, petitioner has also prayed that Election Commission of India be directed to
(i) not to deploy any police official facing any criminal charges, on election duty in forthcoming Assembly elections in Punjab:

(ii) to provide a button in the Electronic Voting Machines for exercising right under Rule 49-O of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961; and

(iii) for prohibiting door-to-door campaigning during last 48 hours before actual polling in the forthcoming elections.

Petitioner has also stated that approximately 1400 police officials, who are facing criminal cases, are there in the State of Punjab. In Kapurthala City/Sadar and Kotwali Police Stations alone, there are 42 police officials, who are facing such criminal cases. Those include two DSPs, Paramvir Singh and Surinderjit Singh Mand also. Petitioner pleaded that such police officials cannot be expected to perform their election duty in a fair, free and impartial manner.

Petitioner also submitted that Election Commission of India has, in his letter sent to petitioner, expressed its helplessness to give any directions, as he has no jurisdiction to make the Hisar-type campaigners accountable to the Election Commission.

Regarding door-to-door canvassing, petitioner has stated that even ECI has admitted in the Background Paper submitted by it to the Union Law Ministry that cash is given as a bribe to the voters during door-to-door campaigning, but has simply recommended to the Law Ministry to amend the Representation of People Act for stopping door-to-door campaigning. Election Commission has not so far responded to petitioner’s demand notices on introduction of extra button in EVMs, nor to his demand for not deploying tainted police officials on election duty in forthcoming Assembly elections in Punjab.

When petitioner prayed for a shorter date for the reason that Election Commission is likely to announce dates of Assembly elections, the Bench observed “You may make a mention in that situation”.

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