In a relief for Mamata Banerjee, the Supreme Court on Friday turned down the pleas of CPI(M) and BJP seeking cancellation of elections on over 20,000 uncontested local body seats in West Bengal.
All these uncontested seats were won unopposed by candidates of the ruling Trinamool Congress and opposition parties had alleged that their candidates were obstructed from filing nomination papers.
The apex court, however, took note of the allegations and said the aggrieved candidate may file election petitions to challenge panchayat polls in courts concerned.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud exercised its extraordinary power under Article 142 of the Constitution and held that the limitation period of 30 days for filing the election petitions, which has expired, would now commence from the date of notification of panchayat poll results.
Earlier, the apex court had termed the situation as “grim and grave” and had directed the West Bengal State Election Commission not to declare and notify the results of panchayat body elections in the wake of allegations of large-scale violence and alleged obstruction of filing nomination papers.
The court, meanwhile, set aside the Calcutta High Court decision directing the state poll panel to allow the filing of nomination papers in panchayat elections through electronic forms such as e-mails and WhatsApp.
“The high court was in error while allowing the filing of nomination papers through electronic forms,” it said, adding, “no such process is either mentioned nor allowed under the provisions of the Representation of Peoples Act”.
Out of a total 58,692 posts for gram panchayat village, Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samiti, 20,159 had remained uncontested in the violence-marred local polls in the state held in May this year.
The court was hearing the pleas by parties like the BJP and CPI (M) alleging that candidates from ruling All India Trinamool Congress in West Bengal were only allowed to file nomination papers and as a result, they won without any contest.
Earlier, the West Bengal government had told the court that the row over the recently concluded panchayat polls in the state has led to a “constitutional crisis” since the tenure of several Panchayats were over and new bodies have not been made functional.
The apex court had earlier stayed the High Court order asking the state election body to accept the nomination papers filed through e-mail for panchayat elections and directed the poll panel not to declare in the Gazette the names of those candidates who had won unopposed.
The top court had on August 13 asked the state election panel as to whether it conducted any probe into the fact that a large number of seats in the local body elections in the state went uncontested.
The apex court had said that the issue of huge number of uncontested seats has been bothering it.
The poll panel, however, argued that 33 per cent of nearly 50,000 panchayat seats going uncontested in the state was not “an alarming situation”.
Elections were held in phases for 48,650 posts in Gram Panchayats, 825 posts in Zilla Parishads and 9,217 posts in Panchayat Samitis and it has been alleged that around 34 per cent seats were uncontested.
The apex court had earlier refused to stay the poll process observing that there were a plethora of judgments which have held that once the poll process has begun, it cannot be interfered into by any court.
The CPI(M) had claimed that many of its candidates were prevented from filing nominations by the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress.