Saturday, January 22, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Panchayat poll: Haryana’s plea dismissed
Tribune News Service

CHANDIGARH, Jan 21 — The Punjab and Haryana High Court today dismissed a review petition preferred by the Haryana Government against the High Court order of December 27 directing it to hold elections to panchayati raj institutions by February-end positively.

Handing down this order this morning, Mr Justice H.S. Bedi and Mr Justice A.S. Garg ruled: “The facts of the present case require the direction that elections to panchayati raj institutions and the local bodies be held by end of February must be maintained under the circumstances”.

The Bench also turned down the Haryana Advocate-General for staying the operation of the December 27 judgement to enable the government to file a special leave petition. The Judges also declined to allow the state government to appeal to the apex court, as envisaged under Article 134-A of the Constitution.

The Bench, however, granted the Advocate-General’s prayer for supplying a copy of the review order dasti. It also allowed the government request to advance the remaining three review applications, which were fixed for February 15, and dismissed the same by this order.

“Before parting with this order”, the Judges observed, “we may add that Mr Harbhagwan Singh, counsel for the petitioners, has raised a preliminary objection with regard to the maintainability of the applications as these did not fulfil the requirements of Order 47, C.P.C. We have, nevertheless, chosen to go into the merits of the controversy raised by the Advocate-General. We, therefore, find no merit in the application”.

The Advocate-General had raised four arguments in support of the review application. First, the petitioners had primarily pleaded that the state government was not holding elections to panchayati raj institutions and other local bodies as it intended to hand over their management to the bureaucracy on expiry of their terms between January 15 and 20. This allegation had been belied by the fact that the government had issued three ordinances on December 14 allowing an extension to the terms of these bodies for up to six months.

Secondly, the constitutional mandate to hold elections to these bodies within the time-frame fixed by Article 243-E of the Constitution could not now be adhered to.

The third argument by the Advocate-General was that Section 28-A of the Representation of the People Act made it impossible for the elections to be held now for administrative and logistical reasons.

The last argument was that the Karnataka High Court’s order, which had been referred to in the Dec 27 verdict, had, in fact, been stayed by the Supreme Court in its totality and the stay had not been confined to the ultimate direction alone.

“The background in which the December 27 judgement has been rendered, has been elaborately dealt with therein”, observed the Judges, adding: “Suffice it to say that a categorical finding has been recorded that the order of September 30, 1999 (postponing the panchayat elections till June, 2000) made by us on the statement of the former Advocate-General, Mr Mohan Jain, was contrary to the express provisions of the Constitution... As a matter of fact the present Advocate-General and counsel for the state Election Commission had even at that stage admitted that the said order had been made not bearing in mind the constitutional and statutory provisions”.

Speaking for the Bench, Mr Justice Bedi said: “It is evident from the record before us now that the state Election Commission has made repeated efforts (though without success) to make the state government notify the elections in accordance with the court directions in the December 27 judgement”.

As for the government contention that the Assembly elections in the state had been fixed for February 22 and the entire machinery of the government, including the officials, were now subject to the control of that body, and it was impossible to hold panchayat elections pursuant to the directions of the High Court, the Bench observed: “We appreciate the special difficulty that has arisen in this case, but the responsibility must rest squarely on the state government”. Notwithstanding the specific directions given by the court in its order of December 27 for holding these elections by February-end, no action appeared to have been taken.

In their 16-page order the Judges observed that it was clear from the record that the present proceedings were pending before this court long before December 14, when the state Assembly had been dissolved on the recommendation of the state government and that too despite the fact that the case had been taken up on a number of dates so as to enable the parties to arrive at an agreed date for holding the elections. “The state government cannot, therefore, be allowed to take advantage of its own wrong as this would amount to the perpetuation of a fraud for several months...”

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