Today's Paper

Supreme Court upholds EC decision on Gujarat polls

NEW DELHI SEPT. 2. The Supreme Court today made it clear that it would not interfere with the Election Commission's order of August 16 (to defer the Assembly elections in Gujarat) and that it would decide the three-point reference made by the President without any reference to Gujarat.

A five-Judge Constitution Bench, comprising the Chief Justice B.N. Kirpal, and Justices V.N. Khare, K.G. Balakrishnan, Ashok Bhan and Arijit Pasayat, after ascertaining from the senior counsel for the Election Commission that it would hold the Assembly elections to Gujarat in November-December, observed that "perhaps, November-December is the most likely date for holding polls, so Gujarat is not an issue before us".

When the Solicitor-General, Harish Salve, urged the court to fix an early date for hearing, the Bench said: "If you think a decision can be given by the October 6 deadline, it is impossible for all practical purposes.''

Delinking the issues raised in the Presidential reference to the Gujarat elections, the Bench told Mr. Salve that "we are proceeding on the assumption that whatever that had been stated by the Election Commission on factual aspects is correct. We are not going to say that the Commission should not have made its assessment''.

The Bench further said: "We are keen that this matter be heard as expeditiously as possible because elections are to be held in Jammu and Kashmir and Gujarat this year and next year many States are going to have elections. We are going to decide only the constitutional issues on the interpretation of Article 174 (which says that there should not be a gap of more than six months between two Assembly sessions) and Article 324 (powers of the Election Commission).

Earlier, the Bench asked a specific question to the Commission's counsel, K.K. Venugopal, as to what the Commission meant in its order that it would consider the holding of polls in Gujarat in November-December. "Is it for the consideration for fixing a time-frame for election or is it the time for actually holding the elections in the State,'' the Bench asked. Counsel submitted that it was for holding polls and not for considering the time-frame.

At this juncture, the Bench observed that "we do not think it will be incorrect to say that holding of polls in November-December will be wrong. So the question of going into the Commission's action under Article 324 does not arise".

The Bench directed the Centre, all the States and the six national political parties to file their written submissions on or before September 16 and posted the matter for hearing from September 17. The Bench also issued notice to the Centre, the Gujarat Government and the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, on a public interest litigation petition questioning the legality of Mr. Modi continuing as caretaker Chief Minister after the dissolution of the Assembly as the Constitution did not provide for any caretaker Chief Minister. The Bench posted the case for hearing on September 17 along with the Presidential reference.

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