Press Trust of india

SC sets aside notification for Ladakh hill council polls, says NC entitled to ‘plough’ symbol

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday set aside the August 5 notification of the election department of the Union Territory of Ladakh for the hill development council polls and ordered issuance of a fresh election schedule within a week.

A bench of justices Vikram Nath and Ahsanuddin Amanullah said, “Elections to any office/body are required to be free, fair and transparent. Elections lie at the core of democracy. The authority entrusted by law to hold/conduct such elections is to be completely independent of any extraneous influence/ consideration.”

The top court declared that the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference party is entitled to the exclusive allotment of the ‘Plough’ symbol for candidates proposed to be put up by it.

While dismissing the appeal of the Union Territory administration against the August 14 order of the Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court, the apex court imposed a cost of Rs 1 lakh to be deposited in the Supreme Court Advocates on Record Welfare Fund.

In a 51-page verdict penned down by Justice Amanullah, the bench expressed surprise over the denial of ‘plough’ symbol to candidates of the National Conference by the Union territory administration and its poll panel.

“It is surprising that the Union Territory of Ladakh not only denied R1 (Jammu and Kashmir National Conference) the Plough symbol, but even upon timely intervention by the single judge, has left no stone unturned not only to resist but also frustrate a cause simply by efflux of time,” the bench said.

The top court while rejecting the appeal of the Union Territory administration said that it does not find any merit and held that the request for allotment of the ‘plough’ symbol by the party was “bona fide, legitimate and just, for the plain reason that in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir (which included the present Union territory of Ladakh), it was a recognised state party having been allotted the plough symbol.”

It said upon bifurcation of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and the creation of two new Union territories – Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh – though the Election Commission of India had not notified Jammu and Kashmir National Conference as a state party for Ladakh, it cannot be simpliciter that the party was not entitled for the allotment of plough symbol to it.

What is also clear is that the Union Territory administration and other authorities are attempting to approbate and reprobate, which this court will not countenance, it said.

The bench also rejected the submission of the Union Territory administration that no relief be granted to the party as the election process has reached the penultimate stage.

“Having chosen, with eyes open, to not comply with successive orders of the single judge and the division bench, both of which were passed well in time, such as not to stall/delay the notified election schedule, the appellants cannot be permitted to plead that interference by us at this late juncture should not be forthcoming,” it said, adding, the court can even turn the clock back, if the situation warrants such dire measures.

The bench said courts, as a general principle, in election matters exercises restrain once a notification is issued and the election process starts but this case has constrained it to take note of the broader aspect of the “lurking danger of authorities concerned using their powers relating to elections arbitrarily and thereafter, being complacent, rather over-confident, that the courts would not interfere”.

It said, “The misconceived notion being that in the ultimate eventuate, after elections are over, when such decisions/actions are challenged, by sheer passage of time, irreversible consequences would have occurred, and no substantive relief could be fashioned is just that – misconceived.”

The Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court had dismissed the Ladakh administration’s plea against a single bench order allowing NC candidates to contest the upcoming polls for the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Kargil, on the party symbol.

The Ladakh administration had approached a division bench of the high court against the single bench order of August 9 which directed the National Conference to approach the office of the election department of the administration of Ladakh to notify the reserved symbol ‘plough’ already allotted to it for in the polls.

According to a notification issued by the election department on August 5, the polling for 26 seats of the 30-member LAHDC, Kargil, is scheduled for September 10 and the counting of votes will take place four days later.

The apex court had on September 1 reserved its verdict on a plea by the National Conference challenging the denial of ‘plough’ symbol to its candidates for the LAHDC polls.

Earlier, the bench had termed as unfair the act of the Union Territory administration of not granting the ‘plough’ poll symbol to the party for the hill council elections despite the order of the high court.

“It is unfair… We will set aside the election schedule if need arises,” the bench had observed on August 25 while hearing the appeal of the Union Territory of Ladakh against the order of the Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court.

It had earlier refused to stay the high court order on allotting the ‘plough’ poll symbol to the party.

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