Democracy Needs Supreme Court To Create Separate Election Benches

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Speedy disposal of election cases is essential for survival of democracy. But this is not happening.

We cannot find fault with the Supreme Court for delay in disposal of election cases; because these are not the only cases that the judges are handling and, we know, the judges are handling more cases than what is humanly possible.

Therefore it is urgent to develop a dedicated judicial mechanism to handle the election cases exclusively. That democracy is certainly in danger as election cases are not being finally disposed off quickly, needs no elaboration.

Democracy’s predicament in the Athgarh Assembly constituency, discussed several times in these pages, may be cited for a ready reference.

Ranendra Pratap Swain of BJD was seeking reelection from this constituency and had filed the necessary papers including the party ticket, on receipt of which, the Returning Officer (RO) – the sub-collector of Athgarh – had issued due acknowledgement.

Swain was given the ticket; because BJD had resolved to set all of its sitting MLAs as candidates. But in reality the BJD boss Navin Patnaik was not happy with Swain as he had, on many occasions during debates in the House, criticized anti-people policies of his government like the country liquor policy and besides having criticized the allocation of land to Vedanta, he was often marked for scathing attack on the ongoing misrule in many departments.

So at the last moment, one Ramesh Raut, an uneducated follower that was working as a pageboy in the BJD office at Athgarh, was picked up to file nomination papers behind the back of Swain as well as the Athgarh Unit of BJD as an independent candidate.

His proposers and seconders picked up again behind back of the Athgarh unit, were nonetheless known BJD workers of the locality. Though it was a blatantly anti-party act, neither any of them nor Raut was subjected to any disciplinary action by the party, which makes it clear that the BJD boss had knowingly and mischievously planted him as an independent candidate with a mala fide motive. And, he being the Chief Minister, the sub-collector – a lower level officer – misused his position as the RO to cancel Swain’s candidature in an unprecedented manner.

The reason he showed was that the party ticket submitted by Swain was not the original ticket, but a xerox copy thereof.

As per his own acknowledgement, he had personally received the original party ticket and that was in his safe custody.

If on the subsequent day of screening it was found to be a xerox copy, obviously the original was replaced with a xerox copy by the RO himself. It was he, who suo motu raised the objection over the xerox copy and rejected Swain’s papers.

The illegality was challenged in Election Petition No.4 of 2009, in deciding which, on 23.6.2010, the Orissa High Court has “held that the Returning Officer improperly rejected the nomination of Sri Ranendra Pratap Swain” and has “declared that the election of the respondent No.1 (Ramesh Raut) is null and void and that casual vacancy is created relating to 89-Athgarh Assembly Constituency thereby”.

This verdict of the High Court has been challenged in the Supreme Court in Civil Appeals bearing Nos. 4956/2010 and 4962/2010. They are yet to be decided.

The people of Athgarh, under such circumstances, are not having proper representation in the Assembly. They are duped inasmuch as on rejection of Swain’s papers, Naveen Patnaik had projected Raut as BJD’s adopted candidate, who would resign, if elected, to facilitate Swain’s reelection. People of Athgarh had voted for Raut on this premise that it was just a stopgap arrangement to facilitate Swain’s reelection after the wrongful election was over.

Therefore, with the delay in disposal of the election case in the Supreme Court, the people of Athgarh are double disadvantaged.

Democracy is clearly in danger as far as Athgarh is concerned.

But the Athgarh case is not the only case awaiting judicial disposal. And, we cannot held judiciary responsible for the delay as the High Courts and the Supreme Court are overloaded with cases of all categories including elections.

Delay in any category of case doesn’t endanger democracy. Only the election cases do.

Hence, we suggest that the Supreme Court should constitute an Election Bench to deal with the election cases alone in the light of Green Benches it has created to handle the environmental disputes. The Green Bench idea had gained priority judicial ground with its direction to the Madras High Court in the Madras Tanneries Case in 1996 and since then the cause of environment has immensely benefited with quicker disposal of hurdles on eco-conservation with other High Courts having similar specific benches and the Apex Court having a second Green Bench in addition to its first such bench.

These Benches are so fruitful that the corporate-loyal central government wanted the Supreme Court to wind up the same as its affidavit seeking vacation of the stay on the functioning of Forest Advisory Committee shows. Now, as the Court refused to wind up green benches, the Union government has coined the National green Tribunal Bill 2009. However, the reality is that the Supreme Court has doubled its Green Bench.

The same method should be adopted to create Election Benches to deal exclusively with the election cases in order to save democracy from damages due to delay in disposal thereof in the Courts overburdened with unlimited general cases.

Such dedicated judicial mechanism would save democracy and hence, the sooner it is evolved the better.