Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
The wrong the Election Commission of India had done to people of Athgarh by not intervening in illegal rejection of sitting member Ranendra Pratap Swain’s nomination papers by the Returning Officer in 2009 general election to Orissa Assembly has clamped a fresh election on the voters of the constituency, though the RO, for whose foul play the by-election is necessitated, is not yet punished.
Orissa High Court, on hearing of the case preferred by Swain, had declared the election of ruling party factotum Ramesh Raut null-and-void, which meant, Raut was to be unseated since the very day of his election. But, the secret agents of derailment of democracy, who in the ruling party had contrived the method of using the RO to keep Swain away from the Assembly as he was in habit of castigating the government on the floor of the House for misrule in various departments, did not allow the HC order to work and instead invested massive money in challenging the same in the Supreme Court. Ultimately they failed and therefore the by-election is now on the anvil. The EC will formally issue necessary notifications on Feb.22 and the voters will cast their votes on March 18, if no sudden change of scenario intervenes.
But the by-election is not the final solution to the issues at stake. If they are not solved, we shall have no hesitation in saying that the EC of India, the Supreme Court of India as well as the Speaker of Orissa Legislative Assembly are failing in their duties to democracy.
The Election Commission
As we have discussed in these pages, there is serious lacuna in our electoral system that allows any one who can gain over a RO to make anybody including a prime-ministerial candidate debarred from contesting by getting the officer reject his/her nomination papers on the day of finalizing the list of valid candidates, at a time, when he/she shall have no time to correct the defects, if any.
It had happened in Athgarh.
The RO had received Swain’s papers duly filed and kept them in his custody till the day of preparation of the list of valid candidates. At the time of scrutiny – the last act before preparation of the list of valid candidates – he suddenly declared that Swain’s party ticket was not original as required under the law though he had received the document in original and kept the same in his custody. Refusing to pay any heed to Swain, the RO had rejected his nomination, thereby debarring him from contesting the elections. And, the EC had refused to intervene as there was no scope to intervene.
The High Court had found the conduct of the RO erroneous and the Supreme Court also agreed with this as it rejected the appeal against the HC order.
But all these legal exercises were not necessary if the RO had not acted mischievously and arbitrarily and the EC not failed to undo the wrong order of the RO.
Therefore, we had suggested that EC should create an authority to instantly intervene in case of arbitrary rejection of nomination papers by the RO. Unless such an authority is created, an enemy nation, by gaining over a RO, can derail Indian democracy by debarring a possible Prime Minister from contesting. But the EC is failing in this regard. It should immediately create a layer over the RO to intervene and settle cases like that of Swain so as to avoid such electoral dislocations in future.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court of India has finally restored derailed democracy to its track at Athgarh by approving what the Orissa high Court had decided. But the fact that pinches is that the legal process of hearing and deciding the case has taken so much time that the people’s right to be represented through the candidate of their choice is going to be materialized only in March 2012, after long three years of the election. The delay could have been avoided to the maximum extent if both the Courts had exclusive benches to dispose of election cases, as nothing in a democracy is more clamant than settlement of election issues.
The Supreme Court has been pleased to form green benches to decide exclusively the environmental cases as expeditiously as possible. Similarly, exclusive benches to hear and decide election cases may be created, as, thereby only, finalization of election cases in utmost speed can be ensured, we had suggested. But election benches are yet to be formed.
On receipt of the Supreme Court verdict that approved Orissa High Court’s order declaring the Athgarh election null and void, the Speaker of Orissa Legislative Assembly has terminated Raut’s membership.
But the termination should have been done with retrospective effect.
With the Supreme Court order confirming the order of the High Court, the election of Raut being null and void, it is to be treated that Raut was not a member of the House for a day. Hence, all the salaries and allowances he has received from the Assembly as a member need be recovered from him. The Speaker has not passed any order to this effect. Non-recovery of money paid to him will mean non-nullification of his membership till termination by the Speaker, which would mean non-acceptance of the High Court order as fortified by the Supreme Court that has set the election null and void, which, in other words would also mean nullification of the orders of the Courts by the Speaker till termination of Raut’s membership. It would be totally illegal and the Speaker should not refuse to look at this point. But, it seems, the Speaker has failed to look at this.
In interest of democracy, these issues need urgent cogitation.