Despite the Punjab government’s failure to hold elections to 95 municipal councils (MCs) in the state for more than a year, the Punjab and Haryana high court on Tuesday questioned the ‘stoic silence’ of the Congress, the main opposition party in the state, on the issue.
During the resumed hearing of the petition seeking directions to the state government to hold elections to 95 MCs, justice Rajan Gupta said, “Holding elections to MCs is an important part of the democratic setup, but the Opposition has not raised the issue on any platform despite the fact that the elections have been delayed for more than a year.”
“Keeping in view important questions of law involved in the writ petition and interpretation of certain constitutional provisions, I am of the considered view that the matter needs to be examined by a larger bench. The process of delimitation is already underway. Under the circumstances, the matter be placed before the acting chief justice at the earliest to constitute a larger bench as deemed appropriate,” said justice Gupta.
Suo motu notice
The high court had taken suo motu notice of the state government’s failure to hold the elections to 95 municipal councils despite the completion of their tenures.
The bench had asked the state government to clarify why elections were not being held despite the fact that the tenure of the previous body had ended in July last year.
The Punjab government had submitted that a “conscious decision” was taken on May 28, 2013, to hold the elections based on the census figures of 2011, “but the decision could not be implemented due to non-availability of population figures and electronic voting machines, besides the intervening parliamentary elections.”
However, the directorate of census argued that tehsil/town-wise figures of population were released on May 29 last year. KS Bhatnagar, joint director, said there was no laxity on the part of the census department in providing necessary election machinery, census figures or EVMs (electronic voting machines) to Punjab in 2013.
Governor’s notification illegal: amicus curiae
Terming the delay in holding elections as a “grave violation” of constitutional provisions, Anupam Gupta, amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the case, questioned the validity of the notification issued by the Punjab governor appointing administrators to the 95 MCs.
Gupta impressed upon the bench that the original record available with the state government pertaining to the issuance of notifications dated July 16, 2013, and September 23, 2013, appointing administrators, needed to be perused.
“These notifications are clearly without the authority of law as the enabling power cited in the same is not traceable in the statue or in the Constitution. Besides, these notifications do not find a mention in the first affidavit of the state, dated May 12, 2014,” submitted Gupta.
He added, “The Constitution envisages extension term of Parliament and legislature but no such provision exists in the Constitution permitting the continuation of municipal bodies beyond their tenure.”