Madhya Pradesh High Court on Thursday stayed the counting of votes for the first phase of district panchayat polls till January 19. However, it allowed the counting of votes for janpad panchayat and village panchayat polls as per schedule.
A special bench comprising justice Rajendra Menon and justice Alok Aradhe issued the orders after hearing three petitions seeking a stay on the counting of votes for members of the district panchayats in the first phase.
Congress state president Arun Yadav, social worker Anurag Modi and Neeraj Singh Thakur filed the petitions. Voting for the first phase of the three-phase panchayat polls was held on January 13 and the counting was scheduled for January 16. The polls are being held to elect the members of the district, janpad and village panchayats.
While the EVMs were used for janpad and district panchayat polls, ballot papers were used to elect sarpanchs and panchs.
In his petition, Thakur cited example of Jabalpur stating that the district panchayat consisted of 17 members. While voting was held for 10 posts in the first phase, voting for the remaining seven posts would be held in the second phase, the petition said.
So, if the counting of votes was done on January 16, 10 elected members would get 35 days' time to campaign for election to the post of president in the district panchayat, the petitioner said.
But those who would get elected in the last phase on February 22 would get only four days to campaign. Voting for the second phase of election is scheduled for January 31 and counting would be held on February 4.
For the third phase, voting will be held on February 19 and counting on February 22. Yadav's lawyers pleaded that the counting of votes after each phase would influence the voters. Similarly, Modi's lawyers sought a direction for counting of votes cast in the EVMs on a single day after the third phase on February 19.
State Election Commission (SEC) counsel Siddartha Seth opposed the petitioners on three counts. He said if the counting of votes cast on EVMs was done on a single day, it would put an additional burden of `300 crore on the state exchequer. He said the EVMs used in the first phase would be used in two other phases, as there was shortage of EVMs.
Besides, the panchayat elections are not held on party basis, so it would have no impact on the interests of any party if the counting took place after each phase, Seth claimed.
The bench then asked SEC counsel to clarify if the panchayat elections were not held on party lines, would the counting have any impact on voters in the remaining phases?
Seth said if the counting was postponed, the commission would have administrative difficulties. Dissatisfied with the reply, the court directed the SEC to file an affidavit indicating the administrative and other difficulties.