High court stays MCD standing committee repoll

ByRicha Banka and Paras Singh
Feb 26, 2023 01:23 AM IST

In his order on the petition moved by Shikha Roy and Kamaljeet Sehrawat, Justice Gaurang Kanth on Saturday said that the notice for re-election has been given without declaring the results of the polls conducted on Friday.

The Delhi high court on Saturday stayed the re-election to six members of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi’s (MCD) standing committee scheduled for February 27 after two councillors of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) challenged the mayor’s decision to repeat the process that they claimed was completed on Friday.

BJP and AAP councillors clash after the standing committee elections at MCD headquarters in Civic Center on Friday. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)
BJP and AAP councillors clash after the standing committee elections at MCD headquarters in Civic Center on Friday. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

In his order on the petition moved by Shikha Roy and Kamaljeet Sehrawat, Justice Gaurang Kanth on Saturday said that the notice for re-election has been given without declaring the results of the polls conducted on Friday.

Also read: Behind the brawl: MCD panel that controls finances, makes decisions

“Prima facie it appears that the mayor is conducting the elections without declaring the results of the elections conducted on February 24, which is in violation of the regulation 51 of the Delhi Municipal Corporation (DMC) Act, 1958,” the court said in an oral order.

“In view of the above, the notice dated February 24 for re-election of six standing committee members of the MCD shall remain stayed,” the judge said in an order passed during a special hearing conducted on Saturday.

The court granted two weeks to the respondents to file their reply, and posted the matter for hearing on March 22.

The MCD spokesperson and secretary did not respond to requests for comment on whether normal house proceedings can take place till the case is heard next. A senior MCD official, on condition of anonymity, said there is no clarity on the matter and it falls in grey area.

“Technically, the first meeting of the corporation is still not complete as the election for standing committee was the third agenda item after the mayor’s and deputy mayor’s election. We are not sure if a new meeting can be called in such a state. We might have to seek special permission from court as the house still needs to clear the budget provisions and other matters,” an official associated with law department added on condition of anonymity.

In absence of the standing committee, the mayor also holds the power to grant anticipatory approvals to proposals put up before her by the executive wing. But each decision will have to ultimately ratified by the standing committee.

The Civic Centre descended into chaos and brawling on Friday as councillors from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and BJP clashed when mayor Shelly Oberoi held a vote as invalid. The clash prompted the process to be halted before the mayor announced later that the election would be held afresh on Monday, February 27.

Friday’s violence was only the latest in a series of new lows the city’s municipal council house plumbed over the three weeks, when members clashed, threw furniture and sought to destroy ballot papers.

Both sides saw their own victory in the Saturday’s order by the HC.

Kalkaji MLA Atishi said that AAP welcomed the court decision. “BJP wanted the court to endorse the illegal results but the HC has refused to accept this unconstitutional demand. The court has said that they will examine the powers of municipal secretary and mayor after which the verdict will be declared.”

She added that BJP wanted the court declare the result in their favor but the court has stated that it will examine the powers of the mayor. “From the very first day, we have been arguing that BJP should respect the law and constitution. DMC is clear that mayor is presiding officer and she has the power to take decision on which vote is valid,” Atishi added.

“The result of election declared by the mayor will be considered final as per law. Even the Supreme Court has asked the high court not to interfere in electoral matters,” said Saurabh Bharadwaj, AAP spokesperson.

Addressing a press conference, Delhi BJP working president Virendra Sachdeva too welcomed the high court verdict.

One of the petitioners, Sehrawat, who is the Dwarka councillor, said the decision of the court has helped establish the truth. “Delhi CM will have to understand that he will not be able to run the municipal corporation arbitrarily like the Delhi government, and here he will have to answer to a very strong opposition. The court has said that the mayor does not have a right to call a fresh election unless the last election is settled and closed,” she added.

Greater Kailash councilor Shikha Roy, the second petitioner, said that an election that has been completed cannot be declared invalid. “We have received justice and we are hopeful that the rest of our petition will be examined and court will deliver a verdict,” she added.

The issue relates to a single scrapped vote. BJP on Friday said they had been told informally that three members each were elected from both the parties but Oberoi’s decision to declare one of the votes as invalid was unlawful and meant to swing the elections. AAP members denied the allegations, saying that the unreleased results showed a clear victory for the party and the disqualification was due to procedural problems.

AAP had clear margins for victory in three seats, and BJP in two -- making the sixth very tightly fought. Officials said it was this seat for which the invalid vote held the key.

While the mayor set February 27 as a fresh polling date, municipal secretary Bhagwan Singh disputed the mayor’s reason for invalidating the vote and said according to the ballots tallied, three members from AAP, two from BJP and one independent member (who joined BJP since the election) secured adequate numbers. The report, however, is a recommendation that has to be ratified by the mayor.

In his Saturday’s order, Justice Kanth said, “From perusal of regulation 51 of the Act, it is nowhere reflected that the returning officer/mayor has the authority to declare an election of the standing committee to be null and void. It is not out of place to mention that admittedly the counting of votes and further duty casted upon mayor as in declaring the result of elections held on February 24 shall culminate into final result,” the court said.

Appearing for the mayor, senior advocates Rahul Mehra and Dayan Krishnan contended that the election had not been completed, and the returning officer has given a note which details that the process can’t be initiated due to the unruly behaviour of the members and lack of cooperation from them.

Also read: BJP’s ‘Khalnayika’ jibe at AAP's Atishi after fist fights in MCD House

The counsel argued that having no other option, the mayor had to declare the elections held on February 24 as null and void.

The court, while issuing notice to the LG, mayor and MCD, also clarified that the municipal secretary will preserve the ballot boxes, papers, CCTV footage and other information.

Besides seeking to set aside the notice of re-election, the petitioners, represented by senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, had sought a direction to the mayor to declare the result of the elections held on February 24.

The plea said that the mayor, while discharging her functions as the returning officer for elections to the six members of the standing committee of MCD, has resorted to brazen illegality.

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