State Election Commission supports delimitation of wards in Mumbai
The SEC further stated that the contention of the petitioners that the BMC commissioner was not an independent entity was not maintainable as it was working on behalf of the SEC
Mumbai: The Bombay high court on Tuesday concluded the hearing of the public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the February 1 notification issued by the BMC commissioner, redrawing of electoral ward boundaries for the coming civic elections. The ward delimitation was necessitated after the number of electoral wards in Mumbai increased from 227 to 236.
Following the directions of the HC on Monday, the state election commission (SEC) responded to the PIL stating that the 2005 order of SEC restraining civic or local body authorities from changing boundaries six months before civic elections was restricted to only the boundary of the entire civic body and not of electoral wards.
The SEC further stated that the contention of the petitioners that the BMC commissioner was not an independent entity was not maintainable as it was working on behalf of the SEC as a designated authority and was only answerable to the SEC with regards to the elections. Hence, the PIL should be dismissed with exemplary costs, it said.
The division bench of justices A A Sayed and Abhay Ahuja, while hearing the PIL filed by Nitesh Singh of BJP and Sagar Devre of MNS through advocates Vivek Shukla and Arman Parve, was informed by advocate Sachindra Shetye that the SEC was responding to the contentions raised by the petitioners.
Shetye submitted that since SEC has only 52 staff of the sanctioned strength of 82 hence it had to delegate its authority to individuals from the state government as per the ranks mentioned in the election commission rules. Shetye said that SEC had appointed BMC commissioner Iqbal Chahal to issue the notification for redrawing of electrical wards boundaries based on its December 29, 2021, order.
The bench was further informed that the issue of not changing boundaries within six months of the elections was only for the overall boundary of the civic authority and not individual wards and hence the interpretation of the 2005 SEC order was misplaced.
A similar justification was given by SEC for the appointment of Manoj Sounik, chief secretary (finance) to receive the objections and suggestions to the electoral ward maps published by Chahal on February 1.
Shetye submitted that though the BMC commissioner would be present while hearing the 816 objections and suggestions as he was having data of the maps and boundaries, Sounik would independently prepare the report and submit his recommendations to the SEC, hence the contentions of the PIL were misplaced and should be dismissed.
Earlier, advocate Shukla had submitted that the SEC should have appointed someone from outside the state to carry out the electoral process on its behalf as per a Supreme court order. Shukla arched that as Chahal and Sounik were both responsible to the state as they were not relieved of discharging their original duties when they were delegated authority by the SEC to act on its behalf.
Shukla added that if the boundaries were redrawn within six months of the civic elections due to special circumstances like the pandemic, the same should have been mentioned in the SEC order of December 29, 2021.
Senior advocate Anil Sakhare for BMC refuted the arguments of Shukla of appointing someone from outside the state to do electoral duties on behalf of SEC was not maintainable as the same process was being followed in the past elections as well and it was not something new.
After hearing all submissions, the bench said that it had concluded the hearing of the PIL and will pass the order on Thursday.