Separate election benches at High Court for expeditious disposal of poll disputes: Supreme Court

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Taking note of the abysmally low rate of resolution of election related disputes during the candidature of a politician and the consequent term, the Supreme Court has favourably considered the desirability of dedicated benches in High Court, equipped to deal solely with election related disputes/petitions. The Court expressed concern over the inexcusable delay over caused in most such cases.

A bench of Justice Chelameswar and Justice RohintonFaliNariman observed that the inordinate delay is a mockery of the judicial process. The bench was hearing a petition filed by former minister Mohammad Akbar who had sought an expedited and early trial on his election petition which had long been pending before the Chhattisgarh High Court.

Mohammad Akbar was a contestant for the 2013 Chhattisgarh Assembly Elections from the Kawardha assembly constituency, where BJP’s Ashok Sahu emerged as the winner. However, Akbar had filed an election petition before the Chhattisgarh High Court, questioning the election of Ashok Sahu. The grounds for the challenge included allegation of corrupt practices.

However, as the whole process was delayed due to a plethora of unnecessary as well necessary adjournments for various reasons in the High Court, Mr. Akbar filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court alleging that the High Court’s inability to dispose his election petition till date, has violated the mandate of Representation of People’s Act, 1951.

Earlier, the Supreme Court, in its order dated February 27, 2015 observed that the term of the Members of Parliament as well as Members of Legislative Assembly is of a short duration and hence any dispute concerning the election of persons to such offices, should be resolved in as little time as possible considering its desirability for a variety of reasons.

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Further, the Supreme Court suggested that it will be wise to create dedicated and special benches on the authority of chief justices of various High Courts. The jurisdiction of such benches will extend solely to the resolution and adjudication of election petitions. Simply put, those judges who have been saddled with the responsibility of adjudicating upon election petitions should not be burdened with any other work, until the process of the said adjudication is complete and final.

Deeming the suggestion not so difficult to implement, the Court noted that election related litigation is rare in the sense that it only occurs every 5 or 6 years. Moreover, the cases themselves are very limited in scope and subject matter. Though, the Court observed that no absolute regulations can be framed in this particular case, as this particular proposal is essentially a reform in the way, a Chief Justice of a particular High Court runs his administration. It is essentially a creative method of designing ways and means for expediting such proceedings before the High Court, according to the order.

The order added a gentle reminder that inordinate delay in the adjudication of such disputes exposes the High Court to a harsh and unpleasant volley of criticism, which has the potential to greatly damage the credibility of the said institution.

In the present matter, the Supreme Court had noted that even though a considerable time period of over 15 months had passed post the elections, the trial was not even in the beginning stages. As such, the Court deemed it proper that the Chief justice should take measures necessary for expeditious disposal of the election petition by devising appropriate mechanisms for the same.

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by Siddhartha Singh.