The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued notice on a plea of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) seeking directions to the State Election Commission to conduct municipal elections in Delhi in a free, fair and expeditious manner, without any interference from the central government. A bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar sought a response from State Election Commission and the central government on AAP’s plea and posted the matter for hearing on August 26.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi appearing for AAP requested the court to direct that election be conducted soon. The plea was filed in March after the Delhi State Election Commission indefinitely deferred the MCD elections citing a communication from the Lt Governor conveying that the Centre was intending to pass legislation to merge the trifurcated Municipal Corporations of Delhi.
*The MCD elections, originally scheduled for April, were put off hours before the election schedule was to be announced. The election was called off as the BJP-led Central government planned to unify the MCDs and conduct delimitation to decrease the number of wards. The Centre in April amended the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957, which governs the working of the civic body in Delhi. The President of India had also approved the bill that seeks to reunify the three municipal corporations of Delhi.
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs has constituted a three-member panel for carrying out the delimitation of the municipal wards in Delhi. The petition filed by AAP and its leaders Ankush Narang and Manoj Kumar Tyagi sought to conduct municipal elections in Delhi according to the initially conceived schedule of the State Election Commission before the expiry of the tenure of the Municipal Corporations of Delhi, in May 2022.
“The brazen influence of the Government of India over the State Election Commission and its flagrant meddling with the conduct of municipal elections forms the subject matter of this writ petition,” stated the plea. The plea has stated that the State Election Commission was preparing for the Delhi municipal elections and by way of multiple notices, notifications and orders had indicated that the same would be conducted in April 2022.
On March 9, 2022, it circulated a letter indicating its intent to hold a press conference at 5 pm on the same day to declare the specific schedule of the municipal elections, to be conducted in April, said the plea. However, immediately thereafter, it received an unofficial communication from the Lt Governor of Delhi as per which the government of India was intending to pass legislation to merge the trifurcated Municipal Corporations of Delhi, it added.
Notably, no formal state communication has been issued to this effect, even in the ongoing Budget Session, no agenda has been declared regarding the tabling of a Bill to this effect, it added. The petitioners further stated that in light of this communication, the press conference to declare the election schedule was indefinitely postponed resulting in the municipal elections consequently being deferred.
“The elections have been pushed in the eleventh hour solely on an unformal intimation to the State Election Commission. The State Election Commission has been set up as an independent constitutional authority to insulate it from political caprices and whims so that it can conduct free, fair and timely elections. Such arbitrary and sudden change in an election schedule solely on the say of the government is a clear violation of the fundamental democratic tenet of impartial conduct of elections,” the plea stated. The petition also stated that the sole influence of the government in deferring the Municipal Elections is a clear infringement of the independence of the State Election Commission and an evident obstruction to the impartial conduct of elections.
“Indefinite deferral of the election is completely arbitrary, and at the whim of the central government,” said AAP in its plea. It added, “By being the sole reason behind the delay of the Municipal Elections, the government of India is very evidently making attempts to buckle the independence of the State Election Commission and stultify free and fair municipal elections in Delhi.”
AAP raised a question as to whether the State Election Commission can be influenced by an unofficial communication sent by the central government to defer municipal elections which the Commission was otherwise absolutely prepared to schedule and conduct.