The Delhi High Court on Monday deferred hearing a plea seeking quashing of Part VA of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, providing for free supply of electoral rolls and certain other material to candidates belonging to recognized political parties.
The development came after the Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, appearing on behalf of the Centre, urged the Division Bench comprising Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh to grant further time to file response.
The public interest litigation has been filed by Akash Gahlot, an engineer and a social activist, through Advocate Hargyan Singh Gahlot. The plea prays for scrapping Section 78A and 78B (in Part VA) of the RP Act, which prescribes for supplying Electoral Rolls and other material to candidates from recognized political parties.
The plea alleges that this puts a strain on already starved exchequer and money spent for printing Electoral Rolls and other materials can be used for various welfare schemes announced by the Government. Also, printing large amounts of paper is harmful for the environment too.
The plea further alleges that Part VA of the said Act disrupts the equal level playing field among the contesting candidates and divides the contesting candidates into two unconstitutional categories: one belonging to recognized political parties who are supplied with electoral rolls and other materials free of cost under Sections 78A and 78B of the Act; and the other belonging to non-recognized political parties. The copies of such materials are not available to candidates not belonging to recognized political parties, which is discriminatory in nature.
The petitioner made a representation on February 4, 2021 before the Legislative Department of Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India; as also before the Chief Election Commissioner. The Ministry, in its response, denied scrapping Part VA on the ground that “these provisions have been in the statute book for long and they are serving the purpose for which they are made. There are no compelling reasons to change the same.
The plea states that the average cost of supplying electoral rolls free of cost to these candidates is Rs.58,000 per Assembly Constituency and Rs.4,50,000 per Parliamentary Constituency of Union Territories. “Every time the electoral rolls are supplied to political parties, the burden of cost of electoral rolls fall on the National Treasury. This loss can be avoided by supplying information via electronic medium. And trees can be saved as paper is manufactured from wood,” the plea reads.
The plea adds thus: “The RP Act, 1951, is not a beneficial/welfare piece of legislation to provide facilities to candidates of recognized political parties, but to control, supervise and conduct free and fair election to the State Assembly and Parliament.”
The bench on March 4, 2021 issued notice and sought response from the Centre and the Chief Election Commissioner in the matter.
However, the bench has listed the matter for further hearing on September 16, 2021,